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In my opinion, memoir is a tricky genre to do well because it may come across as self-aggrandizing. However, a great memoir can facilitate the reader’s reflection on his or her own life, while also providing insight into larger issues and topics. As evidenced in her award-winning graphic memoir SMILE, Telgemeier is a master of the genre. And she exhibits this mastery again in her new graphic memoir SISTERS.

Telgemeier uses the graphic novel format in SISTERS to tell the story of her relationship with her younger sister, Amara. But just as SMILE wasn’t simply about braces, SISTERS isn’t just about Telgemeier’s relationship with her sister. The story of SISTERS is framed around a family road trip from California to Colorado and that is the consistent storyline throughout the graphic novel. Telgemeier illustrates some of the fun and difficulties of long family road trips, such as boredom, personal space, running out of batteries for one’s Walkman and mechanical problems.

As evidenced in her award-winning graphic memoir SMILE, Telgemeier is a master of the [graphic memoir] genre. And she exhibits this mastery again in… SISTERS.

Telgemeier wished desperately for a baby sister; however, when Amara arrived she wasn’t quite what Telgemeier had hoped for, especially as Amara’s presence impacted her living space, her daily activities and her relationship with her parents. Telgemeier wanted someone to play with, but Amara’s interests are vastly different than hers, except that they both share a love and talent for drawing. When their younger brother arrives, the two sisters bond together a bit more, but their love/hate relationship continues.  Telgemeier deftly uses her relationship with her sister to reflect on the fact that getting what you wish for is not always how you imagined it. This is not to say that Telgemeier does not love and appreciate her sister, but when she was younger, it wasn’t exactly as she had hoped for.

SISTERS also addresses issues of growing up and fitting in. When the family finally arrives in Colorado for the family reunion, Telgemeier wants to fit in and hang out with her older cousins. However, she is too young for the older cousin group, but too old for the younger cousin group. Telgemeier uses this specific situation to reflect on the difficulty of fitting in during the teen years.

Telgemeier expertly uses the graphic novel format to tell her story. The many flashbacks throughout SISTERS are indicated in the coloring of the margins and gutters of the page. I believe these will be indicated in a sepia-yellow tone; the review copy I read is primarily in black and white. Telgemeier also utilizes different panel sizes and shapes to convey different situations such as memories. Her illustration style floats between realistic and cartoonish, but is expressive and accessible. And, like all great comic/graphic novel art, the minimalism in her illustrations seems to only heighten the expressions and feelings.

I believe that readers of all ages and genders will enjoy SISTERS as it serves as both a window into the past and a reflection of the present. In addition, those with and without siblings will likely enjoy the story of Raina and Amara’s relationship.

Reviewed by Aimee Rogers on August 27, 2014

by Raina Telgemeier

  • Publication Date: August 26, 2014
  • Genres: Children's, Graphic Novel
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Graphix
  • ISBN-10: 0545540607
  • ISBN-13: 9780545540605