The Girls: A Novel

by Lori Lansens

Hardcover, 2006

Call number

FIC LAN

Collection

Publication

Little, Brown and Company (2006), 352 pages

Description

Fiction. Literature. Meet Rose and Ruby: sisters, best friends, confidantes, and conjoined twins. Since their birth, Rose and Ruby Darlen have been known simply as "the girls." They make friends, fall in love, have jobs, love their parents, and follow their dreams. But the Darlens are special. Now nearing their 30th birthday, they are history's oldest craniopagus twins, joined at the head by as pot the size of a bread plate.When Rose, the bookish sister, sets out to write her autobiography, it inevitably becomes the story of her short but extraordinary life with Ruby, the beautiful one. From their awkward first steps�Ruby's arm curled around Rose's neck, her foreshortened legs wrapped around Rose's hips� to the friendships they gradually build for themselves in the small town of Leaford, this is the profoundly affecting chronicle of an incomparable life journey.As Rose and Ruby's story builds to an unforgettable conclusion, Lansens aims at the heart of human experience�the hardship of loss and struggles for independence, and the fundamental joy of simply living a life. This is a breath taking novel, one that no reader will soon forget, a heartrending story of love between sisters.… (more)

Media reviews

“The Girls” glides by like a watercolor dream, finding its poetry in dailiness and the universalities of human desire and connection...

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
Wow! Did you ever come to a book having no idea what it was about? “The Girls” was that book for me and I was knocked off my feet by it. See if you can tell what it’s about from this opening paragraph.

“I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never
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stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I’ve never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or solo walk. I’ve never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I’ve never done, but oh, how I’ve been loved. And, if such things were to be, I’d live a thousand lives as me, to be loved exponentially.” (Page 3)

Well? Can you guess? I thought not, but that was the opening paragraph of Lori Lansens book about conjoined twins Ruby and Rose Darlens. You may ask yourself, as I did in the first couple of pages, “Why would I want to read a book about conjoined twins? How can it be anything but exploitative, degrading and heartbreaking?” But something made me keep going. Maybe it was the absolutely gorgeous prose. Or possibly the fact that the author is a terrific storyteller. Certainly, it could have been the love that came shining through this novel in so many ways.

The book is actually a series of entries by both girls that serves as their autobiography. And what a life they’ve led! Abandoned by their teenage mother shortly after their birth, (she gives her name as Elizabeth Taylor) they are adopted by the nurse who was present at their delivery and her Slovak husband, the intractable Aunt Lovey and enigmatic Uncle Satsh, who want them to have a normal upbringing and raise them on a farm in southwestern Ontario.

“On the farm, in our first floor bedroom with the queen-size bed and the entwined-hearts comforter and the shelf for Ruby’s stuffed animals and the rack for my baseball cards and library books, my sister and I were sheltered in the essence of normal. We were not hidden, but unseen. The orange farmhouse was our castle, our kingdom the fields around, and the shallow creek that bisected our property the sea we crossed to find adventure.” (Page 43)

The girls grow up to appreciate their own virtues as well as those of their twin and compromise is a daily necessity because well....they’re joined at the head, craniopagus twins. Rose is the intellectual who started the book and wants to see it through while Ruby is the artist, who goes along with her sister, grudgingly. Her chapters are often humorous and add another dimension to her sister’s narrative as they reveal to the reader things omitted by Rose. But their love for each other is undeniable and love for one another and acceptance of others are the main themes of the book.

Lansens is a new author to me but with this book she had me up late, reading just one more chapter, of this “autobiography” written by these endearing characters. Very highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I know that I'm in the minority here, but I thought this book was rather dreadful. The structural concept is a good one: conjoined twins writing their autobiography in alternating and quite different voices. But that's about the only positive thing I have to say about the book. I really had to drag
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myself through this one because of the content, which was calculated to shock (e.g., one of them actually gets pregnant while the guy is making out with the other) and to manipulate the reader's emotions (e.g., repetitive maudlin whining for the daughter given up for adoption). If I had to read one more time about Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash mooning at each other and saying "You," I was going to hurl. It was just TOO cute. Call me heartless, but this was "girlie drek" at its worst.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
Craniopagus twins, Rose and Ruby, are abandoned by their mother at birth and adopted by Lovey and Stash Darlensky. Raised in small town southern Ontario, the twins are known simply as The Girls. Their lives, simultaneously miraculous and unremarkable, are written about here in their own alternating
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voices. Rose, aspiring writer, observes:

