Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, with color by Braden Lamb
If the cover looks somewhat familiar, that’s because Sisters continues Raina Telgemeier’s highly entertaining (for the reader, certainly) coming-of-age escapades she shared in Smile, published four years ago to bestselling success. In Sisters, she’s hasn’t quite shed her braces, but she’s heading to high school come fall. That pivotal summer before, 4/5 of the family climbs into a VW microbus without air conditioning and road-trips from California to Colorado for a family reunion. That missing 1/5 – Raina’s father – claims work responsibilities and opts to fly.
Raina begins with “For Amara, obviously” – that’s her on the right of that cover, otherwise known as Raina’s younger sister. Adulthood must have calmed the friction electrifying these pages, because almost immediately, Raina is screaming “Why did I ever ask for a sister?!” after nearly coming to fisticuffs. “How do you expect to survive a week in the car together if you can’t even get through dinner?” their mother chides in exasperation. Once upon a time, for then-4-year-old Raina, meeting newborn Amara was love at first sight; alas, Amara’s response was an ear-piercing “WAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”
Thanks to her headphones, the trip is bearable enough (except when her batteries die). In between camping, torrential downpours, bug infestations, stargazing, Raina wanders through her memories of being an only child for four years, then the oldest of three in an ever-shrinking home, the family stress of a parent’s job loss, and more. She tries very hard to ignore any references to “the incident,” as traumatic as it was, but certainly Amara has too much fun giving her a hard time.
When the family arrives at Aunt Mary’s, Raina is dubbed “Penelope” by one cousin, ignored by another, and watches as the adults don’t get along any better than the kids. In a moment of almost-bonding, she hesitantly asks Amara, “You ever feel like you just don’t fit it?” But showing any vulnerability doesn’t quite turn out as it should. And then there’s still the long drive back home … will the family survive?
The four black-and-white photographs at book’s end seem to prove the veracity of Raina’s adolescent recall. As difficult as early sisterhood might have been for the girls (and their referee mother!), we readers are, of course, nodding, eye-rolling, guffawing along – although I’ll admit a tear or two might have also escaped.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult