Sisters are the heart and soul of author Julie Israel’s debut novel, Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index. But great sisters abound in literature, and these ten books contain some of her favorites.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. This book is just what I think I never knew I always wanted in a twin story: the tale of how two girls who grew up doing everything together begin to grow apart when one informs the other that she doesn’t want to room together in college. It’s painful to experience the distance that Cath feels Wren has put between them, but heartening to see the ways that both still grow—as individuals, apart from each other, and as sisters.
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. The sisters in this book experience trial by fire when it comes to loyalties: to family tradition, to parental wishes, to each other, to their own hearts. Tita’s emotionally-absorbent cooking (see: lust-laden Quail in Rose Petal Sauce, the wedding cake that made everyone sick because her tears fell in the batter) is a magical, unforgettable vehicle for the struggles encountered and strengths forged when one loyalty becomes at odds with another.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. What really pulls my heartstrings is when something drives two sisters apart, but neither is able to identify or communicate what it is, and both hurt because of it. While June Elbus may not understand why she and her older sister Greta are no longer close, or how Greta could become so embittered and mean towards her, their struggle to reconnect is a thing of beauty—especially with the silent communication they find through additions to their deceased uncle Finn’s painting.
The Secret Lives of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. This poignant story with themes from love and loss to civil rights features sisters August, May, and June Boatwright, who live and work together to produce the historically rich Black Madonna honey. I love the idea not only of sisters running a business together under the same roof, but the many particular ways that the Boatwrights lean on and support one another.
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. The Bennet sisters are perhaps some of the most famous in literature, and for good reason. I think it’s rare to see as many as five siblings (and all sisters!) in one book, with the inevitable range of vices and virtues and interfamily favouritism that prove both humorous and perhaps painfully relatable, but Jane and Elizabeth in particular embody a sweet vs. punchy dynamic not unlike that of Juniper and Camilla.
The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. The Walker sisters were close before Bailey’s sudden and unexpected death during a play rehearsal. As a middle sister myself I could really relate to missing an older sibling who was both a role model, casting a sort of shadow for the younger Lennie to grow up in, but also a confidant and irreplaceable friend.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Here was a book that exemplified the strength of a sister bond and taught me the power of motive. I can hardly think of a sacrifice greater than Katniss willingly taking younger Prim’s place in a game that means murder or certain death—and when she does, despite the terrible task before her, we root for her because all she ever wanted was to protect her little sis. Thinking of Prim also influences Katniss during the game, creating human and heart-wrenching moments as with Rue.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. Blue Sargent’s mother and aunt may be my favourite sisters in literature. They make up two of the three mysterious psychics residing at 300 Fox Way, each with their own charm (or lack thereof) and brand of fortune-telling, and when joined by visiting aunt Neeve, each is saucier than the last.
Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull. This is a slightly younger story, but no less magnificent. Eponymous sisters Summer and Bird are close, but different, reminiscent of the Sweet Valley Twins: each with their own strengths and weaknesses, but with traits that complement each other when they must work together towards a common goal—except that their story is more fairytale, a forest adventure not soon forgotten.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. One of my favourite things to see in fictional family relationships is characters who are flawed, but never disowned, because at the end of the day family is family, and foibles and mishaps do not a person unworthy of love make. There may be no better example of this than Brooklyn sisters Katie, Sissy, and Evy (Francie Nolan’s mother and aunts respectively), who fall out at times due to incidents, but never stop loving or looking out for each other.