Sisters by Raina Telgemeier; Graphix/Scholastic, 197 pages ($24.99 hardcover, $10.99, paperback). Ages 8 to 12.
Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels are always a treat, whether she is relaying the trials and tribulations of getting braces in “Smile” or the highs and lows of middle school drama club in “Drama.” She offers both humor and heart in this autobiographical tale of her antagonistic relationship with her boisterous younger sister, Amara, told against the frame of a family car trip from San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado. Teenage Raina, stretched out on a full seat of the family van, tries to tune out the world with headphones, but noisy siblings (Amara plus little brother Will) and the friction of any family car trip (bathroom stops, a heavy downpour, a breakdown) keep interrupting her solitude. Flashbacks are used to tell the story of Raina’s relationship with Amara: her wish for a sister, the rude reality of a noisy baby, sharing her room with a difficult sibling (although one who shares her interest in drawing), squabbles between their parents, Raina’s difficulties getting along with cousins when they finally reach their destination. The graphic novel is a great format to convey the frictions of a family car trip, including the surprise appearance of a lost pet partway through the journey.
– Jean Westmoore
Lucky Us by Amy Bloom; Random House, 256 pages ($26)
I can’t think of a book that has more wittily and movingly encapsulated the years from 1939 to 1949, covering both the Second World War and the periods just before and after, than Amy Bloom’s latest, “Lucky Us.” This richly textured, pitch-perfect flashback had me desperately wanting to somehow contact deceased relatives who lived through that time and quiz them.
The book’s protagonist, Eva Acton, might be able to help with that past-life-connection thing. At least so she’d have you believe during her years as a fake psychic tarot-card reader; she’s also a thief. And mind you, Eva’s the relatively subdued of the two sisters who form the heart of “Lucky Us.”
“My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us,” Bloom starts the story. Once in Ohio, before 12-year-old Eva has even been properly introduced to her half-sister, 16-year-old Iris, Mom has left Eva’s suitcase on the front steps and driven away.
The sisters form a tenuous bond that strengthens when they hit the road after Dad repeatedly absconds with Iris’ “I’m gonna be a star” savings, her winnings and earnings from pageants, Lions Club speeches and such. They head to Hollywood, where Eva plays house while Iris sashays her way into the movie-studio system and its underground lesbian network.
She attends a party where dessert is “a pretty girl with whipped cream and strawberries, laid in thick waves, from her chest to her feet.” Iris’ lover betrays her, though, and her career sours quickly.
In her practical, unintentionally funny way, Eva tries to console her sis. “It’s like I’ve got the plague,” Iris complains when everyone avoids her. “It’s like being Typhoid Mary.” Eva reassures: “You’re not actually killing people.”
Laura Klynstra’s cover art is sublimely perfect. Designed by Klynstra, it’s based on the 2012 oil painting Earthrise by Deborah Van Auten, and features a lion with a zebra perched atop it as the lion walks a tightrope above a stage.
It’s an absolutely right-on metaphor for the balancing act the sisters star in through their teen and young adult years, as they deal with all the blessings and turmoils of their patched-together family, which includes just about every subdivision of American society you can think of: gay and straight, black and white, immigrant, stolen child, even a nice-guy mechanic who gets sent to a U.S. internment camp for the dastardly act of having a German last name.
Despite the often fraught, occasionally horrific circumstances Eva and Iris find themselves in, this is a book that’s completely permeated with love, humor and kindness. Readers will root for virtually all of the characters, but especially Eva.
Your heart can’t help but sing when Eva starts finding her own voice and way in the world: “I’d been wearing Iris’s hand-me-downs for four years, badly, and had hardly noticed. Now I bought college-girl clothes and did my hair the way the college-girls did and I stuffed my bra. I had two pairs of new shoes. The pain in my chest, which I had had since the day I was left on the front porch, eased up. It wasn’t grief. It was being broke and badly dressed, and now I wasn’t.”