Book Review: Sisters
The Telgemeier family is going on a road trip. Raina, her younger sister, Amara, younger brother, Will, and their mom are driving from San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado, while dad flies in later. Sound like fun?
Not to Raina.
Raina is 14 years old and struggling to find where she fits in. It doesn’t help that she’s never gotten along with Amara, the sister she desperately begged her parents for when she was a child. So when you confine three siblings and their frazzled mom in a car in the sweltering heat of the summer, you get the perfect test for the strength of relationships. Especially when there’s a runaway pet snake that may or may not be alive under the front seat.
Sisters is Raina Telgemeier’s autobiographical graphic novel that is equal parts hilarious and heartwarming. The plot begins the night before the road trip, but the story begins when little Raina excitedly pesters her parents for a sister nine years earlier. Scenes from the past are cleverly intermixed with the narrative of the present to give the reader the complete picture of the family dynamics.
Telgemeier explores the themes of family and identity well, making the important point that your family doesn’t have to define your identity. Raina and Amara could not be more different if they tried, and the parents Telgemeier support each child’s individuality while trying to keep the peace. But as Raina navigates her complicated relationship with Amara, it also becomes clear to her that family is the most important thing she has.
The book is well written and beautifully illustrated by Telgemeier, who has taken difficult, personal memories and turned them into an easy to read story for kids age 8 and older. The characters are easy to identify with simply because they aren’t characters — they’re real people experiencing real emotions, and Telgemeier is not afraid to share them with you. Anger, jealousy, and sibling rivalry are all parts of childhood, and every family handles them differently. Parents Telgemeier are experiencing the loss of a job which compounds the stress of raising three kids, but they don’t let their problems affect the kids’ lives; children should be children regardless of financial trouble and the goldfish that keep dying.
Sisters is a companion to Telgemeier’s debut graphic novel Smile. The two are standalone books and can easily be enjoyed without having read the other. It is a story for kids and their parents; Telgemeier is in her 30s now, so the flashbacks to her childhood are a dose of nostalgia for anyone reading this book as a family. One of my favourite flashback scenes showed the family’s excitement at a 512kb enhanced computer and the wonder that was Microsoft Paint.
At little more than 200 pages, Sisters is a quick read. Kids will love the Telgemeier children’s antics, but they’ll also learn the importance of being sensitive to someone else’s feelings. It’s a lesson that will serve them well.
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