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Black Water Sister

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3.93  ·  Rating details ·  6,569 ratings  ·  1,399 reviews
A reluctant medium discovers the ties that bind can unleash a dangerous power in this compelling Malaysian-set contemporary fantasy.

Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there's only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of h
...more
Paperback, 371 pages
Published May 11th 2021 by Ace Books
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Isaiah There is quite a bit of violence and multiple scenes of rape/sexual assault. It is shelved as an adult book. So it depends on the 13 year old.

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Average rating 3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,569 ratings  ·  1,399 reviews


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chai ♡
"A stressed lesbian medium fights gods, ghosts, gangsters, and grandmas in 21st century Penang" The alliteration alone successfully sold me on this book lol ...more
megs_bookrack
Feb 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arcs-read
**3.5-stars rounded up**

After graduating from Harvard, Jessamyn Teoh, finds herself broke, unemployed and still unable to come out to her parents.

After her father's health starts to deteriorate, her parents decide to move back to Malaysia and Jess is going with them.



Having grown up in the United States, the move will require some adjustment, but as Jess sees it, she doesn't have much of a choice.



Now she needs to add the stress of a long-distance relationship with her secret girlfriend into the
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Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd)
“A stressed zillennial lesbian fights gods, ghosts, gangsters & grandmas in 21st century Penang.”
-via the author’s twitter

ok so that’s just... everything I’ve ever wanted then
Nilufer Ozmekik
Feb 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
What a delicious, intriguing combination tempts the quirky mind of mine : zillennial queer heroine discovers her powers to connect with spirits and she also realizes the ties that bind can unleash the lethal power in this surprising, complex, Malaysian-set urban fantasy!

Let’s meet with our heroine Jessamyn Teoh ( we’d better calm her Jess) just graduated from Harvard, has no idea what she’ll do with her degree, feeling confused without job prospects. In the meantime she finds out, they’re in d
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P. Clark
Aug 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite reads of the summer. I’ve read Zen Cho’s other full length novels of fantasy and history. This one is a different take, with a contemporary setting—but there’s still lots of magic. Really enjoyed the protagonist: brooding, uncertain, and prone to acts of self sabotage. Yet, she’s also fiercely determined, resourceful, full of biting wit, and manages to rise to the occasion, even up against the most dire of challenges. There’s also a lot of family wrapped up in this story (good ...more
Lex Kent
May 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this one. I have not been having the best reading lucky lately so it was really nice to read a solid, good story. Cho is completely new to me, but I have wanted to read her for a while. I found her writing style quite engaging and I will absolutely be reading more of her.

I have not read many books that take place in Malaysia but I just loved the setting. Cho makes you feel so immersed in the sights, people, and culture, that it really made me feel like I was there. I’m also a huge urb
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K.J. Charles
Absolutely superb fantasy set in modern Malaysia, as a Malaysian American lesbian finds herself haunted by her grandmother and then meddling in the affairs of gods, which is always a bad idea.

Glorious dialogue, great characters depicted with deep affection as well as clearsightedness, magnificently vivid setting, and a twisty, unpredictable plot, plus a thrumming current of rage: at how men treat women, at racism, at how immigrants are abused, societal homophobia, capitalism, greed--there's a l
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may ➹
this really gave me the repressed queer Asian representation I needed

rtc
Sunny
chinese malay lesbians be like “I’m fighting demons” and the whole time the demons are intergenerational female rage and trauma


(idk if it’s a 4.5 or a 5 yet…)
Jennifer
Oct 09, 2021 rated it liked it
Zen Cho so effectively evokes the horribleness of older Chinese relatives that reading Black Water Sister made me feel something akin to PTSD. I don't want to minimize the suffering involved in actual PTSD, but there's something that sticks with you about:

- being told, as a self-conscious 13 year old weighing 80 pounds, that you are getting fat
- being proselytized to with all the enthusiasm of MLM schemers by the evangelical Christian faction of the family
- constantly being compared to your cous
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Gabrielle
Zen Cho's story of family secrets, ghosts and superstition was such an interesting and refreshing read! This is the kind of speculative fiction that I find truly awesome, the sort that puts you in the shoes of a character very different from you and challenges you to look at the world through their eyes.

