Sibling Rivalry: 10 Choices for Summer Reading

May 30th, 2014

Changing Hands in Phoenix

The much-anticipated opening of Changing Hands Bookstore’s new Phoenix location this evening — along with First Draft, a coffee, wine and beer bar — provides a perfect opportunity to kick off your summer reading, regardless of whether you prefer ink-and-paper, audio, or e-books. Dive into our series of suggestions with these books exploring the fascinating and frustrating push-and-pull energy of siblings.

Author Jeffrey Kluger (second from left) with his brothers

“There may be no relationship…that’s closer, finer, harder, sweeter, happier, sadder, more filled with joy or fraught with woe, than the relationship we have with our brothers and sisters,” says Jeffrey Kluger, who wrote The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us.

This nonfiction work examines the genetic drive for competition between siblings, myths and truths about birth order, the dynamics of blended families, and “favorite child” guilt. “The longer life expectancies get,” says Kluger, “the more of us will arrive in an old age in which we’ve outlive a spouse and other loved ones, and our kids have scattered.” He continues, “Sibs are often the only ones left — and often the people who know you and love you the best.”

Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev use 16 pages of photos and plenty of personal narrative for In Our Hearts We Were Giants: The Remarkable Story of the Lilliput Troupe — A Dwarf Family’s Survival of the Holocaust.

The Lilliput Troupe

In the perilous years of World War II, an extended family of seven Jewish dwarf adults and many of their normal-sized siblings, spouses, cousins, and friends managed to survive Auschwitz thanks to the fascination they held for Dr. Josef Mengele, who conducted endless painful research.

Another true tale of determination comes from Kabul, Afghanistan, where Kamila Sidiqi protected and provided for her siblings by establishing a dressmaking business under the repressive Taliban regime. The Dressmaker of Khair Kahan by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon describes Sidiqi’s courage and ingenuity as she faced gender oppression along with practical challenges including a lack of electricity and possible punishment for her efforts.

True Sisters is based on the very real 1856 disaster of the doomed Martin Handcart Company, which sent Mormon converts on a journey of 1,300 miles by foot from Iowa City to Salt Lake City. Sandra Dallas used journals and historical accounts to describe strong women in catastrophic adversity — more than a quarter of the 575 members of the expedition froze or starved to death, but Dallas’s characters, including several families, tackle trials of faith and great hardship bolstered by friendship.

See the American West from a completely different — and violently skewed — angle in Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, a gritty novel about professional killers Eli and Charlie Sisters. Beavers, bears, horses, alcohol, gold, guns, and grievous injuries play a part in the brothers’ gritty quest, woven with stylized, deliberately choreographed sentences reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ 2010 remake of True Grit.

Kevin Wilson’s first novel The Family Fang enters the quirky, surreal world of parents Camille and Caleb Fang, performance artists who are perfectly comfortable using their children as props in their pieces of public drama. Daughter Annie (“Child A”) and son Buster (“Child B”) return home after personal and professional humiliations, only to discover their crucial roles in the Family Fang’s loftiest work of art. Wilson has a gift for addictively dry humor and refreshing prose, and it’s rumored that Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman are slated to star in a film adaptation.

Author Eleanor Brown

Another debut comes from Eleanor Brown, who successfully gambles with an unusual first-person plural narrative in The Weird Sisters. The title and its eponymous sisters are all named for Shakespearean characters, and the setting is a deeply academic family in which everyone is always reading. Rose, Bean, and Cordy take risks to step beyond birth-order expectations in a story rich with memorable descriptions and turns of phrase.

“The Girls” author Lori Lansens

“I have never looked into my sister’s eyes,” writes Lori Lansens in the voice of her character Rose, who takes turns narrating The Girls with her conjoined twin Ruby.

“Raise your right hand,” Rose continues. “Press the base of your palm to the lobe of your right ear. Cover your ear and fan out your fingers — that’s where my sister and I are affixed, our faces not quite side by side, our skulls fused together…I have carried my sister like an infant since I was a baby myself, Ruby’s tiny thighs astride my hip, my arm supporting her posterior, her arm forever around my neck.” While the 29-year-old sisters may be forced to share nearly everything physically, they still maintain secrets and an emotional distance in unusual ways.

Writer Lionel Shriver (photo: Suki Dhanda)

Lionel Shriver’s novel Big Brother delves into interdependence of a different stripe when Pandora attempts to rescue her enormous brother from his life-threatening obesity by becoming his full-time live-in weight-loss coach, jeopardizing her own marriage to a fitness freak in the process.

For a warm-weather romantic respite, visit the cool Pacific Northwest setting of the Friday Harbor series by Lisa Kleypas, whose beautifully edited and consistently strong, smooth writing lends extra dimension and appeal to her contemporary and historical novels. The first three books of the series — Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, Rainshadow Road, and Dream Lake — introduce the three Nolan brothers and their sister Victoria, exploring complex sibling relationships and hints of supernatural influence.

Share your own sibling-related book suggestions in the comments, and watch for our next list of summer reading ideas.

Librarian Teresa Becker contributed to this article.

More information:

  • Changing Hands carries new and used books, and friendly staff members can help you with special orders
    • 300 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 85013 — 602-274-0067
    • 6428 S. McClintock Dr., Tempe, 85283 — 480-730-0205

The books:

  • Brown, Eleanor. The Weird Sisters (2011)
  • Dallas, Sandra. True Sisters (2012)
  • deWitt, Patrick. The Sisters Brothers (2011)
  • Kluger, Jeffrey. The Sibling Effect: what the bonds among brothers and sisters reveal about us (2011)
  • Koren, Yehuda & Eilat Negev. In Our Hearts We Were Giants: The remarkable story of the Lilliput Troupe: A dwarf family’s survival of the Holocaust (2005)
  • Shriver, Lionel. Big Brother (2013)
  • Lansens, Lori. The Girls (2007)
  • Tzemach Lemmon, Gayle. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: five sisters, one remarkable family, and the woman who risked everything to keep them safe (2011)
  • Wilson, Kevin. The Family Fang (2011)

 

Coming up: Delicious tales, scientific curiosities, and stories of love gone wrong