Buy, Borrow, Bypass: More Novels About Sisters

Our lives have a lot of relationships, but there are few bonds that are more complicated and wonderful than the bond between sisters. As adults, my sister and I get along pretty well, but that certainly wasn’t always the case. Now that we live together, our relationship is shifting again, since we’re now sisters and roommates (double complicated!).

In the last few months, I found myself reading several novels centered around the relationship between sisters, of which there are definitely a ton. Here’s what I’ve been picking up:

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

When 21-year-old Nora and 17-year-old Theresa Flynn leave their village in Ireland to immigrate to the United States, they have no idea what will happen next. Nora, the more responsible and serious of the sisters, is set to marry Charlie, a man she’s not sure she really loves anymore. Fun-loving Theresa is along for the adventure, and she takes to American life with glee. But when Theresa sleeps with a man and gets pregnant, Nora makes a choice that will reverberate through their family.

Saints for All Occasions alternates between the early years the Flynn sisters are in the United States and the year 2009, after the death of Nora’s favorite son, Patrick. Theresa, now a nun living at an abbey in Vermont, has been estranged from the family for years, but comes back into contact because of Patrick’s death. There are a ton of overlapping family dynamics in this novel, but I loved the way J. Courtney Sullivan never lost the heart of the story – Theresa and Nora and the secret that pulled them apart. I flew through this one in just a few days and absolutely loved it.

Verdict: Buy

We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge

One of my fictional weaknesses is books about families who become part of anthropological experiments, so of course I was excited about this book. The Freemans (father Charles, mother Laurel, and daughters Charlotte and Callie) have been chosen to be part of a grand experiment. They will live in an apartment at the Toneybee Institute with a young chimpanzee, Charlie, and are aiming to see if they can help him become part of their family. Ostensibly, the Freemans were chosen because they know sign language and can teach it to Charlie, but Charlotte soon finds out there may be more questionable reasons the Institute may have chosen an African American family to participate.

While Charlotte and Callie’s relationship isn’t central to the plot, it is one of the most complicated in the book, as they both struggle to figure out how they fit in this new town, community, and family. They were the two characters I most hoped would manage to come together in the end, since neither one really chose to be part of this experience. In general, the writing in this book is great – there’s a scene at Thanksgiving that is one of the best and worst things I’ve ever read – and the questions that Kaitlyn Greenidge raises about science, history and race are really interesting.

Verdict: Buy

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Kate and Violet are twin sisters who may or may not have psychic abilities. As teenagers, Vi embraced the visions, while Kate did everything she could to push them away. As adults, Kate lives the picture of domesticity – married, two children, living in the suburbs. Vi has a more eccentric life, working as a psychic medium in St. Louis. A minor earthquake shakes up both of their lives – Vi goes on television to predict another more devastating earthquake will hit in a few months, causing panic and disrupting Kate’s organized life. As the potential disaster approaches… the world continues to spin out of control.

Curtis Sittenfeld is a very hit-or-miss author for me. I loved American Wife, a fictionalized take on former First Lady Laura Bush, but couldn’t get through the first chapter of Prep, a coming-of-age novel set at a Massachusetts boarding school. Sisterland was more hit than miss, but it’s not required reading. I loved the exploration of Kate and Vi’s relationship, but felt like the plot didn’t quite live up to what I was hoping for.

Verdict: Borrow/Bypass

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

While out on a buggy ride, Constance Kopp and her sisters have a run-in with a powerful local factory owner. When Constance’s efforts to collect damages turn into “a war of bricks, bullets, and threats,” she teams up with the local sheriff to try and take him down. Inspired by a real-life female deputy sheriff, Girl Waits With Gun is a delightful piece of historical fiction. I loved the way Amy Stewart integrated historical documents and accounts of this period into the book while still adding enough fictional details to make the story her own. Constance is an amazing character and her sisters, Norma and Fleurette, are equally as well-drawn. The book is a fun, sit down on a Saturday and dive in sort of read. As a nonfiction lover, I wished that I had a better sense of what was fact and what was fiction, but that’s a pretty minor quibble in the grand scheme of things.

Verdict: Buy/Borrow

If you want to read more about sisters, check out a previous Buy, Borrow, Bypass, as well as these other great Book Riot posts: 100 Must-Read Books About Sisters, Genre Kryptonite: Books About Sisters, Books for the Youngest Sister (vs. Older Sister) of Every Age, and Great Books that Feature Sisters.

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