“I thought my story’s path would be a straight one. A simple one. After all, it is the true story of my life, to the point I have already lived it, and for which I know even the most incidental detail. But the story isn’t straight. Or simple. And I see now, as I begin to think of the next chapter, that even the truth can spin out of control. My story. Ruby’s story. The story of Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash. The story of me, and we, and us, and them. The story of then. And the story of now. How can the story of me exist without all of it?”

The Girls is a difficult novel for me to review. I found large chunks of the story simply did not hold my interest. And I disliked that the girls’ “story” was really a long series of random reminiscences – too much randomness, I thought. Still, Lansens is so authentic that I felt surprised when I realized the twins are fictional. And her writing is beautiful – so gifted. The sensory language in this next passage just captivated me.

“I was thinking of when Ruby and I were children, sleeping under the entwined-hearts quilt in the old orange farmhouse on Rural Route One. I was thinking of the soft bed beneath the open window. The lowing of livestock. The stinking sweet air. The mice in the corner under out chair The crows in the field. The kittens wet born. And the world beyond the whispering corn.”

Recommended for the beautiful writing, with the hope that other readers will find the story more gratifying.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
I had read the dust jacket and knew that this was the story of Rose and Ruby Darlen, conjoined twins who are joined at the head. Most of the book is written by Rose, who tells the story of their lives chronologically. However, she insists that Ruby write a few chapters. Ruby writes just like she is
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talking to her readers and often provides insights that Rose is unwilling to devulge. The two sisters have strikingly distinct voices. While Rose writes in smooth prose, Ruby tells it like it is. For example, in describing her approach to writing, Ruby says:

"This isn't even technically my book, but if it got turned down because my part is so shittily written, then I would feel really bad."

Rose and Ruby don't write a book about being conjoined twins. Instead, they write about their lives. They help us understand Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash, their adopted parents, and make us love them as much as they do. They create a vivid portrait of their lives in a small town, and help us see them as two distinct sisters, who in the end I came to see less as conjoined twins and more as just "The Girls."
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Rose and Ruby, "the girls" in this novel, are conjoined twins. In fact, at 29, they are the oldest surviving craniopagus twins (joined at the head). Raised by Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash, they now live independently and work at the town library. Rose, the more intellectual and bookish of the two,
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sets out to write their life story. She asks Ruby to contribute her own writings. The result is The Girls, a story that is both enlightening and touching.

Rose and Ruby have overcome a myriad of physical challenges just to live life day-to-day, and are faced with numerous medical issues. They can only view each other through mirrors. This means that although they have spent every moment of their lives together, their experiences and observations are sometimes vastly different. They have also kept secrets from each other. There is a scene where one twin observes a situation she knows will greatly disturb the other twin (who cannot see the situation herself). This is revealed in the novel but, because the twins do not share their chapters with each other, only the reader knows the full story.

Lori Lansens does a brilliant job of describing the significant challenges faced by conjoined twins, while also portraying the twins as everyday people possessed of typical emotions, ambition, and dreams. I also appreciated Lansens' technique of intertwining the twins' stories, revealing different aspects through each girl and allowing the reader to form the full picture of their lives. All in all, quite a thought-provoking read.
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LibraryThing member phebj
This was a book I don’t think I’d ever have considered reading if not for Bonnie’s (brenzi’s) recent review. It’s a novel told in the form of an “autobiography” of two girls joined side by side at the head (craniopagus twins). The girls, Rose and Ruby, are approaching their 30th
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birthday, a milestone that will make them the oldest surviving craniopagus twins on record which you realize means they’re nearing the end of their lives. Rose is the literary twin who wants to write the autobiography. (“I want this collection of words to transform themselves into visions of Ruby and me. I want to be remembered like long-ago friends.”) Ruby has to be pressured to write her sections and is often pretty blunt in her observations. (“Not everyone can relate to being joined at the head, but anyone can relate to dying.”)

