Friday, 3 October 2014

Sisters, by Raina Telgemeier

Sisters, Graphic Novels, Raina Telgemeier
It’s the summer before high school and illustrator slash protagonist Raina is stuck between a fidgety little brother and a moody younger sister in a rundown old van with no air conditioning. Raina and her family, minus dad, are on a weeklong road trip from their home in San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado. Dad is flying to meet them later in the week. As with all hot, small spaced based scenarios, tempers rise with the temperature. Though they have their artistic talent in common, Raina and her little sister, Amara, argue over everything. Living in a cramped apartment doesn't make their differences any easier and there is almost always some huge drama in the home- pet based, space based, art based...

The book jumps backwards and forwards, showing the road trip and the reunion in the present and some of Raina’s past memories, mostly revealing in greater detail her love/hate relationship with her sister. She shows how desperately she wished for a sister when she was little and then what a disappointment (to her) it turned out to be when she got what she wished for. Their differences are made evident- Amara is a stubborn and fiercely individual nature lover, whilst Raina is a confused outcast that loves art and music.

The illustrator book's artwork is expressive, endearing and constructed almost entirely of images and dialogue. It’s effortlessly funny and endlessly relatable. Anybody that has (or is) a sister is going to find themselves nodding along in sooo many places. It shows the particularly contradictory nature of sistership: You can scream and yell at each other, demand punishments and seek revenge, but at the end of the day, differences notwithstanding you’ve always got each other’s backs.

Throughout the book, Raina spends a lot of time tuning out the noise of her everyday life. It is the 1990s after all and the Walkman is king. Music for Raina offers an escape from the chaos of her family and a break from the incessant chatter of her sister. But as the road trip turns homeward, it becomes clear that Amara, though younger, has got a better idea about what’s going on between their parents than Raina has, and Raina starts to pay more attention to what's going on around her.

Sisters is an absolutely mirror-perfect representation of family. It takes a closer look at difficult (and evolving) sibling relationships, the difficulty of facing challenges at home and what it means to be a family. I loved how the author brought reality into focus. In itself, the story is quite mundane. It's an ordinary picture of ordinary life, but the narrative is crafted with such love and skill that it becomes pretty extraordinary. There are themes of belonging and of being true to yourself, of love and forgiveness and patience, but it never really tries to hammer home a message in any way. It doesn't need to because I think any reader would 'get' this book.

I love that Sisters can be read by today's kids and they will relate to it. But it can also be read by people my age (mid/late 20s) and can be an absolute nostalgia fix. The battery Walkmans and trashy "girl's mags" are hilariously familiar and mobile phones and 3G are conspicuous by their absence. But it's not a story that's tied to the idea of being in a certain time; it's a story about being a family. Loved it- it's smart, funny and really endearing as well as being brilliantly structured and completely relatable. I love Graphic Novel autobiography.

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