On National Sibling Day, We Can Learn So Much From These 10 Pairs of Sisters, Like The Importance of Being Nice and Staying Cool
It’s National Sibling Day. Have you hugged your sister yet?
If you’re lucky enough to have a sibling, every day can feel like National Sibling Day. But these bizarrely niche, Internet-created holidays act as a cute reminder to lavish extra love and attention on the things you may take for granted in your life. Like the ability to draw a bird and garlic and eight-tracks and jugglers and Russian cosmonauts.
But National Sibling Day is my favorite definitely-not-real holiday — OK, actually it’s a close second to National Pancake Day — because I am one of those hashtag-blessed people to not only have a sister whom I love, but to have a sister whom I really, really like. Alex and I have the whole sister thing down pat: we share nicely; we respect each other’s boundaries, which between us are honestly almost non-existent; we even read together. We are every overprotective parents’ dream.
But that doesn’t mean we — nor you — can’t still learn from how other sisters interact with each other and with the world. This celebration of 10 literary sisters offers 10 unique relationships, 10 unique gifts and curses, and 10 unique ways of dealing with each other and with their own sh*t. Even if you don't have a sister, these relationships will help you appreciate the basically-sister-friends in your life who also deserve a big giant hug today.
Violet and Eleanor Markey in All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Who they are: Beyond sisters, Violet and Eleanor Markey were best friends and co-creators of their popular eponymous blog. But when Eleanor dies in a tragic car accident, Violet struggles to accept a future without her big sister, giving up her plans to attend NYU and pursue her dream of becoming a writer.
What they can teach us: It’s important to honor your sister, but it’s equally important to maintain your own identity. It’s especially easy for us little sisters to idolize our big sisters to the point of wanting to be them, like Violet does with the memory of her late sister Eleanor. But that only represses Violet’s own, unique radiance, and stifles her blooming (see what I did there?) talents as an aspiring writer. Also, wearing glasses when you naturally have 20/20 vision is a bad idea.
Cath and Wren in Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Who they are: Cath and Wren are twins — have been as attached at the hip as two technically independent people can get — but when they go to college (the same one, natch), Wren tries this thing called "separating." You can guess how successful that endeavor is (it's not).
What they can teach us: When it comes down to it, your sister will always have your back. No one but a woman with whom you share genetic material would ever cuddle with you after you’ve thrown up your body weight in Rum and Cokes and still find you absolutely beautiful.
The Weird Sisters in Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Who they are: These three sister-witches have popped up in myths and folklore since the Middle Ages, but the trope became canonical in Shakespeare's play Macbeth. We have them to thank for the phrase "Double, double toil and trouble," which would go on to entitle the best pre-Two of a Kind-era Olsen twin movie. (Don't try to contend me on this.)
What they can teach us: No connection, whether human or mystical, is stronger than that among sisters. And in the Weird Sisters, that Teflon bond manifests itself through acts of dark witchcraft so powerful it sways the very course of fate, which, it turns out, is pretty damn shaky to begin with. But maybe don’t use your own bond to influence a murderous usurper (or do, your call) and use your sisterly charms for a better cause. Like finagling free coffees out of your waiter, perhaps?
Ava and Osceola Bigtree in Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Who they are: The Bigtree family undergoes a series of hardships: their alligator-wrestling theme park, Swamplandia!, threatens to shutter after a brand-new theme park opens nearby; and Hilola Bigtree, the mother of the teenaged sisters Ava and Ossie and their brother Kiwi, dies of cancer. The family bends under the pressure, and each colorful character carries out their own peculiar coping mechanisms.
What they can teach us: Everyone handles loss in their own particular ways. For Ossie Bigtree, that means indulging an obsession with ghosts in the determined hope of contacting her late mother’s spirit. And while Ossie embarks on her grieving process mostly on her own (e.g., eloping with the ghost of a young man with whom she has fallen in love), her sister Ava nevertheless remains with her on that journey, both physically and emotionally. What Ava feels for her sister isn’t gentle or subtle; it is “a panic of love,” a love consuming in its resolve, but comforting in its permanence.
Elinor and Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Who they are: It’s obvious who’s the “sense” and who’s the “sensibility” in this pair. I'll give you a hint: Elinor is older, Marianne is younger; and Elinor possesses a remarkable "coolness of judgment"; while Marianne is literally described as "every thing but prudent."