Lansens writing is lyrical and this book grabbed me right away. My favorite thing about it was how the twins’ extraordinary situation made ordinary things seem special and how Lansens’ depiction of the twins made them seem just like everyone else. “The strangest thing about strange things is that they’re only strange when you hear about them or imagine them or think about them later, but never when you’re living them.”

Rose and Ruby are very different people but the fact that they’re conjoined forces them to work together and they generally succeed in living in harmony. Their different personalities reminded me of the yin and yang symbol. Rose often reflects on the flow of life--“We drove the road along the river, the one that curves and loops and seems to flow back into itself, the way I do my sister, and life does death.”

The only thing that didn’t ring true to me was the chapter on the sisters’ trip to Slovakia, the home of their adoptive father. This trip didn’t seem like it would have been physically possible for them and the events that took place there took me out of the story. Otherwise, this was a fantastic read and one I’d highly recommend. I’ll definitely be looking for more of Lori Lansens’ books.
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LibraryThing member cestovatela
The Girls is the autobiography of 29-year-old twins, joined at the head, struggling with the life-threatening medical problems brought on by their unusual anatomy. Raised in a small country town by loving parents, the girls have found acceptance (though perhaps not open embrace). They're aware of
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the experiences they miss out on due to their situation, but find great consolation in their unusual closeness. Sounds promising, doesn't it? Sadly, I can't think of anything good to say about the way the novel is written. Lori Lansens tries to give the girls' narrative an amateur, homespun feel...and she succeeds a little too well. Their story is jumbled and disorienting, often breaking the "show don't tell" rule of writing. Much of one sister's narrative is dominated by incessant pontificating on writing. Many chapters are packed with arcane local trivia of limited relevance to the story, so I often found myself skimming. There were a few resonant moments, but not enough to stop me counting how many pages I had left.
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
This is such an incredible book that I struggle to find appropriate words to do justice to the story. I hated to read the last pages, knowing it would end. It was moving, stunningly beautiful, lyrical, heart warming, heart wrenching, sad, joyous, but most of all, it was exquisitely written. Each
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chapter, page, sentence is a poem.

Rose and Ruby Darlen are co-joined twins, fused together by a large network of veins in their heads. They were born in a tiny Canadian town during a tornado. Shortly after arriving in the world, their mother abandons them. They are unconditionally loved and raised by the nurse who helped deliver them and her husband who provide stability and courage that enables them to dare to survive.

As they approach their 30th birthday, thereby making them the oldest living co-joined individuals, Rose and Ruby learn that a brain aneurysm can take their lives at any time. This sad fact is the impetus for Rose to write her autobiography. Ruby adds her story and while the voices are uniquely separate, analogous to the band that holds them physically and emotionally together, their individual perceptions intertwine.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member katylit
Fictional story about conjoined twins living in rural SW Ontario. This comes across as a deceptively simple tale of almost day-to-day living told in an autobiographical style, yet is a poignant, compelling read. The characters were very endearing. I was sorry when it was over.
LibraryThing member extrajoker
first line: "I have never looked into my sister's eyes."

Narration of The Girls is shared by conjoined-twin women, who tell the story of their lives from perspectives that only occasionally overlap. Lansens fully develops her two protagonists in a well-researched, moving, and amusing book. I can
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definitely see myself reading this one again.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
The Girls by Lori Lansens was the story of Rose and Ruby – twins conjoined at the head, who were writing about their lives as connected but separate people. Set in Canada, Rose and Ruby became local celebrities whose lives were full and enriching, surrounded by people who loved them and accepted
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by those in their community.

