As an only child, pretty much everything I know about sharing a life with brothers or sisters has been drawn from fiction books about siblings. It started with Famous Five books when I was a kid, and it continues on to this day. I prefer fiction books about siblings that show the good, the bad, and the ugly – sharing parents ain’t all beer and skittles, I know that much. Here’s a list of books that I reckon fit the bill…
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I never miss a chance to plug We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I’ve made it my life’s mission to get more people to read this book. Luckily, today I don’t even have to do any convoluted backwards engineering to make it fit the theme of this list! Unfortunately, though, it’s a little tricky for me to explain exactly why it makes the cut, as there’s a HUGE sibling-related spoiler about 70 pages in… Suffice to say, this book will change the way you think about sibling relationships, and the nature of personhood, altogether. Read my full review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves here.
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
How far would you go to save your sibling? That’s the question at the heart of My Sister, The Serial Killer. Even though the premise is a bit preposterous – a woman compelled to help her sister hide the bodies after she dispatches unsuitable boyfriends – there’s an emotional core to this book that will resonate with everyone who’s ever been called upon to sacrifice. At the end of the day, sibling or otherwise, we all have someone we’d call to help us drag a body across the floor… don’t we? Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.
Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen
There are few writers as iconic as Jane Austen, and few families as iconic as the Bennets, as immortalised in her beloved novel Pride And Prejudice. Even though everyone (it seems) comes for the marriage plot, the relationships between the five sisters are really the heart of this story. It’s Lizzie’s advice that leads Jane to play coy with Bingley, after all, which in turn leads to his doubting her affection. It’s Lydia’s scandal that gives Darcy the opportunity to ride in on his white horse, and shows Wickham for the scoundrel that he is. Face it: P&P just wouldn’t work without the complex relationships that evolve between five daughters under one roof, and the men who try to woo them. Read my full review of Pride And Prejudice here.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vanishing Half made one heck of a splash when it was first published earlier this year, and we’re still feeling the ripples today. It’s a brilliant premise: twin sisters, identical, brought up in a Southern black community, who go on to lead very different lives. One passes as white, keeping her heritage a secret from even her (white) husband, while the other claims her black identity, for better and for worse. This is an intriguing way to examine race and racial justice, but like other contemporary fiction books on this subject (An American Marriage comes to mind), it does so without coming across as a thinly veiled argument – it’s a truly emotive, complex story. Read my full review of The Vanishing Half here.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Few fiction books about siblings have had the enduring cross-generational appeal of Little Women. I think it’s because just about every woman can identify strongly with at least one of the sisters. Are you Meg, the responsible one? Jo, the head-strong creative? Beth, the kind and gentle? Or Amy, the beautiful and determined? C’mon, if you’ve read this classic, you know which one you are (I’m a Jo, through-and-through). By crafting multiple characters so engaging and relatable, Alcott conquered new ground in the All American Girl trope and won our minds; making them sisters was how she won our hearts. Read my full review of Little Women here.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Is there anything more intoxicating than enigmatic, beautiful, unattainable sisters? Not for the boys who worshipped them in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, and tell their story in chorus. The Lisbon girls are raised in sweet ’70s suburbia, and are shielded from the world by their Catholic parents. Mr and Mrs Lisbon soon discover that no parental love, protection, or permissiveness can save their daughters from themselves. One by one, their daughters are lost to them, and even decades later no one can be entirely sure why. This is one of the darker fiction books about siblings, but one that is seared into the memory of everyone who reads it.
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
If your sibling asked you to donate a kidney, you would, wouldn’t you? Well, what if you knew you were born specifically for that purpose? The quandaries of family obligation, and the ethics of “designer babies” or “saviour siblings”, are explored in the perennially popular My Sister’s Keeper. Thirteen-year-old Anna Fitzgerald sues her parents for medical emancipation, citing her right to refuse to undergo dangerous and invasive surgery against her will. But her elder sister, Kate, has acute promyelocytic leukemia, and will likely die if Anna succeeds. Are we our sisters’ keepers? This question continues to divide readers, even now!
October 30, 2020 at 2:02 PM
Wow, you’ve chosen from a diverse range of sources, as usual. Sibling relationships can be complex, as your list shows. I’m now hoping that since you’re an only child (which must have had its ups and downs) you’ll share a list of books about only children down the track. As for your Little Women question, I’d like to think I was a Jo, but as the youngest sibling in my family, I’m afraid there’s a good dash of both Beth and Amy in the mix 🙂 Another of my favourites is To Kill a Mockingbird, with the relationship between Jem and Scout Finch.
October 31, 2020 at 2:51 PM
I very nearly included Scout and Jem! And fantastic idea re: a list of only children, I’ll have to put my thinking hat on… 😉
October 30, 2020 at 2:03 PM
Sorrow and Bliss. Hands down the best sister story ever.
October 31, 2020 at 2:49 PM
Oooh, good shout – I’ll keep an eye out for it! ❤️