For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.
Today is my sister’s birthday, and I feel very lucky to have had her love and companionship for 50 years. We grew up loving books together — one of my earliest memories is the two of us playing library, which involved me (the librarian) scolding her for making noise in the library and making her give me money from her piggybank for overdue fines. She eventually broke free of my tyranny and became a professor of Spanish literature — and the mother of four daughters, who are fortunate to have each other as lifelong friends “in calm or stormy weather.”
Some of my favorite childhood books were about sisters. I have to admit that Little Women, the most famous children’s book about sisters, left me cold when I first read it. But I adored the Little House on the Prairie books, as well as Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family series. Children’s books about sisters always feature one spunky sister — Jo, of course, in Little Women; Laura in the Little House books; and Henny in All-of-a-Kind Family. And who could forget Ramona, mischievous little sister to the comparatively well-behaved Beezus?
In honor of sisters everywhere, here are 10 books I loved that explore sisterly bonds:
Sister Mother Husband Dog by Delia Ephron
Ephron’s collection of autobiographical essays is filled with wisdom, insight, and humor. Fun fact: the youngest Ephron sister, Amy, was named after Amy March in Little Women.
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch
When Sankovitch lost her beloved sister to cancer, part of her healing process involved reading one book a day for a year: “My hiatus is over, my soul and body are healed, but I will never leave the purple chair for long. So many books waiting to be read, so much happiness to be found, so much wonder to be revealed.”
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
This debut novel focuses on June, a young girl mourning the loss of her beloved uncle, a painter whose last work was a portrait of her and her older sister, Greta. Although June doesn’t always understand Greta, “she was wired into my heart. Twisted and kinked and threaded right through.”
Howards End by E.M. Forster
“One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister”: That’s the opening line of Forster’s masterpiece, which returns again and again to the relationship between the Schlegel sisters.
The Girls by Lori Lansens
Rose and Ruby are not only sisters — they’re conjoined twins, living in a small Canadian town and working in the local library. Rose, the literary one, convinces her sister to tell their story.
The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman
Two middle-aged sisters join forces and move in together after one is widowed and one loses all her money in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Lipman’s books are all warm-hearted, funny, and very clever.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The events in this beautiful, complex novel are set in motion when the younger sister makes a grievous error in judgment in an attempt to protect her older sister.
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
It’s a retelling of the King Lear story, set on an Iowa farm, so the relationship among these sisters is, to use a word Shakespeare wouldn’t have known, “dysfunctional.” Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia become Ginny, Rose, and Caroline.
Brooklyn by Colm Toíbín
One sister sacrifices her future and stays in Ireland in order to help her sister start a new life in America.
Two recent books that I’m looking forward to reading are Vanessa and Her Sister, biographical fiction about Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, and the Bloomsbury Group, by Priya Parma, and The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra, nonfiction by Helen Rappaport. Both have received excellent reviews.