Rose was the primary narrator of this story. Her sections of the book focused mostly on the history of her parents, Uncle Stash and Aunt Lovey, and the events of the twins’ childhood and teenage years. Rose was a writer, so her pages read more like a book or a piece of fiction. Ruby would pipe in occasionally with her own chapters, which focused more on the twins’ present lives and their future. Ruby’s sections read more like a diary – much more casual but equally enthralling. The combination of both narrative styles made The Girls a fun but enlightening read.

I was fascinated with Lansens’s depiction of Rose and Ruby. At first, I wondered how hard it would be to share my entire life connected to my sister – with no sense of privacy, the inability to do something without my sister tagging along and the public stigma that they must have endured. However, by the middle of the book, I forgot that the girls were conjoined. They emerged as separate characters to me. In fact, it was only when Lansens mentioned something about their conjoining (such as using mirrors to see each other) that I remembered Ruby and Rose were connected. These characters evolved into their own women – with their own temperaments, dreams, loves and fears – and I loved reading every word of their lives.

The Girls was long-listed for the Orange Prize and an example of excellent contemporary fiction written by a woman. If you love great character-driven fiction, then The Girls is for you.
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LibraryThing member TamiHindes
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Yes, there were some slow parts but soon the other twin would take over and the story would twist again.
Ruby and Rose are the oldest surviving craniopagus twins. They were born in Canada in 1974. The story takes place when they are 29. Ruby wants to write her life
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story, but is it hers or theirs? She encourages Rose to write also. Rose is a reluctant author, but her words ring truer in my opinion. Rose writes in a more detailed voice.

There is a sort of chronical order to Ruby's story and Rose adds the missing facts. It isn't until 3/4 of the way through the book that we find out why the girls are writing.

Lansens does a good job of writing with two separate voices. Because I live near the area - I like the fact that Lansens uses sites that I've visited.

Yes, it is a work of fiction, but when you're reading, you believe these women are real. I couldn't put it down.
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LibraryThing member dreamyflo
A thoroughly thought provoking story of two girls join at the head since birth, craniopagus twins. I found this to be such a thoroughly researched piece of writing with a warm, cosy family feel to the story - a pleasure to read

The two girls are adopted by a nurse and her husband and brought up in a
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close knit community. They are both writing their own life stories here, so there are two views on most of the situations they find themselves in. Set against a small village backdrop the 'girls' live out a fairly quiet life - although the way it is told draws the reader into the endearing details of their small worlds. I found myself looking forward to the other girls view of the chapter I was reading. Nothing here is too drawn out, plenty of variety to keep you interested. I had smiles one minute and tears in my eyes the next. There are a few surprises throughout, none of which I saw coming. A delightful read - grab yourself a copy if you like a comforting, family style read
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LibraryThing member bookwormteri
Great book! I couldn't tell you why I loved it other than the characters. Rosie and Ruby are fascinating women and I truly enjoyed their story. Unputdownable. There is no huge plot. There are just the girls and their story. Loved it.
LibraryThing member SugarCreekRanch
I couldn't put down this book about conjoined twins, Rose and Ruby Darlen. Each twin takes turns narrating; they have very distinct personalities and personalities, and choose to share or withhold different details. The "girls" are so real that it is easy to forget it's fiction.
LibraryThing member eleanor_eader
Craniopagus conjoined twins Rose and Ruby are writing their autobiographies; looking back on their life on the outskirts of small-town Canada, and the effect that their situation has had on their lives. Their story is readable, with a nice array of characters, and generally managing a fair balance
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of engaging and horrible, although I think it might fall in the category of chick-lit; certainly one of its flaws was a tendency to creep toward the 'schmaltzy' end of the engaging scale. The other problem was that although it had the courageous journey of inner musings that make a autobiographical work of fiction... work, the continually self-referencing style clashed with the fact that it is pure fiction. I found that I couldn't lose myself in the story fully, while it was pretending to be something it wasn't.
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LibraryThing member lunacat
A book told in two voices, this tells the story of twins conjoined at the head, but entirely seperate in thoughts, desires, likes, dislikes and opinions. Ruby and Rose have never been alone, and yet they have never looked at each other either. As they tell their lives, we learn about what makes
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them so individual, and unique.

