Author: Raina Telgemeier
Genre: Memoir, Graphic Novel
Themes: Sisters, Divorce
Age Range: 4th-8th Grade
Raina begged her parents for a sister. She couldn't wait to have someone to share her favorite activities and deepest secrets with. But when her sister Amara is born, Raina doesn't exactly get what she was hoping for. Amara is a grouchy, cranky baby, and her mood doesn't really improve the older she gets. When her mother announces that she and the girls will be driving cross-country for a family reunion, Raina is less than enthused. Being stuck in a car with her siblings for days at a time doesn't seem to improve their relationship, and there is something strange going on between her mom and dad. But when a roadside emergency causes both girls to put aside their petty concerns, they find that while they might not always get along, they always have each other's back.
This third book in the series of graphic novel memoirs by Raina Telgemeier lacks some of the scope and emotional impact of her other books, but it is still a story that many children can relate to. I think most of us with siblings have had moments when we wonder if being an only child might not be preferable to living in a house with someone who seems to know how to push every last one of our buttons.
A lot of this book is about Raina coming to terms with the fact that the reality of her sister does not match her expectations. Raina gets a taste of what it must be like to be the younger sibling when her older cousin, who she was looking forward to spending lots of time with at the reunion, suddenly doesn't have time for her. Raina is in that awkward 'tween phase in this book, and as someone who successfully passed through it myself many years ago, I could easily put myself back in that place of uncomfortable uncertainty, holding on to the things from your childhood that you love, while trying to be more grown-up than you really were. I think students who are in that stage themselves, or are soon to be, will feel a strong connection to Raina's character. Some may see themselves in Amara's character as well, though since she is not the narrator we don't get quite as much insight into her own feelings about her place in the family.
The fact that Raina's parents are having problems becomes more clear as the story progresses, and I know that this is an experience that many children will experience sometime in their childhood. While the parents' relationship issues are not resolved within the scope of the story, the subplot adds a layer of tension that increases the emotional intensity of the story, if only slightly. And if all of this sounds like pretty heavy stuff, have no fear. Telgemeier uses her rather dry sense of humor to lighten it up.
This book as seen heavy rotation among my 5th grade students, along with Telgemeier's first memoir, Smile. Boys and girls alike have enjoyed following Raina's story, and I look forward to using this book next year as part of a school-wide reading initiative.