Book Title: Sisters
Author: Raina Telgemeier
Style: Graphic Novel
Target Audience: Young Adult
Genres: Non-Fiction, Autobiography
Page Count: 200
Format: Trade Paperback (library copy)
Reading time: 45 min
Date Finished: 1/09/17
My impressions: Last year while helping my children select books at the library, I picked up a copy of Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts, a graphic novel about a family that moves to a town inhabited by apparitions who appear around Halloween in the style of Dia de los Muertos. I was surprised at the quality and the style of the story, which felt very much like the comic strip For Better or For Worse, but with a more youthful style and a magical realism component. I discovered that the author has created several Baby-sitter’s Club graphic novels as well as a few original works, and I decided to seek the latter out for this year’s challenge to have available as quick reads.
Sisters is a true story about a summer road trip where Telgemeier (“Raina” in the story) and her sister Amara are constantly in conflict. The book has several flashback sections where the page tone is yellowed a bit to look older, and these flashbacks are effective at explaining some of the context behind the sisters’ squabbling as well as setting up a mysterious incident called “The Incident” which has some bearing on the broader story. (Apparently, Telgemeier is also a fan of Calvin & Hobbes, since “The Noodle Incident” is one of Calvin’s legendary exploits.)
What’s great about this story is how real it feels. This is not a rosy look at the past; Telgemeier effectively retells her story with all of the hormones and sibling rivalry and craziness of growing up left intact. The two sisters are both artists with some common interests (such as Nintendo), but they rarely see their own common ground and often undercut each other. For example, there’s a scene where Raina is about to buy some snacks at a convenience store and realizes she would rather buy several packs of batteries for her Walkman, and her sister makes a point of telling her she’d better not try to take any of her snacks. Those sorts of details are so true to life, and so atypical of the saccharine sweet portrayals you usually see in entertainment media where the sisters might bond over a shared chocolate bar generously offered by the younger sister.
There’s also a shadow of the deeper, darker grown-up world throughout the story, and it’s interesting that it’s never criticized or romanticized; it’s just there. Raina has to navigate her parents not getting along, her older cousins treating her like a little kid and teasing her, the questionable decisions that her parents sometimes make (including her mother leaving Raina and Amara in a broken-down car while she searches for help) and the dynamics of living in a tiny apartment with a family of five. One of the most memorable sequences involves an increasing number of tiny backyard graves dug for pets that couldn’t survive the Telgemeier household; the tragedy and humor with which this is displayed is pitch-perfect to anyone who grew up and watched their beloved small animal pets kick the bucket overnight.
Sisters was a quick read aimed at a young audience, but I never felt like it was beneath my level as a grown-up. It was a joy to read, and I appreciated how it effectively captured what childhood is like without patronizing its audience or romanticizing the experience.