One, by Sarah Crossan, was published in 2015.
The first sentence is: “Here we are.”
Tippi and Grace are sisters, both sixteen years old. They’ve been homeschooled their entire lives.
The story is narrated by Grace.
As the story opens, their parents are no longer able to afford homeschooling, and Tippi and Grace will enter a private high school, as juniors, in the fall.
(Yes, Tippi and Grace’s parents are big fans of Alfred Hitchcock.)
Tippi and Grace are worried about this change. They are conjoined twins. That’s why their parents have homeschooled them. They’ve already been called some rude names, stared at, and photographed without permission, and they’ve heard some terrible stories about what high school is like.
Their younger sister, whom they call “Dragon”, reminds them that not everyone is an “asshole”.
Grace explains to the reader that the details of their body are private, but they will sometimes answer people’s questions, just to shut them up. They are a variety of conjoined twins classified as Ischiopagus Tripus. Everything above the intestines is separate: two heads, two hearts, four arms, two sets of kidneys and lungs. Their intestines begin separately, then merge. “And below that we are one.”
It isn’t really so bad, Grace explains. They have it better than some others.
Tippi and Grace have been seeing psychologists their whole life, with an interesting method of assuring each girl privacy during the sessions. They receive frequent physical checkups because it is rare for conjoined twins to reach adulthood. Grace and Tippi have cost their parents a lot of money.
On their first day of school, Grace and Tippi make friends with two social misfits: Yasmeen and Jon. Yasmeen becomes their bodyguard. Dragon had been right.
Grace develops a crush on Jon, beginning with their first meeting. The feeling appears to be mutual. Tippi warns Grace that neither one of them can ever fall in love. Grace feels that that warning is too late.
Grace and Tippi have always avoided publicity. Their parents have always shielded them. But when the family hits a financial crisis, Grace sees no other option but to be the subject of a documentary, to have cameras follow them for months. Tippi is against the idea at first, but is eventually persuaded to go along with it.
Everything comes to a halt when Grace is diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. Tippi’s heart is the only thing keeping Grace alive, and the strain is killing Tippi. Grace will need a heart transplant, but the doctors can’t perform the surgery on conjoined twins. The only chance for survival – for both of them – is to separate them.
The separation surgery will be extremely risky. The chance that even one twin will survive is low. Grace and Tippi are scared, but just as scared that the surgery will be successful. They’ve spent their lives insisting that they are different people, but the truth is that they’ve never been her and me – they’ve only ever been us.
I flew through One. I read its 444 ePages in just four days.
The number of ePages is slightly misleading, perhaps. This novel is formatted as if it was poetry. Words flow down the page in artistic patterns, free from the constraints of paragraphs. Text sometimes takes up as little as a quarter of a page. A chapter sometimes consists of a single page. It worked well for the story.
No matter how many actual ePages One contains, the fact is that I couldn’t put it down. The book was an amazing, emotional experience.
I knew almost nothing about conjoined twins when I started this book. It felt so believable, though, with so many personal details that I was surprised to learn, from the author’s notes at the end, that it was based purely on research. Grace loves reading because it’s the only time she can feel alone. Grace and Tippi see two different psychologists, with one twin listening to loud music on headphones so the other can speak freely. Dragon frequently feels left out because, although her sisters are often seen as freaks or monsters, at least that’s something – she’s nothing but the sister of conjoined twins. The doctors’ explanation of how the separation surgery will work shows that a lot of research went into this book.
I loved the idea that, although Yasmeen and Jon are a whole lot more accepting than the rest of the school, they are shown to have their prejudices – they just handle them better than most.
I did wonder how the parents were able to afford all the medical bills, including two psychologists, for sixteen years. (The surgery team did perform the separation for free, by the way.) I thought, at first, that Grace and Tippi’s family live in a country with nationalized health care. No, they live in the USA, in New Jersey.
I loved One. I’ll even say that it’s the best book I’ve read so far this year. It’s a wonderful novel. It’s the type of book that left me feeling a separation after it was ovee.
Why I chose this book:
I did an internet search, and stopped when I found One, because I’d never read a book whose protagonists are conjoined twins. It was as simple as that.