What they can teach us: Elinor and Marianne were fabricated to be perfect foils for each other, which real-life people are not. The combination of Elinor’s level-headedness and Marianne’s rosy-hued perspective makes for a dynamic duo, but, actually, that combo would make for an even more dynamic single person. Don’t let your relationship with your sister become defined by the roles you may have established over the years: you can each be logical like Elinor and unashamed in your affections like Marianne. Don’t feel you have to be the “INSERT LABEL HERE” one to your sister’s “INSERT ANTONYM HERE.” You can both be everything. You — and your relationship — will be stronger for it.
Anna and Kate in My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Who they are: Thirteen-year-old Anna was conceived to heal her older sister Kate, who was diagnosed with leukemia as a small child. Anna loves her sister, and wants her to be healthy, but she seeks legal emancipation from her parents in order to finally have agency over her body and her life.
What they can teach us: Learning that your parents aren’t actually infallible logicians — and that what they believe is right for you may not match up with what you believe is right for you — is a process we all have to undergo in order to become independent human beings. But that process, which is weird and unsettling and liberating all at once, becomes much more palatable when experienced with an ally.
Ellis and Rose Lacey in Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
Who they are: In 1950s Ireland, the beautiful and charismatic Rose Lacey and her reticent younger sister Ellis struggle to make ends meet while taking care of their emotionally fragile mother. When an opportunity opens up in an Irish parish in Brooklyn, Rose arranges for Ellis to seize the promise of a new life, thereby committing her own future to their small town and the lifelong care of their mother.
What they can teach us: Sacrifice without bitterness is one of the most beautiful gifts you can give a loved one. Try it the next time you and your sister are both eyeing the last Sprinkles cupcake in the box.
Laura and Lizzie in "Goblin Market" by Christina Rossetti
Who they are: Christina Rossetti's gorgeous narrative poem, which was first published in 1862, is a Victorian fable, a Gothic fairytale, a Christian morality tale, and a feminist manifesto all at once. (Which means it is insane and hilarious and disturbing and highly recommended.) But the basic plot centers on sisters Laura and Lizzie, who each night are plagued by the calls of goblins hawking their tempting fruit outside their pastoral cottage. One night, Laura gives in to the goblins' temptation and eats their juicy wares, causing the young maiden to undergo a frenzy of bacchic ecstasy. Lizzie saves her sister by sacrificing her own body to the goblins' greed.
What they can teach us: There are so many things we can learn from the wild Laura and the wise Lizzie. The very obvious lesson here concerns the redemptive powers of sisterhood. But also: you need to call your sister out when she’s acting like a crazy person. Like if she needs to be *very gently* chastised for eating that whole box of gluten-free chocolate chip cookies (#1, because it doesn’t matter that they’re gluten-free. That’s still grossly excessive. And #2, because she didn’t save any for you.) And if that means risking your own good name — or climbing atop a whiskey-slicked bar to retrieve your sister before she enacts a full-on Coyote Ugly reproduction — it doesn’t matter. You do it, because she’s your sister. Life and limb, you guys. Life and limb.
Linh Cinder and Linh Peony, Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Who they are: Like the original Cinderella, Linh Cinder is terrorized by a coterie of stepsisters. But unlike the original fairytale, one such sister is actually nice to poor steampunk Cinder. That kindness serves Linh Peony, as the fierce Cinder embarks on a mission to find a cure for her sister's fatal illness.
What they can teach us: Whether you’re siblings by blood or by marriage, the bond between sisters is strong enough to overcome differences in personality, viewpoints, and even differing conceptions of morality. Ultimately, just be excellent to each other — to everyone, of course, but especially to your sister — and you’ll always have a willing ally.
The March Sisters in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Who they are: Meg. Jo. Beth. Amy. Need I say more?
What they can teach us: Little Women is laden with clichés, but clichés are based on truth and these bear repeating: 1. You can be a feminist, strive for independence and emotional/artistic fulfillment, and feel most comfortable wearing beribboned ringlets. 2. You can be blissfully happy being poor in money but rich in love. 3. Don’t change yourself just to attract the “right” person (friend, lover, yoga instructor, dog walker, etc.). The “right” person will come along only when you’re secure within yourself. 4. Having sisters is the BEST THING EVER (have you read the damn thing?).
Images: Isla Murray/Bustle; Dante Gabriel Rossetti/Wikipedia