Opening like a fairy tale and ending like a nightmare, this cannonball of a queer coming-of-age novel follows a young man's relationship with a violent older boyfriend—and how he and his sister survive a terrible crime
After years of severed communication, Justin appears on his sister’s doorstep needing a place to stay. The home he's made for himself has collapsed, as has everything else in his life. When they were children, Willa played the role of her brother’s protector, but now, afraid of the chaos he might bring, she’s reluctant to let him in.
Willa lives a carefully ordered life working as a nurse and making ornate dioramas in her spare time. As Justin tries to connect with the people she’s closest to—her landlord, her boyfriend, their mother—she begins to feel exposed. Willa and Justin’s relationship has always been strained yet loving, frustrating and close. But it hits a new breaking point when Justin spirals out of control, unable to manage his sobriety and the sustained effects of a brain injury.
Years earlier, in high school, desperate to escape his home life and his disapproving, troubled mother, Justin falls into the hands of his first lover, a slightly older boy living on his own who offers Justin some semblance of intimacy and refuge. When Justin’s boyfriend commits a terrifying act of violence, the two flee on a doomed road trip, a journey that will damage Justin and change his and his family’s lives forever.
Weaving together these two timelines, Brother & Sister Enter the Forest unravels the thread of a young man’s trauma and the love waiting for him on the other side.
About the Author
Richard Mirabella is a writer and civil servant living in upstate New York. His short stories have appeared in Story Magazine, American Short Fiction online, One Story, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. Brother & Sister Enter the Forest is his first novel.
The Washington Post, A Noteworthy Book Harper's Bazaar, A Best New Book of 2023 Goodreads, A Buzziest Debut Novel of the Year
Named a Most Anticipated Book of the Year by Salon, Vulture, Chicago Review of Books, and LGBTQReads
"Richard Mirabella’s debut novel, Brother & Sister Enter the Forest, is an eerie, psychologically devastating novel by any measure, but it’s Mirabella’s careful, emotionally honest rendering of the ever-shifting relationship between older brother, Justin, and younger sister, Willa, that marks this book as a revelation." —Christopher Bollen, The New York Times Book Review
“The title of Richard Mirabella's debut novel, Brother & Sister Enter the Forest promises the sinister, and Mirabella makes good on the promise . . . Mirabella's bravery is in taking his readers inside the tortured mind of a man pummeled by mental illness. It's not uplifting in the way such 'coming-of-age' novels are supposed to behave. But it's part of the larger gay picture and is every bit as worth acknowledging.” —Tim Pfaff, Bay Area Examiner
"Mirabella writes about the strange land between fable and reality, and this novel deftly explores the surreal undertones of familiar themes like love and loyalty. Part fantastical horror, part road trip narrative, Brother & Sister Enter the Forest is an uncanny portrait of the lengths we go to protect the people we love." —Isle McEroy, Vulture, A Most Anticipated Book of the Year
“Told with an incredibly steady hand, this novel dissects a tense sibling relationship. Carefully detangling life-shattering events from the pair’s past, the book manages to look straight at its characters and show the shadows behind them. Like the careful dioramas that the sister makes in her spare time, this book is an exquisite creation, made carefully and precisely.” —Bustle, A Most Anticipated Book of the Year
"Spellbinding . . . A skillfully crafted dual timeline narrative . . . Between Mirabella’s expertise on the sentence level and the love he infuses into the story—a love that explores the liminal space between tragedy and triumph—the reader is quick to trust that this journey is a necessary one. Brother & Sister Enter the Forest is haunting and gorgeous, pensively exploring memory, family, and love’s limits. It urges us to consider: how do we love someone who is not well? Where do we go when our family won’t help us?"—Rachel León, BOMB
"[A] meticulously woven narrative . . . Ultimately, this is a fairy tale of adulthood much like Hanya Yanagihara’s more expansive but similarly austere A Little Life, both of which explore how childhood trauma can come to define a person for the rest of their days—as well as how it often bleeds into our relationships with others, warping them in its image . . . Mirabella’s muted and disarmingly sophisticated style is refreshing in a literary landscape too muddied by novels that frequently seem written only to eventually be adapted to the screen. The quiet dazzlement on display here is in how he inverts the old saying, words speaking so much more loudly than action ever could." —Richard Scott Larson, SLANT Magazine
"This debut novel hits all the right themes: marriage, motherhood, ecological collapse, and the insidious ramifications of capitalism." —Julia Hass, Literary Hub, A Most Anticipated Book of the Year
"Mirabella’s debut novel—about a pair of once-close siblings and how the bruises of their youth swell into adulthood—is both bracing and a balm, his softly disarming sentences like cotton puffs that absorb the pain of deep cuts." —Michelle Hart, Electric Literature
"[A] stunning debut . . . [Mirabella] is a brave writer . . . His prose—which could be described as plain or simple by someone who doesn’t understand its power—is controlled. Mirabella’s sentences ache in their simplicity . . . Mirabella delicately portrays the after effects of trauma, and one of those traumas is a disturbing act of violence that defines the plot. But Mirabella also goes to that brave place: He shows readers the trauma of a mother who is quiet, even patient, in her homophobia. Of classroom bullies who are still around today. Of building a chosen family that disappoints. Of remembering—and not." —Marissa Higgins, The Rumpus
"This haunting debut is a beautiful but unflinching look at trauma, the lingering effects of injury, and complicated sibling relationships."—Laura Sackton, Book Riot
"[B]y turns contentious and tender . . . A gripping [...] meditation on the difficulties of youth and the salvation that can be found in family." —Publishers Weekly
"There are so many things to love about Richard Mirabella’s outstanding Brother & Sister Enter the Forest but what I love best is its meticulous attention to atmosphere, by which I mean the music of the book, the soul of it, expressed in its incisive descriptions, its cadence, its dark and tender heart. It’s what revives me every time I pick it up, and it will keep me coming back again and again.” —Paul Lisicky, author of Later: My Life at the Edge of the World
"This is a gorgeous novel—full of mystery, dread and a deep, melancholy understanding of what it means to love someone who is mentally ill. I was completely captivated." —Dan Chaon, author of Sleepwalk
"Richard Mirabella's debut novel Brother & Sister Enter the Forest doesn't so much seek understanding as it does carve indelible and brave circles into the depths of desire, violence, loss, and belonging that keep us alive, connected, heartbroken and in love, despite logic or consequence. This novel makes the world bigger." —Madeline Ffitch, author of Stay and Fight
"Riveting, relentless, a novel of calm and chilling reserve and accomplishment." —Joy Williams, author of Harrow
“A unique, evocative novel that doesn't shy away from awkwardness and pain. Mirabella's debut delves into the stubborn, haunted connections between his characters and those they've known and loved. A wry, original, new voice in fiction!” —Rachel B. Glaser, author of Paulina & Fran
“Befitting its fairy-tale title, Brother & Sister Enter the Forest sits in a mist of unease, haunted by the restless ghosts of childhood violence and abuse. But what lingers most in Richard Mirabella’s masterful novel are the brilliant moments of tenderness between siblings, between lovers, between friends, between parents and children—all of them grasping for one another’s hands in the face of so much pain, all of them fighting to meet life’s messiness with compassion and love. This is brave, beautiful storytelling.” —Zak Salih, author of Let's Get Back to the Party