Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆           Difficulty Rating: ★★★☆☆

In what can only be described as one of the biggest plot twists of all time, Karen Joy Fowler’s ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’ explores the traumatic life of Rosemary Cooke, whose childhood was transformed into an extraordinary experiment by her psychologist father.

Throughout the novel, we are thrust back in time to 1970s Indiana when Rosemary was but a little girl, who could talk the hind legs off a donkey and was inseparable from her sister, Fern. She also adored her older brother, Lowell, who always looked out for her at school. One day, Rosemary’s world was turned upside down when she was mysteriously sent away to stay with her Grandparents. Convinced she was abandoned by her parents for her motormouth, she blamed herself but, in a sudden turn of events, she was returned home only to find that her beloved Fern was gone.

Rosemary has since condemned herself for her sister’s disappearance and her family’s ensuing breakdown when her brother, Lowell, ran away from home to pursue the criminal lifestyle of an animal rights activist in protest to his father’s work on animals.

We hear the story from the perspective of twenty-two year old Rosemary, who is now ploughing through her fifth year at the University of California. There, she befriends the loose cannon and ‘Fern substitute’, Harlow. Rosemary is determined to be deemed normal and not “the monkey girl” as she was often referred to at school and so she puts aside her advanced vocabulary and refrains from telling her story, which would be guaranteed to silence any room. However, her normality is once again interrupted when someone from her past gets in touch. Was she really to blame for Fern being sent away?

Fowler’s impressive non chronological narrative will keep you on your toes as you, along with Rosemary, attempt to piece together her past to determine what truly happened when Fern vanished from her family’s lives. You will laugh, you will smile and you may even shed a tear as you embark on Rosemary’s journey to self discovery and wake up to the cruel realities of animal experimentation.

Overall, Fowler’s novel was a gripping and heartrending read, which touches on the long effects of parenting on a child and other issues that are still all too relevant today.

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