Books about sisters

I've been working hard on my Newbery reading challenge this summer. One book I recently finished was Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, which was awarded the 1978 Newbery medal. It tells the story of twin sisters who live on a small island in the Chesapeake Bay. Louise, the elder twin, feels constantly overlooked and pushed aside for her spoiled younger twin Caroline, who seems to take every good thing in life for herself. Louise feels not only despised by everyone in comparison with her twin but condemned by God himself. She ends the book just as embittered toward God as she was at the beginning, if not more so, as well as completely estranged from her sister. I thought that was sad. I wasn't sure if I liked the book. But it was interesting.

Last week I read something Gladys Hunt wrote about Katherine Paterson:

Katherine Paterson's fine prose tells a good story. Her books are not always optimistic in outlook but very moving. In response, Paterson would say that is the way life is.

Thinking about Louise's character, I wondered if there are people out there who live their lives convinced that God hates them. Undoubtedly there are! What can I do about it if I meet someone like that? Then I thought that if unsettling books make you ask questions, perhaps in their own way they are more valuable than books with a cheerful and tidy ending.

I was intrigued by the relationship of the two sisters and that made me start to think about how tension between sisters always makes for an interesting story. Perhaps I feel that way because I am one of six sisters. Stories about sisters resonate deeply with me. I thought it would be fun to make a short list of memorable books I've enjoyed that feature sisters.

I should make it clear that I am very fond of all of my sisters. Yet I believe a book that portrayed a purely sunny relationship between sisters wouldn't feel real. A relationship with a sister has both love and hate at times. (Hopefully love prevails and you leave the hate back in third grade when you got so mad you threw a toy block at her face!) There are elements of both loyalty and betrayal. There are deep similarities that you don't share with any other person and at other times differences that seem to be irreconcilable. So the best stories, the ones that touch your heart, portray both love and pain in sister relationships.

1. Faye and Dolores by Barbara Samuels

For fun, I am including a sweet and funny picture book about two sisters who are opposites. Faye is rational and calm. Dolores is impulsive and excitable. Yet they need each other. Dolores needs Faye to turn on the lamp to check on a scary shape in their bedroom -- which turns out to be a sweater Dolores wore yesterday. Faye needs Dolores to cheer her up on a rainy day by making a very silly sandwich. This is one of my favorite picture books. I also especially love two of the other books in this series, Duncan and Dolores, and Aloha Dolores.

2. Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary wrote for grade schoolers but she was so skilled at depicting emotions and situations like ones children actually experience, I find that even as an adult I enjoy reading her books. Beezus often feels exasperated by her lively younger sister Ramona but also fears that -- unlike Ramona -- she has no imagination. In this endearing book Beezus discovers that she does, in fact, have an imagination. Also, she is astonished to find that her beloved Aunt Beatrice was once an annoying little sister to Beezus's mother. To me there are two gentle lessons here: one, it's important to learn to be thankful for the unique way God has created you, because you can never be exactly like your sister. And two, just because your sister gets on your nerves sometimes don't give up hope for a warm and loving relationship in the future.

3. The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

This is a fun fairy tale. It has all those wonderful fairy tale elements: magic boots,a quest, dragons, a magic tablecloth, castles, princesses, fairies, and romance. But it is the heartwarming love between two sisters that really makes it shine. Princess Addie is timid and fearful. Princess Meryl is adventurous and bold. Addie has always depended on Meryl to take care of her. But when the roles are reversed and Meryl falls deathly ill, Addie doesn't fail her sister. She finds a way to overcome her fear and set out on a quest to save Meryl.

4. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

This story is set in Tudor England. Kate is unfairly blamed for something foolish her beautiful, lovable younger sister Alicia did and finds herself banished to a remote manor where she tries to unravel mysterious goings on. What happened to Sir Geoffrey's daughter? Why are all the village people so afraid of the castle folk? Feeling worthless beside her charismatic younger sister, Kate comes into her own in this story. One of my favorite humorous quotes from the beginning of the book:

Kate, most unfortunately, looked like her father and still more like her grandfather, Sir Giles, who had founded the fortunes of the family back in the days of old King Henry the Eighth.... Even King Henry once remarked, in an exasperated moment, that he could never have told Giles Sutton's face from a stone wall if the stone wall had not been so much the handsomer of the two.

A less than favorable assessment of herself but she proves her own worth through courage and selflessness.

5. The Young Clementina by D.E. Stevenson

Living in a countryside English vicarage with her parents and sister Kitty, Charlotte is happy and in love on the eve of adulthood and the eve of World War I. Following the years of the war, Charlotte finds herself orphaned and banished from the country to a lonely apartment and clerk job in London with her sister married to the wealthy man Charlotte loves. How did this happen? Charlotte unwinds the story for the reader and a it is a very satisfying story. Though Christopher said the ending sounds like a chick flick I think everyone needs a few books in their life like that. By the way, D.E. Stevenson is the perfect author to read if you are stuck living in the city but you wish you lived in the country. People in her books are always inheriting cottages or manors and rapturously leaving their dreary London flat for life in the country. (Hopefully I didn't give away too much of the plot but any experience with D.E. Stevenson would teach you what to expect.)

6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The story of the four March sisters is wonderful! I love how she portrays the rivalry and loyalty of the sisters. I can't make a list of my favorite sister books without mentioning this book. Honestly, I haven't yet seen a film or stage production of it that I didn't like either.

All of these books are favorites of mine that I've read many times over and I think they would be great to listen as audio books too.

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