Review: Second Sister by Chan Ho-Kei

Second Sister by Chan Ho Kei is an emotive read about cyberbullying, sexual harassment and suicide

“Just as Nga-Yee thought everything was going back to normal, Siu-Man stepped from that window of their twenty-second-story flat.” (Page 28)

Nga-Yee and her sister, Siu-Man have not had an easy couple of years. Firstly, their father had an accident at work which killed him outright and then they had to watch as their mother suffered from cancer.

Since their mother’s passing, Nga-Yee has been the sole bread-winner at home while trying to support her young sister’s education.  Life wasn’t easy, but until the moment when Siu-Man jumped from their flat window, she had at least felt like they were in things together, supporting one another in their grief.

Had Nga-Yee really been that blind to Siu-Man’s suffering?

Was Siu-Man struggling to come to terms with the loss of her parents or was there something more sinister going on in her life?

Looking back at things now, perhaps Nga-Yee should have spent more time looking out for her sister. At 15, she has recently been assaulted while travelling home on the MTR and while there were eye-witnesses that supported her case, she became isolated at school and people started posting vicious rumours across social media.

Was it the constant hounding of journalists both during and after the court case that led to Siu-Man’s ultimate demise?

Surely Siu-Man had friends she could turn to. Friends she could confide in when things reached a point that she felt like there was no alternative?

Nga-Yee quickly realises that everything she thought about her sister was a mistake. This quiet, unobservant bookworm believed that her sister, while not as academic as her, was doing well and had a circle of friends she could trust. Little did she realise that her sister felt completely alone in the world. Her friends had turned against her, the school refused for anyone to acknowledge what had happened to her, and because of this, different rumours about her extra-curricular activities had started popping up across the internet.

It is only after her death that Nga-Yee becomes aware that her sister had tormentors, although who they are she does not know. She tries to find out more by hiring a private detective who has to finally admit defeat and pass her over to a colleague simply known as ‘N’.

N is an odd character. A loner with limited social skills, N strives on solving problems from the safety of his own front room.  He is also a little bit reticent about things and only shows his hand when he really needs to. It seems unlikely that this socially inept individual could find anything out to help ease Nga-Yee’s pain.

With these two equally introverted people working together, on paper,  it seems highly unlikely that anything could truly be resolved, but strangely enough, they become a force to be reckoned with and soon start to uncover more about both Siu-Man’s past and those around her.

While this is the main thread of the story, Shan Ho-Kei also introduces the reader to Chung-Nam, a coder working for a gossip site. What part does he play in the demise of a 15-year-old girl and how will they eventually bring him to justice?

My Thoughts on Second Sister

This is probably one of the most emotive novels I have read so far this year. On initially reading the blurb for this, I agree to review it because of my interest in translated literature.  It was only after I was halfway through chapter one that I realised this novel carried a hard-hitting message for all those that cling to social media.

Today, bullying has taken on a new face. No longer do people need to taunt others in the school corridors, they simply need a Facebook account to cause havoc. Second Sister is a gut-wrenching story about how social media can rip friendships apart and cause people real-life pain.

More so than that though, Second Sister, explores how sexual assault is still viewed today in Hong Kong and how that in this, the #MeToo era, we are still too afraid to speak up against those that violate others for their personal gain.

Lastly, it looks at how those suffering from bullying and sexual harassment sometimes feel that there is no way out and that the only option left is to end it all. We are all aware that suicide rates are increases and that people are finding it harder to talk about what is really troubling them. When we should be talking more, this is a novel highlighting that some people feel that they have no energy left to talk or fight.

The themes that run throughout this novel are not easy, and people will find the words distressing at times.  The disturbing nature of the content only intensifies the narrative, leading to a need to read on.

“I just wanted a stranger to hear everything I’ve suffered as proof that I once existed in this world. By the time you read these lines, I might not anymore.” (Page 424)

The chapters should feel cumbersome, there are only ten of them and the book is just shy of 500 pages, so they are not short-sharp bursts like you get from some authors, but I easily flew through them hoping to gain answers to the ever-mounting list of questions I had formulated.

Of course, I do not want to be a party-pooper and give away any spoilers, but let me say that I did not see the twist at the end coming until it hit me full in the face.  This is such a well-planned, thought out novel, making Chan Ho-Kei an author I will actively seek out in the future.

Have you read Second Sister? Perhaps you have read Chan Ho-Kei’s first novel, The Borrowed.

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Second Sister by Chan Ho-Kei is an emotive read about cyber bullying, sexual harassment and suicide. Full review available via @tbookjunkie


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