The Lost Sister by Andrea Gunraj
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Don't pick-up The Lost Sister if you are looking for a light fluffy read. This is an intense, honest and emotional reflection on losing a family member, racism, child abuse, and residential schools. For those not familiar, residential schools were situations in the past where the Canadian government forced parents (often of colour, native descent, or Russian ancestry) to give up their children to government run facilities (called schools but they were more like jails). Where children were taught to forget their culture, language and traditions; and encouraged to adhere to more 'Western' conventions.
The overall plot of The Lost Sister isn't anything new in the mystery genre. A little girl goes missing and we follow the story via the eyes of her sister. Lucky for our lead girl she has an influence in her life that is helpful. A woman who, attended a residential school as a child, and is estranged from her own sister. Thus we are provided with a connection between two histories and taken on a journey of healing.
I foolishly didn't make the connection between our two stories until about 35% into the book. Knowing there is an eventual connection won't spoil anything for you as the book is more focused on the trauma and emotions of the characters than the actual plot events themselves.
At its core The Lost Sister is really about women. Be it young girls, teens, adults or elderly women. There is a constant cultural attitude (at least in North America) that pits women against one another. As though we are supposed to be constantly competing with our own gender to be bigger and better. I'm not sure why this exists exactly (maybe men thought it would be a good way to distract women if they fought amoungst themselves?) but it's clear to me in my life in Canada that this socialized behaviour for competition between girls is inherent. Andrea Gunraj does an excellent job of bringing this competitive culture forward and discussing it in an open and honest way. She gives us genuine emotions, comments and events that women encounter and tries to offer alternatives to fighting one another. If nothing else this book does try to breakdown the silos of racism, culture, religion, ethnicity and gender; in an attempt to remind us all that we are essentially the same inside. We all have physiology and biology that are comparable and so it makes no sense to pick on one another's subtle differences. Especially in a world already so full of hate.
Sisterhood vs Motherhood
Gunraj spends a lot of time during the residential school timeline looking at the difference between a sister and a mother. So often older siblings become parental like figures (especially in the absence of parents). I myself am the oldest of three and can confess that there were many days as a child/teen where I felt like I needed to step up and be more of a parent than a sibling to my own sister and brother. This complex relationship often turns sour as the siblings get older. The Lost Sister demonstrates this very effectively and Gunraj focuses on the decisions made by the sibling and how they affected the younger sister. Consider how different things had been if your sibling had only done XYZ instead of ABC... this is the core question The Lost Sister asks the reader and it brings up many challenging emotions and ideas/questions of blame. Of course ultimately blame doesn't change the past and while not a 'satisfying' ending, The Lost Sister does wrap things up in a way that allow the reader to have grown in their consideration towards why others may make the decisions they do.
This is not a pleasant read. But it's an important one. If you want to understand a little more about residential schools in Maritime Canada, or the challenges women have faced (from a very young age) in certain historical circumstances The Lost Sister is a good place to start. By no means will any of us ever be able to comprehend the extent of the injury done by residential schools; but at least by knowing it's history we have a chance of not repeating the same mistake. Instead, let us recognize that one another are both the same and different in our own unique and special way. If nothing else Gunraj has set a stage for further discussion amoungst readers about this embarrassing but important piece of Canada's history.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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