Sisters with a Smile

Road trip!  I've been on many road trips.  Actually, I suppose it was the same road trip, repeated annually.  We rarely deviated from our course.  Going from Wisconsin to Colorado takes you across the flatlands and fields of Illinois, the bluffs and fields of Iowa, and the fields, fields, and more fields of Nebraska.  I would advise against breathing when you exit the car in certain parts of Nebraska--the steer holding pens make everything taste like poop.  Cow poop.  The time in the car isn't what the commercials show it to be--I never flung my hands out of a convertible in an expression of liberation.  It's really quite boring, and somehow also exhausting to just sit all day.  I have a little brother, and while I don't remember fighting with him constantly as a kid, I do know that when I was older, I'd needle him quite a bit.

Not proud of it.  But it's true.

However, I think the dynamic between brothers and sisters and sisters and sisters is very different.  My brother never wanted to borrow my clothes or makeup, nor was he into boy bands that made me groan.  I never felt like I was competing to be the "best daughter" because there was only one daughter.  Plus, my relationship with my brother was very different because he has Bipolar Disorder and is on the spectrum.  When he was little, he was very, very sick.  I knew I would never have a cereal-commercial family, and now that I'm older, I'm perfectly fine with that.  As a kid, that's hard to swallow.  But everything is different when you have a sibling with a disability.

Strangely enough, now that we're both grown-ups (numerically), we are a lot alike!  We can riff off of movie scenes for ages, to the bewilderment and eventual exasperation of our parents.  But I'm not going to lie and say that growing up together was easy, because it wasn't.

So, Sisters.  Raina Telgemeier has a gift for writing about everyday experiences and making them compulsively readable.  She doesn't write about special snowflakes or The Chosen One or anything like that--just ... kids.  Teens.  I think that's what speaks so strongly to the tweens and teens who have been begging for Sisters for months.  Telgemeier's art and stories tells them that their experiences are totally normal.  Totally.  Normal.  If exclusion is all you feel at school, then a sense of normality, of fitting in, and of the hope of being, one day, to look back and laugh at all of this--that can be a real savior.  I used far too many commas in that last sentence.  How's that for a non sequitur?

I was so excited to receive an ARC of Sisters, and I am rather angry with myself.  How do I explain this?  I tried to match Raina's experiences of siblinghood (not a word; now a word because I said so) with my own.  I failed.  This has absolutely nothing to do with the book and everything to do with the reader (ahem).  I didn't love Sisters as much as I adored Smile, but I'm pretty sure that's owing to my own perspective.

See, with Smile, I could totally relate.  My teeth were--how shall I put this?--jacked up.  When my front top two adult teeth came in, the bottoms pointed away from each other.  They looked like wings.  I got brackets on those two teeth to rein them back in towards each other.  I'll never forget when they took them off.  This being Ye Olde Darke Ayges of Dentistrie, they basically took a metal rod on which slid a very heavy washer or bearing.  To remove the bracket, they placed this rod on my tooth and let the metal washer slide down (fast!) and slam into my tooth at a speed designed to dislodge the bracket.  So, it was basically a mini sledgehammer inside my mouth.  One set of braces down, four to go.

Yes, I had braces five times.  I don't swallow properly due to having had gigantic tonsils as a kid and being unable to breathe through my nose.  Yep, I'm a mouth-breather.  So, somehow I learned to swallow incorrectly, which means my tongue pushes my front teeth apart and doesn't hold my back teeth out to the side.  So instead of looking like an even "U," my teeth look like an omega.  Many sagas, tears, brackets, and angry orthodontists were to follow.  So I grabbed onto Smile like a life-raft: here was someone else who also had horror stories about braces.  Okay, so her teeth still look good, while mine are shifting around restlessly in my mouth, but still!  The pain of braces!  I could have danced for joy when I discovered Telgemeier's Smile.

Note: the review of Sisters will actually start now.  It is rather short compared to all of my blathering (see above).

Sisters tells the story of the Telgemeier's family road trip from California to Colorado to visit Raina's aunt and cousins.  Her little sister Amara (to whom Telgemeier dedicates the book) is crammed in the van, along with their little brother.  Mom drives and Dad will fly out to meet them later.  For the longest time, Raina wanted a little sister.  Little sisters are like dolls, right?  You play with them and love them and kiss them and feed them ... or not.  Amara is nothing like what little Raina wanted or expected, and they have totally different personalities.  For example, Amara loves snakes and creepy things.  Raina.  Does.  Not.  So, of course, Amara has to get a snake just to tick off Raina.  They bicker all the time.  Raina and Amara bicker their way all the way to Colorado Springs, and that's just the warm-up for when they get there.  Hoo boy.  Unfortunately, I personally couldn't relate to those exchanges.  Even when you fight with your brother, it's different, somehow.  I felt like I observed Sisters, and I really enjoyed Sisters, but it didn't touch me in the same way Smile did.

However, I know that this will resonate with gajillions (scientific number) of tweens.  Telgemeier really has a gift for taking a simple story and adding layers to it so that the main characters do learn something in the end, but not in a didactic or heavy-handed way.  They change very gradually--just like real people!

And the art.  Can we talk about the art?  I am such a huge fan of her style.  It's simple but still manages to convey tons of emotions, especially angsty teenage emotions!  The ARC that I had was only partially colored, but I would imagine it's mind-bogglingly good in full color.

I don't want to talk too much about the actual story because it would give so much away, but trust me: you'll really, really like it.  You might even love it.  And when you're done, go hug your little brother or sister or cousin or doggie or whomever may have ever made you feel jealous or petty.  Because, really, you know you love them and that they're not as awful as they might seem.  Unless your sibling is Justin Beiber, in which case, there is no hope.  Sorry.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.


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