By Caroline B. Cooney.
Mary Lee’s whole identity revolves around her being an identical twin. She and Madrigal, because of their beauty and their twin-ness, are (in their own opinion, at least) an ‘event’. But her parents, having decided that the twins’ relationship is unhealthy, send Mary Lee to boarding school two thousand miles away. Whereas Mary Lee is miserable under this new arrangement, Madrigal thrives at home without her sister. A devastating accident occurs when Madrigal visits the school, giving Mary Lee the opportunity to assume her twin’s identity. But she soon learns that the life Madrigal has been living was far from perfect. And when she meets Madrigal’s boyfriend, Jon Pear, she begins to uncover horrible truths that force her to see her sister in a very different light. As she gets dragged further into Jon Pear’s sinister world, Mary Lee risks never getting her own life back.
Twins is a story in three parts. In the first section, we follow Mary Lee as she is torn away from her home and her twin – who she sees as the other half of her ‘whole’. The emotional pain caused by Madrigal’s aloofness towards Mary Lee elicits our sympathy, but there are other clues that Madrigal is not as close to her twin as Mary Lee assumes; clues which she either does not notice, or purposefully ignores. In the middle section, there is a terrible accident and the fateful decision, made by Mary Lee, which drives the rest of the action. And in the final section, the meatiest part of the story, Mary Lee learns what it is like to be Madrigal; to be hated by an entire school, and especially loathed by the only friends she ever had: brother and sister, Van and Scarlett. She meets the sociopathic Jon Pear, who not only loved Madrigal, but also recruited her to participate in the cruel games which made an entire school fear and despise her.
As with other Caroline B Cooney entries, we spend most of Twins following one character’s thoughts, making it an absorbingly intense and claustrophobic read. There is a pervading sense of dread, but it is not until Mary Lee meets Jon Pear that the story becomes truly horrifying. We are desperate to know what Madrigal and her boyfriend have been up to, and when we experience one of their disgusting ‘games’ in nightmarish detail (there are rats involved) we finally understand why they have been condemned by the whole school. But even worse is the hint that Madrigal’s visit, which ended in tragedy, had a far more nefarious intention than Mary Lee could ever have imagined. This terrifying suggestion, never fully explored, is haunting in its ambiguity. Unlike most Point Horror entries, Twins does not end with a sense of resolution or a return to normality. Jon Pear’s fate is in doubt, and we are left to wonder whether his evil has spread and infected those around him, as he hoped it would. And there is no happy ending for our heroine, as even though we leave her surrounded by people, with friends and with her true identity established, Mary Lee is still very much alone.
The atmosphere of hatred and dread is suffocating. The tragic events which occur in Twins are terrible, but these are surpassed in their awfulness by the suggestion of what else might have been. The sense of evil genuinely disturbs and takes the reader somewhere far darker than any other Point Horror. Twins is Caroline B Cooney’s scariest creation, and one of the most unsettling entries in the whole franchise, earning the highest possible fear factor rating of…