Black Water Sister – Zen Cho

I am very lucky with the books I get to read this year – I have had the opportunity to read and review most of my most anticipated books so far, and they don’t disappoint. 2021 is the year of diverse sapphic books and I’m all here for it. Black Water Sister is going to be playing in the highest leagues, and it’s a delicious story (it’s not just beautifully written, there’s also a lot of food mentioned).

Massive thanks to Macmillan and NetGalley for the eARC, all opinions are my own.

RELEASE DATE: 10/06/2021

STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶

SUMMARY: As Jessamyn packs for Malaysia, it’s not a good time to start hearing a bossy voice in her head. Broke, jobless and just graduated, she’s abandoning America to return ‘home’. But she last saw Malaysia as a toddler – and is completely unprepared for its ghosts, gods and her eccentric family’s shenanigans.

Jess soon learns her ‘voice’ belongs to Ah Ma, her late grandmother. She worshipped the Black Water Sister, a local deity. And when a business magnate dared to offend her goddess, Ah Ma swore revenge. Now she’s decided Jess will help, whether she wants to or not.

As Ah Ma blackmails Jess into compliance, Jess fights to retain control. But her irrepressible relative isn’t going to let a little thing like death stop her, when she can simply borrow Jess’s body to make mischief. As Jess is drawn ever deeper into a world of peril and family secrets, getting a job becomes the least of her worries. (from Macmillan)

OPINIONS: Black Water Sister is one of those magical novels that just captivate you and suck you into their world and teach you about our world in the process. Deeply rooted in Malaysian Chinese society, but told through the lens of Jess, raised in America and returning to Malaysia as an adult, this is a story of family, grief, and, yes, religion. Shortly after she arrives in Malaysia, the spirit of her grandmother starts possessing Jess and she gets pulled into a world of spirits, gangsters and gods.

Jess’s life is dominated by her family and trying to fit into the narrow confines of the expectations she believes her parents have for her. She is not straight, but she will also not ever admit to being gay – which means that she is keeping her girlfriend a massive secret from everyone in her life. This causes huge issues between them and Jess needs to figure out not only who she is and what she wants but also how far she is willing to risk her family’s approval to get it. And while I can’t speak to how well this was portrayed in terms of the culture it is set in – which is the one Zen Cho is from – I thought that Jess’s struggles were well done and relatable. She was a great leading character, a woman in her twenties, trying to juggle figuring out where she wants her life to go with her family’s expectations.

I generally felt that Black Water Sister managed to balance all its parts well. The characters were fleshed out, not just Jess, but also Ah Ma, her grandmother’s ghost, and many of the other minor and major players. The world was plastic, and the plot was consistently paced with high tension throughout. I can’t wait to re-read it and dive back into its world. This is a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it.

Add it to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

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