12 Books That Will Make You An Even Better Sister, Because They Have Tons Of Lessons To Teach Us
As one half of a tight-knit pair of sisters, I am always interested in how media and pop culture represent that relationship. Are the women stark contrasts? Best friends? Rivals? Virtual strangers? After all, just as no two people are exactly alike, neither are any two sisterly bonds: some sisters love each other because they’re family, others because they’re truly kindred spirits, and some can go months or even years without talking.
I'm lucky to be in a fantastic relationship with my sis, but I've found that in the pages of books, I've learned a thing or two about deepening our relationship even further. I know, I know — to say that a book “teaches” us something sounds almost juvenile. I'm not talking about a moral tied up in a little bow, however, but rather a story and its language that shines a light into the corner of my own heart, illuminating something true.
These 12 books do just that. They present many vastly different women in varied circumstances with diverse relationships, but all 12 have something true to say about what it means to be a sister. They don't preach, but they do explore, question, and reveal the challenges, joys, and heartbreaks that accompany this unique, irreplaceable relationship.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
What it teaches us: Your sister can be your greatest vulnerability and your greatest strength.
Katniss’ sister Prim is the one person Katniss would literally lay down her life to protect; time and time again throughout the series, Prim is invoked by President Snow and even by Katniss’ own tortured psyche, as Katniss’ weakness, her Achilles heel. But if her love for Prim makes Katniss vulnerable, it also demands greatness from her — her bravest, her most determined, and her most compassionate. The Hunger Games shows how one extraordinary act of ordinary sisterly love can inspire strength and incite a revolution.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
What it teaches us: Sometimes our sister’s most inexplicable, frustrating qualities are what we need to emulate the most.
Famously close with her own sister Cassandra, it’s no surprise that Jane Austen had a deft hand for portraying the complicated, unique relationships between sisters. Sense and Sensibility's Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are two very different types: Elinor is reserved and reasonable, while Marianne is emotional and impetuous. As their fortunes and romantic affairs change, the Dashwood sisters come not only to understand and accept each other's differences, but to realize that each of them could stand to emulate a little of the other’s best qualities from time to time.
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
What it teaches us: When push comes to shove, sisters can overcome even the most fraught, complicated circumstances.
Between parental expectations and a patriarchal society that constantly pit women against each other, the relationship between sisters can become tainted with jealousy. Smart, educated Pearl and beautiful, flirtatious May compete for attention and affection from their parents and even from the same man. But when crises occur, Pearl and May discover a bond that even they could not have imagine.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
What it teaches us: Sometimes sisters need a little emotional space to bring them closer together.
The transition from kid to independent adult can be messy, complicated, and a little bit heartbreaking, and that’s even more true when creating your own grown-up identity means figuring out who you are away from the one person who has always know you best. Ostensibly the story of fanfic writer Wren, Fangirl also examines the relationship between Kath and her twin sister Wren as they begin college and their adult lives.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
What it teaches us: How little we can know about the people closest to us.
In Margaret Atwood’s Iris and Laura, we see echoes of Austen’s Dashwood sisters, with their hot-and-cold temperaments: Laura is dramatic and emotional, while Iris is restrained and reserved. As the story of Laura’s untimely death unfolds, the heartbreaking truth of her life becomes clear, and with it a chilling warning of how how little we can know — and how little we can see — about our own sisters.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
What it teaches us: No matter what she does or how angry she makes you, you never really want your sister to go jump into a lake (or, in this case, fall in a river).
The relationships between all four March girls are rewarding to a reader with an eye for fictional sisters, but it’s the Jo-Amy relationship that is the most rewarding. The tension between two young women, far apart in age, with vastly different personalities but similarly hot tempers offers the richest drama and character development. After all, one of the most iconic interludes in the whole novel is a story of this pair: when Amy burns Jo’s manuscript and then falls into the frozen river after Jo deliberately neglects to tell her she is literally skating on thin ice. This moment is so resonant because even the closest pair of sisters recognize that moment of too far, when anger, spite, or even righteous indignation turn sickeningly to guilt and panic and inevitably (if you’re lucky), to relief and a renewed appreciation for your sister.
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
What it teaches us: Loving your sister can sometimes mean listening to her even when what she says breaks your heart.
Elfrieda is an acclaimed pianist who is well-off and happily married, while her sister Yolandi is broke and lonely — but it's Elf who desperately wants to die. After Elf makes yet another suicide attempt, Yoli must figure out how to nurse her sister back to health in time for Elfie's next big recital — or indeed, if she should honor her sister's wish to die. This novel is classic Miriam Toews: alternately funny and dark and sweet and tragic, but always very true.
The Aguero Sisters by Christina Garcia
What it teaches us: It’s never too late to connect (or re-connect) with your sister.
The Augero Sisters offers another take on the “couldn’t be more different” model of sisterhood: Reina is a formidable, pragmatic former Cuban revolutionary with a string lovers, and Constacia is a quiet, devoted Miami wife who believes in miracles and portents at every turn. As alternating narrative perspectives unravel the source of the sisters’ separation and their mother’s death, this novel builds to a much-anticipated reunion between two remarkable women.
His Fair Assassin Trilogy by Robin LaFevers
What it teaches us: No matter where your path takes you, with your sisters, you're always home.
Ismae, Sybella and Annith are technically half-sisters; they are all the daughters of Death, raised in a convent and destined for life as His handmaidens — assassins. Each book follows a different girl as she finds her way in the world and her own destiny, but through it all, the bond between these half-sisters provides a strength, support and grounding in each other, no matter where they are.
The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan
What it teaches us: Shared stories can bring even the most different women together.
When her Chinese-born sister Kwan comes to live with her, American-born Olivia is mortified by Kwan’s poor English, offbeat demeanor, and claims that she can see the yin or ghost world. However it is precisely Kwan’s dispatches from the yin world — myths, stories, and history — that help unite the sisters and allow them to create a shared identity.
Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary
What it teaches us: Loving your sister doesn’t always mean you like her all that much — and that’s OK.
So many books about sisters focus on the complexities that attend the sisterly bond with the influx of adulthood — independence, financial woes (or lack therof) romantic attachments, education, careers and children — but the relationship between two little girls can be just as rich and complicated. Still fresh after more than 50 years, Beezus and Ramona looks at the pressures girls face to get along and love each other. Beezus’ struggles to live up to the expectations of her super-close mother and aunt, and to love her wild, destructive little sister Ramona.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
What it teaches us: Being sisters is about so much more than blood.
Rosemary and Fern have all the classic hallmarks of a sisterly relationship—a unique, intense connection, a shared language, and a healthy dose of sibling rivalry. The only thing special about them is that Fern is a chimp. Fowler’s heartbreaking tale of two sisters who, against all reason, are more alike than they are different, illuminates truths about family guilt, old wounds, loyalty, and love. Frankly, it’s one of the most honest, touching fictional portrayals of sisterhood in recent memory, DNA be damned.