Jess is the only daughter of a Chinese couple from Malaysia, and like many people her age, she is rather lost. She graduated from Harvard, but she is unemployed and closeted, mainly because her p
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luce (currently recovering from a hiatus)
blogthestorygraphletterboxd tumblrko-fi

small side note: I wrote a review for this book and ended up deleting it by mistake 🙃 so this 'new' review will be more concise.

Having loved Cho's Sorcerer Royal books I was so hyped to read this...and now that I have, I am high-key disappointed. Whereas Sorcerer Royal is a fantasy of manners (a la Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell), Black Water Sister is an urban fantasy with a contemporary setting. The premise and cover for this novel defini
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skye
this review is just going to keep getting updated from time to time because i don't know how to articulate just how much this book means to me in one single session, so i'm spreading it out as i return to it over and over again :')

a short review: When I first cracked open the book back in April, I was immediately captivated by the vivid temporality of its setting: from the daily rhythms that the characters go through, to the protagonist’s struggles that mirrored mine so closely that I nearly for
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Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell
OK so this is giving me Ghost Bride vibes and I NEED IT
CW (The Quiet Pond) ✨
Wow, a gorgeous story that made me feel so seen as a diasporic Malaysian. Black Water Sister perfectly encapsulates the complicated intersections of being part of diaspora, being queer, and the complexities of family while also being an incredibly entertaining read about ghosts, deities, and mediums.

This book just really gets it - the whole post-university-graduation life crisis, the complicated feelings of being queer and not being out to your most-likely-to-be-ignorant family, and just also th
...more
Janine Ballard
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ellie
I'm not sure what exactly it was about this novel, but I loved it so so much. I very nearly rounded up to 5 stars.

Maybe it was the way Cho masterfully evoked Malaysia, from the soup-like heat to the chatty gatherings of aunties to the local deities. Or maybe it was Jess' own character arc, balancing post-university joblessness and an unsurety of where to go next with being a lesbian unsure how to come out to her parents.

That said, this novel was also very dark in places! It does have a fair de
...more
Skye Kilaen
Jul 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 0-genre-fantasy
I *really* enjoyed this contemporary fantasy about Jessamyn, a closeted young woman who's moved with her parents back to Malaysia & starts receiving visits from her dead grandmother's ghost. (Y'know, the everyday problems we all have to deal with sometimes.) To make things more complicated, turns out her grandmother was a spirit medium for a god, and the god and Grandma want revenge on a local gang boss... okay yeah, Jess has a lot to deal with while theoretically also job-hunting.

To me, one of
...more
Shelley Parker-Chan
Phenomenal. This is what it is to be queer and Asian. Zen Cho’s light touch effortlessly propels this beautifully-observed story about the ties that bind us. Magical and mundane, fierce and hopeful, Malaysian to the bone—this book is uncompromisingly itself.
pipsqueakreviews
Jun 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
A world of deities and spiritual possession set in Malaysia.

When I found out about this book from Lex’s review, I felt almost obligated to buy a copy and read it, simply because this story takes place in Penang, Malaysia. I live in Singapore, an island next door, and while there are differences, there are also plenty of similarities between us in culture, language and food. So this felt right at home for me.

Black Water Sister isn’t a romance novel. It’s a Southeast Asian supernatural novel wit
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charlotte,
On my blog.

Rep: Chinese Malaysian lesbian mc, Chinese Malaysian side characters, Indian American lesbian side character, Indian Chinese Malaysian side character

CWs: violence, attempted rape

Galley provided by publisher

I have loved every Zen Cho book I’ve read, so obviously I was always going to want to read Black Water Sister desperately. And I was always expecting to really enjoy it (which I did). It’s a different tack to Zen Cho’s other books, in that there was a fair bit more violence and
...more
Montzalee Wittmann
Jun 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: horror
Black Water Sister
by Zen Cho

Wow! This was written so wonderfully! Jess moves back to Malaysia with her parents after she grew up in America and graduated from college. Her girlfriend, which her parents doesn't know she has, plans to move there to work later.

