Black Water Sister, a review

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho was gifted to me by the wonderful Hannah from LadetteM this past Christmas because she knew I was excited for it. And I wanted to read it because Olivia-Savannah from Olivia’s Catastrophe thought I would like it, and I trust her recommendations for me absolutely. So I was super hyped to pick this beauty up!

The start of this book lulls you into a false sense of security. You think it’s going to be about a Malaysian American girl who struggles to fit in to her new life. Even after Jessamyn starts hearing her Grandmother’s voice in her head, you think that she might just be stressed, or that her Gran is going to be a helpful little voice.

Lol no.

The Grandmother is a horrible woman, she’s manipulative, controlling, violent, just plain nasty and I loved her for it. She has complete tunnel vision for her goal and she didn’t care what happened to Jess to achieve it. But at the same time, Ah Ma had a damn hard life and had to become strong for her children. To look after them as well as herself. And you can’t help but respect her for it and understand her standpoint.

The Black Water Sister has some similarities in that respect. Wronged by men, more powerful in her wrath than they could ever imagine, she’s a force to be feared and respected. Yes she’s absolutely terrifying, but so damn strong and I loved her.

We have quite a few characters throughout the novel. Jess, her girlfriend, her maternal and paternal family, a gang leader and his kid, and the character development from those we interact with was fabulous. These characters are all communicating, learning, and altering how they act and react. Not always for the best, but hey that’s what makes it fun!

Similarly I loved that Jess’ parents (and her extended family) were always there, and in the way! With this being a novel about an actual young adult (graduated uni, looking for a career, rather than teenagers) it would’ve been easy to default to the “parents don’t seem to care” dynamic, or just having them be stupid and not notice what’s going on. But Jess’ parents are super involved and I loved their constant check ins with her.

Zen Cho is British and Malaysian, so seeing her write about a Malaysian American was interesting. As far as my uneducated arse could tell, she nailed the Malaysian rep. And the US rep (from a British pov obvs) seemed decent too. I loved seeing how these cultural norms were interwoven throughout the narrative with Jess’ more US centric viewpoints contrasting with her parents Malay ideals.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 10, Atmosphere: 9, Writing: 10, Plot: 9, Intrigue: 9, Logic: 8, and Enjoyment: 9 giving this book an average score of 9.14 and a 5* rating!

As you can tell I loved this book and I’m so so excited to read more from Zen Cho in the future! I have Sorcerer to the Crown by her on my tbr shelf and it’s definitely been bumped up the list now!

Highlight here if you need to see the trigger warnings for this book: Domestic Abuse, Murder/Attempted Murder, Violence, Blood, Homophobia.

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