Rebel Sisters by Tochi Onyebuchi (War Girls #2)

It's been five years since the Biafran War ended. Ify is now nineteen and living where she's always dreamed--the Space Colonies. She is a respected, high-ranking medical officer and has dedicated her life to helping refugees like herself rebuild in the Colonies. 

Back in the still devastated Nigeria, Uzo, a young synth, is helping an aid worker, Xifeng, recover images and details of the war held in the technology of destroyed androids. Uzo, Xifeng, and the rest of their team are working to preserve memories of the many lives lost, despite the government's best efforts to eradicate any signs that the war ever happened. 

Though they are working toward common goals of helping those who suffered, Ify and Uzo are worlds apart. But when a mysterious virus breaks out among the children in the Space Colonies, their paths collide. Ify makes it her mission to figure out what's causing the deadly disease. And doing so means going back to the homeland she thought she'd left behind forever.

CONTRIBUTOR(S): Nkeki Obi-Melekwe (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Listening Library
YEAR: 2020
LENGTH: 464 pages (14 hours 42 minutes)
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction

Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Secondary Character(s).

REBEL SISTERS is an engaging and thought-provoking sequel to WAR GIRLS, one which feels like it swerves at the very last minute to create a sense of resignation and helplessness even though solutions were sought and found for many of the problems which drove the characters to action. As a story about the futility and cyclical nature of war, this makes sense in certain respects, but the way the final moments undercuts previous events. I'm left feeling that things are pointless, conflict is intractable, and any solutions are only a stop-gap at best. I’m left not quite sure whether I understood completely what it was going, whether I misunderstood, or whether the actual story refrained from saying anything clearly. The worldbuilding is very good. There are a couple of distinct moments where something is finally explained, but it had been treated as true in the narrative all along it’s just that no attention had been called to it until that point.

I’m having a lot of complicated thoughts about the story as a whole and it is difficult to discuss them without spoilers, but I will do my best. I recently wrote an essay discussing two books in the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire and their similarities to a concepts from a TV show called Babylon 5. There I discuss at length the particular approach that those books took to someone forcibly giving the entire populace fake memories, and then a small group of people trying to get them back. I’m struck by how the positions of villain and hero are reversed in REBEL SISTERS than from the October Daye books. In REBEL SISTERS, the Nigerian government is the one erasing memories. In the text it's treated as better that it’s at least the Nigerian government changing the memories of the Nigerian people (and their remaining Biafran neighbors in a unified Nigeria). Here, the villain is an outsider trying to give people back their memories of war and destruction. More than that, she’s also trying to give the memories of the dead to the living, memories that the survivors would not have had even if the government hadn’t interfered by taking away the memories of the war. The villain is arguing that this is the correct thing to do, because they are the real memories. Ify is arguing that it is wrong to do this, because giving people back these memories makes many of them unable to live with their neighbors, or with themselves. Additionally, there is a character who has memories of a deceased person, and who consequently is driven to find someone she never actually met. Something that isn’t stated by any of the characters, but which seems obvious is that having or not having these memories completely changes how people think and behave because this knowledge demands some sort of response, and most reactions in this case are destructive. 

The ending thematically backpedals in a weird way, with one of the characters expressing the thought that it doesn’t really feel that what they did even matters in the context of a different solution having happened elsewhere for more people. So the final scene implies heavily that a particular thing happened without actually confirming it. Given this series is about cycles of war and trauma, and the difficulty of actually having any kind of solution that works for everyone, or even whatever value of "everyone" matters to the people in power, I could easily believe that the ending is meant to be  implied and feel a bit weird. But still, narratively it’s like the middle third builds just something completely different than what the very beginning and the very end are trying to accomplish. Actually, the more I think about this, the very ending seems to imply that a particular solution is better because it makes it clear that memory is what allows this violence to continue, but now in a new place. 

Graphic/Explicit CW for torture.

Moderate CW for racism, fire/fire injury, blood, violence, gun violence, police brutality, medical content, medical trauma, suicide, suicide attempt, war, death

Bookshop Affiliate Buy Link

Add this on TheStoryGraph


Popular Posts