Sisters: the small stuff may annoy you, but they do have benefits

Here’s the gist: Little Miss Sunshine style road trip complete with the rickety VW bus, parents on the verge of a divorce, and family members that are too wrapped up in their own worlds to see the problems of the others. You can guess how it resolves.

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

I haven’t read any of Raina Telgemeier’s other books, but pre-reading her other graphic memoir, Smile, wasn’t necessary. Which is perfect, because I wasn’t compelled to go seeking it out after I finished Sisters. I do firmly believe that good children’s books are good regardless of the label. Good children’s books are ones that you read as a kid, re-read as an adult, and walk away thinking, “Damn, that was a fiiiine story!” For me, Sisters wasn’t that. It falls somewhere between “Hot damn!” and “Only an innocent child without the corruption of the ability to see bad in life would enjoy this.”

I could complain about some of the problems I had with Sisters. But instead, I want to focus on the more interesting potentials it has: introducing young readers to non-linear story telling, and cultivating an appreciation for graphic novels that will very likely continue for the rest of their lives.

Non-Linear Storytelling

Important works of literature like Wuthering Heights, movies such as Paprika by Satoshi Kon, many videogames, and even the way we learn language itself is non-linear. The ability to follow a story and order the timeline of the pieces on your own is an important one to learn. Though I usually dislike non-linear storytelling (it makes me think a little more, I’m lazy, I also dislike getting up to refill my bowl of potato chips, what of it?), and I have a special place of hatred in my heart for flashbacks and dream sequences, the flashbacks in Sisters kinda worked. Especially at the end when all the references of seemingly random flashbacks sprinkled throughout the book pulled together into the one great pinnacle of the story. It might take some prompting to show how all of the flashbacks are connected, but it lays a great foundation for when young readers advance to more complicated storylines.

Beloved Books and the Future of Western Graphic Novelists

When I was in 3rd grade, I started reading The Boxcar Children. In 4th grade I got brave enough to read all of the Nancy Drew books, then progressed to Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes in 5th grade. When it came to voluntary reading, I pretty much only read mystery books for three straight years. Those early gateway drugs were pretty lame, in terms of stories that have re-read value for adults. But they sent me exploring the world of mystery-love that matured with my age. Telgemeier’s body of work might not be awe-inspiringly awesome, but I bet it will lay the foundation for budding illustrators and graphic novel readers that will soon be old enough for Craig Thompson, Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, Alan Moore, etc etc etc.

Even more than that, it will change the future career viability for western graphic novelists. Kids that are clambering to read graphic novels now, that live in an image-dominant world, aren’t going to stop wanting image-based stories in ten years. They will have learned the nuances of reading graphic novels and will incorporate them into their literary diet.

What nuances? Graphic novels aren’t like picture books, where the images merely illustrate what you are reading and don’t provide additional information. In good graphic novels, the images are just as key to the story as the words, and it can take some getting used to. I looked specifically for that in Sisters, and I found it.

But back to my point: as appetites increase, so will graphic novelists.

So, should Telgemeier be proud of her latest book? Yeah. She really should.

(note: I read this book as an ARC, but my review is 100% my true opinion)

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