They're two girls. With two different, thinking brains. And two separate, beating hearts. But the Darlen girls are forever joined in a way that makes them closer than even the closest of sisters: As conjoined twins, Rose (the studious one) and Ruby (the beautiful one) lead their lives while connected at the head by an area the size of a bread plate.

Lori Lansens' The Girls imagines the twins' attempt to record their autobiography as they approach their 30th birthday, a milestone that will make them the world's oldest surviving craniopagus twins. Rose, an aspiring writer, is the primary author, but since she doesn't live her life alone, she asks Ruby to contribute her own chapters. The resulting experience is like reading someone's diary while being filled in on everything by her best friend. And so they tell their story. Abandoned by their unmarried teen mother shortly after she gives birth to them, the twins are adopted by Aunt Lovey (the nurse who delivered them) and her Slovakian-born husband, Stash. Their life in present-day, small-town Canada is almost astonishingly normal, as Lovey refuses to label them disabled. Just like anyone else, they fall in love, bicker with each other, root for the Red Sox and, generally, grow up.

Guided by two remarkably distinct voices, the novel unfolds subtly. Even as she settles into the linguistic artistry of an assured writer, Rose struggles aloud with the proper way to develop plot and character. Ruby, on the other hand, is an entirely unselfconscious writer, filling in the reader matter-of-factly on the momentous events Rose leaves out.

Ultimately, the novel is a testament to the transformative power of literature. Though Rose and Ruby set out simply to chronicle their past, the process of writing changes their present. Readers, too, will find themselves altered by this lyrical and haunting story. Iris Blasi is a writer in New York City.

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