When young Raina realizes playing dolls would be more fun if she had someone to play with, she asks her parents for the most logical gift she can imagine — a sister. However, when Amara arrives, it soon becomes clear that she not the sister Raina has fantasized about. Amara has no interest in playing dolls or dress up with Raina, nor does dancing hold any interest. What the girls do share, is a love of drawing—only, Raina’s pictures are of pretty flowers, and Amara’s begin as scribble, and eventually evolve into wilderness themes.
Their rivalry comes to a head when a trip to visit family in Colorado becomes a two week road trip trapped in their mother’s VW Bus.
Sisters is one of those rare memoirs that doesn’t feel like a memoir. The story is half recounting of the history of Raina and Amara’s tenuous relationship, and half the story of the road trip itself. Peppered throughout the story of the sisters are several real trials of growing up. For instance, Raina and Amara suffer through pets with a short life span. At one point their father loses his job and the two overhear whisperings of financial worries. Of course, there is also the arrival of their little brother, Will.
None of this feels like navel gazing. All of Raina’s experiences will be relatable to her young readers. Telegemeier’s art is equally endearing. As with all of her graphic novels, Telgemeier’s characters manage to come across as expressive, even with simple black dots for eyes, recalling the art of Bill Watterson, of whom young Raina was an admitted fan. Telgemeier makes use of muted colors when drawing flashback sequences, shifting to a brighter palette for the present, which is a very effective method of distinguishing the time periods.
Subtleties will show readers a world before cell phones, GPS, streaming music and MP3s (the girls must help their mother navigate the highways using a road atlas and a foldout map). Raina is at the mercy of whomever can provide fresh batteries for her walkman! Earlier on, the sisters are depicted listening to a vinyl record player.
When the family finally arrives at their destination, Raina realizes that her older cousin whom she had idolized is too mature and “girly” for her, and she is too old to play with the younger children. In the end, it is Amara, her prickly snake-loving sister, who understands Raina best. It is also Amara who will help Raina confront the reality of their parents’ trial separation.
by Raina Telgemeier
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12