Review: Brother & Sister Enter the Forest - Richard Mirabella
Genre: Literary fiction
Published: Catapult/Dreamscape Audio, March 2023
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Richard Mirabella delivers an impressive debut with this literary novel about trauma, queer coming-of-age, and the unique, volatile bond between a brother and a sister.
Our story opens with Willa, a put-together if somewhat withdrawn nurse, finding her estranged brother on her doorstep, in need of a place to stay. His turbulent teen-years involving a toxic relationship, a horrific crime and the physical effects of a traumatic brain injury have sent Justin into a spiral of self-destruction, and forced Willa to cut ties with him to protect her own stability. Now years later, his reentry into her life sets the two off on a path towards tentative reconnection. However, the past still hangs between them and more than time is needed to mend old wounds.
Through beautiful prose and poignant insights, Mirabella does something that few books in its genre are able to do: it captures the quiet, everyday-fallout of trauma. When it comes to traumatic coming-of-age narratives, there’s the temptation to flare into the dramatic. To show the highest of highs, only to almost physically jerk the tears from your audiences eyes during the tragic lows. For a textbook example of that, we need look no further than a book I’ve already seen some reviewers compare this to: A Little Life. Dear readers, this book is not like A Little Life. Where A Little Life is a bombastic orchestra, this is a quiet, acoustic ballad that never feels like it revels in the characters misery. In my opinion, this is much harder to do and therefore much more impressive when done right.
Mirabella expertly captures the shaky grounds on which the relationship between Willa and Justin is funded, and their tentative attempts at reconnection. I also really enjoyed the imagery used, especially the dioramas Willa builds to literally frame her personal memories.
What had me round my 4.5 down instead of up comes down to two issues: the pacing and the audiobook. The pacing took a bit of a dip between the 40 and 70% mark. It wasn’t that I wanted more “action”, but around this point the heaviness of the subject matter, in combination with very little “lightness” in between made the book feel very bleak. So much so, that I couldn’t quite enjoy my time with the book for a while. My second issue is regarding the audiobook, which I was specifically sent for review. I feel the audio-narration would’ve been improved with a second (male) narrator for Justin’s POV. Although I enjoyed the female narrator overall, she worked very hard to differentiate her voice between the characters. For Justin and Grace specifically, she was quite obviously “performing a man and an elderly woman” respectively, which distracted from the story a bit.
Many thanks to the publisher Dreamscape Media for providing me with an advanced-audio copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
You can find this book here on Goodreads.