I was expecting a 'typical' female written novel of medium writing quality and a standard method of telling, and in many ways this is what was delivered. However, the thing that made this enjoyable for me was not the backstory and the events as such, but the interaction between the girls through the telling. Neither knows what the other is writing, and the coincidences and comments the author drops into both make it appear both believable and fascinating.

At times I felt it was real, at others I was aware of the 'story' quality of it and couldn't feel it as a supposed autobiography and yet at the end, it was both heartbreaking and joyful, inspiring and devastating. I wanted more and yet I felt it ended where it should.

It seems much more a 'feminine' book than one that might appeal to all sexes and ages than some do, but it is an enjoyable and well paced read.

In one line: Conjoined twins tell their lives in unique voices and styles, to great effect.

3 1/2 out of 5
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LibraryThing member patgarth
beautifully and sensitvely written about conjoined twins, each tells her story, each is unique, each is chatacterised incredibly well.
LibraryThing member crazy4novels
When I first realized that this book was about conjoined twins, I had my reservations. How fortunate that I hung in long enough to realize that this is one of the best books I've ever read about sisterly love and the power of family to create a full and wonderful life despite seemingly overwhelming
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odds. You'll grow to love these two girls, and I dare you not to sob by the end of this wonderful novel, even though sensible Rose and feisty Ruby would tell you not to.
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LibraryThing member indygo88
Definitely a thought-provoking novel, carrying with it lots of moral quandries.
LibraryThing member claudiabowman
Very moving story. I liked the 'cross-talk' that occured between the sisters in their writing at times.
LibraryThing member erikitten
A superbly written book from the point of each conjoined twin. At the beginning it was difficult for me to relate to 2 humans connected together; it was easier to think of them as abnormal and strange and freaky (as much as I did not want to). By the end of the book, they had become 2 separate
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girls in my mind and I cared about them both; excited for a first kiss, their success, etc. Very well done and worth the read.
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LibraryThing member bookappeal
Imagine being a conjoined twin. It's actually easy to do in Lori Lansens novel. A story told from both of the twins under the guise of writing their autobiography. These girls are living under the gun - they know they will not live long and have already exceeded everyone's expectations. Each girl
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is her own person, despite the fact they can go nowhere without the other. Though they live a rather protected life, they are not spared various tragedies and it is these events, combined with the challenges of their everyday lives, that make the reader sympathize with each of the girls and their resilience and determination to survive and thrive.

In the audiobook, each girl has a different reader and both of them do a marvelous job portraying their characters.

Readers who enjoyed My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult will probably like this as well. Also, anyone who likes stories told in diaries and letters will appreciate how things are revealed through each girl's writings.
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LibraryThing member helensdatter
I found this book interesting but not really enjoyable. The truth is I was rather repelled by the girls' situation. The flashbacks are very interesting, the characters of Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash very appealing, but I really disliked all the "waiting to die" ponderings. I was terribly saddened by
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the missing boy, and that overshadowed the rest of story.
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LibraryThing member LibraryLou
I read this after being recommended it by a friend. She had left her copy in the staffroom at lunchtime, and I casually picked it up to see what it was like. From the first page I was hooked, so much so that I had to force myself to put it down, only for another member of staff to also start
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reading it. There were so many book marks in it it had to stay in the staffroom.
It is the moving story of two girls, conjoined at the head, but two very separate personalties. We are told the story of their life thought an autobiography with each girl writing different chapters.
The story is so realistic, you really believe it to be true. Shocking in places, it is not a book to be taken lightly. You really will be inspired by their story, and the awful things that happen to them.
That doesn't mean it is a sad story of 2 people victimized for how they look. On the contrary, the fact they are conjoined doesn't factor into this much at all, it only adds to their own personalities. Instead we see how 2 teenagers face the realities of growing up, only they have other issues to deal with at the same time.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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Awards

Women's Prize for Fiction (Longlist — 2007)
Evergreen Award (Nominee — 2006)
Best Fiction for Young Adults (Selection — 2007)
Notable Books List (Fiction — 2007)

Pages

352

ISBN

0316069035 / 9780316069038
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