I love Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel memoir, Smile, a coming of age story that explores the impact of years of dental work caused by a fall in sixth grade as well as typical middle school stuff: crushes, changing friendships, school, pimples, self-confidence, and family. In the follow up to Smile, Raina revisits her childhood years and explores her relationship with her younger sister, Amara. With Sisters, rather than dental drama, a family road-trip provides the framework of the story. Raina, Amara, their baby brother, and their mom head off to a family reunion in the family van, traveling from their home in San Francisco to Colorado. Along the way the family survives life on the road with crazy storms, van issues, unwelcome creatures, and changing relationships. The story jumps in time between the road trip adventures and various memories from Raina and Amara’s childhood, showing the sisters at their best and at their worst.
In one of the flashbacks, we learn that as a child Raina wanted a baby sister (and playmate) more than anything, but then Amara arrived and she wasn’t quite what Raina had in mind. Amara was a grouchy baby and cried all the time, which is perhaps normal for a baby, but her mood didn’t seem to improve much as she grew older. The girls are very different from one another and though they share a love of art, they fight over art supplies and Raina feels some stress about her art skills being compared to her younger sister. But even with all the nagging, fighting, and angry glares, Telgemeier also presents some sweet moments where the sisters come together as a team.
While my sister and I generally got along growing up – I would even go so far as to say we were friends – Sisters brought back plenty of memories from family road trips, both the good and the bad. Telgemeier’s “Anatomy of a Road Trip” illustration offers a great reminder of times past for anyone who grew up taking road trips with family in a mini-van. Many readers will relate to the dynamic between the siblings, and between Raina and her other family members, but even those who don’t will find much to enjoy here. And while technically Sisters is a follow-up to Smile, both books work well as stand-alones, so those who have yet to read Smile will not feel lost. (Though why haven’t they read Smile yet?).
Sisters is written for a young audience and I’m curious if young readers will pick up on some of the plot developments before they are announced – some family issues and a surprise road trip visitor – or if they’ll be surprised at the turn of events. The foreshadowing wasn’t especially subtle, but it didn’t negatively affect my enjoyment of the story or make the “big reveals” any less impactful. Telgemeier strikes a fine balance in her visual story telling offering both subtle details and exaggerated expressions, mixing quirky humor with emotional depth. Sisters covers some emotional territory, but never forgets the light moments along the way. Telgemeier’s artwork is expressive and she brings warmth and a sense of humor to the story of battling siblings who figure out how to get along…well, when it matters at least.