Molly, the teenage narrator of "In My Sister's Country" is an angry, wanton mess. She lies; she sneaks and ditches school to sleep with her sister's boyfriend. When she's not doing that she's engaged in equally naughty behavior with whoever will play along… Although not conventionally charming, she's smart, funny and observant. Spending time inside her head is a guilty pleasure - akin to eating potato chips and ice cream on the couch while watching trash TV.
When we first meet Molly she's working on an essay for school. Her assignment is to write about a family member as if she is a country. She writes:
"In my sister's country the refrigerator is filled with half-empty jars of chocolate fudge and questionable eggs; the bathtub overflows because she falls asleep while the water rises to her nostrils; bottles of dark liquor move from cabinet to cabinet around the apartment as if they're trying to run from someone; cartons of cigarettes are tucked between her hatboxes so I can steal my smokes without bothering her…"
Molly lives with her sister Amanda in a cramped Chicago apartment. Amanda is Molly's guardian providing food and shelter while their terminally ill mother lingers in hospice. Amanda's hands are full - juggling the demands of her career, an unstable romance and the stress of worrying over an ailing parent. She often leaves Molly alone to find her way through the thicket of adolescence. "In My Sister's Country" is a psychological mystery driven by Molly's desire to understand her past. As Molly uncovers truths about her childhood we begin to understand the source of her anger. Two enormous houses, a divorce, a missing father and a mysterious boarder provide elements of gothic intrigue that keep this story moving.
Author Lise Haines is masterful in her ability to affect the voice of a smart but troubled teen. Her Molly is skewed and self-absorbed. She lies to get what she wants. She manipulates and betrays. But she has a fierce integrity (not unlike that of a caged animal lunging out to bite the hand of its feeder) and it makes her… interesting.
I loved this book. It's original, honest and tough. Although it deals with women's coming of age issues this isn't typical women's victim fiction. Both men and women of a certain unblinking sensibility should find something of interest in Molly's titillating adventures.