Title: My Sister, the Serial Killer
Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite
I’ve had Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel on my to-read list for almost a year now. If my memory serves me well, I had found it while scrolling through the Goodreads Choice Awards in 2019 and thought that the concept of the book was interesting and so kept it on my to-read list. However, I recently chanced across a hardcover copy for an affordable price and decided to buy it and of course, read it.
(Aside: I rarely buy books because books tend to be $20 and over and I’ll only buy them after I’ve read a copy from the library so I don’t waste my money on books I won’t enjoy. The exception is LGBT+ books as they are hard to come by in the public library)
My Sister, the Serial Killer follows the adventures of Korede after her younger sister, Ayoola, has called for help in the dead of the night. Ayoola has just killed another one of her boyfriends accidentally/on purpose and needs help disposing of the body. Since this is the third body Korede has needed to dispose, she dubs Ayoola a serial killer and when her sister sets her eyes on Korede’s crush, Tade Otumu, Korede knows Tade might just end up dead.
Despite the already high body count, the story only really begins when Ayoola sweeps in to the hospital one day and chances upon an instantly-smitten Tade. Tade falls in love with Ayoola and despite Korede’s best attempts, he can’t be dissuaded. Tade tries to woo Ayoola to little avail. And while Ayoola may not be fully interested — she cheats on Tade at one point in the book — she likes the attention and she likes annoying Korede.
One would expect a book with a name like My Sister, the Serial Killer to be a grim and gritty adventure. I had gone into the book thinking there was more to be revealed about Ayoola’s supposed career as a serial killer, that there was more at stake than just a cute doctor. Think Kill Your Boss by Shane Kuhn.
This story is less about the murders and more on the dynamics between sisters. In the span of 226 pages, Braithwaite manages to touch not just on sibling rivalry, but also on self-image and family dynamics.
Korede, by her own admission, knows she’s less attractive than her younger sister. And despite what she claims, readers are left with the sneaky suspicion that the sisters are caught in the throngs of a typical sibling rivalry, and all their interactions are always influenced by this constant competition.
Whether Ayoola is actually a serial killer is left purposefully vague. Her title as a serial killer is bestowed upon her by Korede. But we never get to find out if the three dead ex-boyfriends left in her wake actually all an accident like she claims, or if there is something more sinister at play.
Instead, we are treated to what feels almost like Korede’s staccato diary entries as she moves through her day-to-day, saving her sister from almost outing herself as a murderer and hopelessly crushing on Tade.
To me, the climax of the story comes way too late in the novel. I was almost a third of the way through the book before I even felt like the stakes were actually building up. And right after the climax of the book, My Sister, the Serial Killer ends so adruptly that even with my constant checking of the remaining thickness of the book, I was still stunned that the novel was done.
Korede’s story is so focused about Ayoola that I felt that she, as the main character, is not as fleshed out as she could be. There is no marked change to her character arch; she makes no progress from the start to the end. Sure, one can argue her relationship with her sister improves but the newfound peace in the novel feels so unstable that it feels like nothing has really changed. The sibling rivalry is still there. Nothing significant has changed dramatically in their world.
Would I say my $20 was wasted? No. I don’t regret buying this book but I can certainly foresee it being sold off if I decide to purge my shelves of books. If anything, I feel that the title was wasted. With something as amazing as My Sister, the Serial Killer, for there to be so little actual murder and gore, it felt like the book had oversold itself.
If you’re looking for a cute story about sibling rivalry with a pinch of feminist theory and murder, this is the story for you. But if you’re in the market for a book actually about murders and serial killers, then you might be better off looking for another book.
This review first appeared in the newsletter The Reader Who Came In from the Heat. Subscribe for more reviews in your inbox.