Things get complicated right away. She starts hearing voices. She blames it on stress. The voice tells her it's her grandmother, her mom's mother. Her mom never speaks about her mom and says little about that side of the family. This grandm
...more
elaine
May 31, 2021 rated it liked it
3.5

hm, this is a strange one; i think i was expecting something a lot different than what i got, to some detriment of my enjoyment. i saw a lot of myself in jess, but i don't think cho establishes enough of an emotional connection for me to be wholly invested in jess's character. jess herself comes off as a blank slate, which may have been the author's intent--she is after all a conduit through which spirits project themselves and their motivations. it's effective as a framing device, but not so
...more
Eilonwy
Due to financial difficulties following her father’s cancer diagnosis, recent college grad Jessamyn Teoh and her parents move “back home” to Malaysia after 19 years in the US. But while she never quite felt at home as an immigrant to the US, Jess definitely doesn’t see Malaysia as home, either. Its unfamiliarity is further exacerbated when a ghost starts speaking to Jess, pulling her into a world of local gods and mediums — and an underworld of dangerous humans. Complicating things is that Je
...more
Fanna
➵ so, so, so good. zen cho has this ability to sensitively string emotions with an intriguing paranormal plot line through a mesmerising writing that captivates change, love, and family in the haunting light of secrets, gods, and ghosts. i don't know if i would ever be able to write a coherent review but, rtc.

↣ listened to the audiobook on scribd

➵ really liked the order of the pure moon reflected in water so I had to instantly hit play on this audiobook.
...more
gauri
3.5 stars

read full review on my blog!

Black Water Sister reads like a coming of age novel with being haunted by your grandmother, evil gods and spirits, gangsters, a lesbian heroine, relatable Asian rep and family secrets. It was entertaining mostly, I loved reading about Jess's internal struggle and her character development. Ah Ma is a gem, she's so snarky and annoying at the same time. The banter between these two is hilarious. I mostly struggled with the pacing, felt like the chapters stret
...more
laurel [the suspected bibliophile]
This was really enjoyable!

Lots of trigger warnings in this one, but overall, it was a really engaging read and I liked Jess's character a whole hell of a lot. Hauntings and ghosts and gods and gangsters and grandmas, oh my!
...more
Leanne
May 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, favourites
Wow, I loved this. The story is set in Malaysia, and revolves around Jess, a jobless, closeted Harvard graduate who is forced to move back to Malaysia with her family. She starts hearing the voice of her deceased grandmother, Ah Ma, in her head, and realises she has to help her grandma settle a score against a man who offended a god. I myself am Malaysian, and so much of the story felt authentic, from the way the characters spoke, to the culture, and even the family dynamics. My dad’s side of th ...more
Lata
Zen Cho has written an absolutely terrific story about family, secrets, ghosts and gods, female rage, and crime.
Jess, newly arrived in Malaysia with her parents, is broke, at loose ends, missing her girlfriend who her parents know nothing about, including Jess' sexual preference, and has the shock of her life when she starts hearing her dead grandmother's voice in her head. Ah Ma, her rude, obnoxious, strong-willed grandmother, exposes Jess to a previously invisible world of ghosts, goddesses,
...more
Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore
My thanks to Pan MacMillan and NetGalley for a review copy of this one.

A book with ghosts in the plot may not be my usual fare but what interested me in this one was its setting—Malaysia. I don’t think I’ve read anything set there before, which made me pretty keen to pick this one up.

We meet Jessamyn Teoh or Jess, who has been brought up in the States and has recently graduated from Harvard (and is yet to find a job). Her parents have decided to move back to Malaysia and start afresh after havin
...more
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I'm a Malaysian fantasy writer based in the UK. Find out more about my work here: http://zencho.org ...more

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