Sisters…Nailed It!

sisterEvery romance needs a hero and heroine, but sometimes a secondary relationship is so striking, so interesting, that it almost steals the show. Pride and Prejudice is, of course, about Elizabeth and Darcy. But it’s about Elizabeth and Jane too. Some of the best moments and the best dialog are about them, and about their relationship and their differences. Series and stories involving siblings are a dime a dozen, but books that really nail sibling relationships are a lot rarer. We see a lot more Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (with its very surface relationships…Bless her beautiful hide!) than we see the Bennett girls.

When someone gets it right, it feels like a bonus. My recent favorite is Courtney Milan’s novella, The Governess Affair. It is of course about a governess and a former boxer turned finance man of sorts. But it’s also about sisters. Serena (the titular governess) is the bolder sister who, after she is raped by the Duke of Claremont, stations herself outside his home every day, vowing to keep her vigil until he agrees to support her child. Her sister Frederica is basically agoraphobic. Frederica can’t understand why Serena takes so many risks. Serena can’t understand how Frederica can live like she does – or how it is even living. They love each other, though they don’t understand each other. Toward the end of the story, Serena thinks:

Maybe Freddy would always think Serena strangely broken, and Serena would always cringe, thinking of her sister ensconced in her rooms, slowly turning to stone. There was no convincing each other, no understanding each other.

But when Serena had most needed it, her sister had given her a place to stay. For all that Freddy made her stomach hurt, they still shared an affection made bittersweet by all that divided them. Perhaps God gave one sisters to teach one to love the inexplicable.

I was so struck by the last line that I texted it to my own sister – something I’m pretty sure I’ve never done before. She’s an artist, with all the creativity, originality, and free-spiritedness that implies. We love each other but tend to see life differently. I’m not sure she’s ever understood, for example, why anyone would spend years writing about romance novels when one could spend years writing romance novels (though she’s stopped saying that…at least out loud). We found common ground over the Milan quote, which she liked as much as I did. It was more insight than I’d bargained for in a novella.

While I have seen authors handle easy, companionable sibling relationships well (Nora Roberts comes to mind here, but there are others), I was hard-pressed to think of books that really went below the surface, or delved into more complicated sibling relationships. Who can you think of who “gets” the sibling relationship and does it right?

Total aside about sibling differences: I could tell you every detail of the t-shirt my sister is wearing in the picture above, but I’d be very surprised if she could (remembering things from thirty years ago is more in my wheelhouse). Although you can’t see it, it has Snoopy on it – in sunglasses, throwing a frisbee. It was the last one of its kind in the BYU bookstore, and she got it in a fair-and-square coin toss. I had to settle for the much less cool one with Snoopy sleeping on his house. It’s okay – now that it’s been thirty years, I’ve decided to let my resentment go.

11 thoughts on “Sisters…Nailed It!

  1. Nice blog post today! My sister is my best friend and so I appreciate strong sibling stories. I really like Anne Stuart’s _Ruthless_, and not least because of Elinor’s care and protectiveness of her sister, and vice versa. Their relationship has a huge impact of Rohan’s understanding of women and provides a turning point in their romance.

  2. One of my favourite sibling books is Frederica by Georgette Heyer. The younger sister is a beautiful yet empty headed pea goose and Frederica the older sister is intelligent, but not as pretty. The sisters are very close despite their differences. I lreally like the loving relationship she has with her younger brothers. Most of the book centers around the family dynamics and the jams everyone even Frederica get into that need to be sorted out by the Marquess of Alverstoke. A classic comic Heyer.

  3. I have had challenges in my relationships with my siblings which, thankfully, have lessened as we’ve all aged but I think I gravitate toward stories with strong sibling relationships because of this. Lisa Kleypas is an author who often writes about close siblings. And I know one of the reasons I love Mary Balogh’s Slightly Dangerous is because all the Bedwyn’s are together matchmaking for their taciturn brother.

    Two of my favorite books have very different sister relationships. In Jennifer Cruise’s Bet Me, Min and Diana love unconditionally despite their differences and would obviously do anything for each other. On the other side, SEP’s Ain’t She Sweet have two sisters (half-sisters) who start the book with wicked resentments and an awful past they need to confront and get past to allow a new and eventually loving relationship to grow.

    I really do have a soft spot for books with good sibling stories!

  4. @Deann, that is indeed one of my little brothers. He’s nine years younger than me, so was not as much my childhood companion as my little sister was (3.5 years younger). But we are actually quite similar now that we are both adults. Maybe someone needs to write an insightful novel about siblings who are relatively far apart in age?

    • Lisa Kleypas wrote about sisters who were more like mother and daughter in Sugar Daddy. I liked that part of the book better than the romance.

  5. I was also struck by that last line when I read Milan’s novella. It is so true! I am blessed with three sisters and although we all have different lives and different interests, they always have my back.

  6. I like the relationships between a lot of Jennifer Crusie’s sibs. In particular, I like Sophie’s relationship with her brother and sister in Welcome to Temptation. How she looked out for them and put their wants and needs first (even when doing so made her crazy) said a lot about her character.

  7. Is that your brother in the picture, off by himself? There’s probably a story about your relationship with him, too. I read romance not only for the relationship between the hero and heroine, but family relationships. There is no relationship as special as siblings, especially sisters. My sisters are my very best friends and the older I get, the more I treasure the time I spend with them. How wonderful to be able to share a line from a book with your sister and who “gets” it. Thanks for sharing with us.

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