Laurie Petrou: For Your Brother, Your Sister, or Your Sister from Another Mister

Sister of Mine, Laurie Petrou's debut novel, was just named one of the season's hottest thrillers by Entertainment Weekly. In this recommended reading list, she talks about just what it is about sisters that she finds so compelling. 

***** 

People often ask me what I chose to write about sisters in my book, Sister of Mine

I am a sister, but don’t have one. I have a brother, to whom I am very close, and a best friend, who is like a sister to me, and whom I’ve known since the age of three. There is something about knowing someone your whole life, who has ridden through childhood with you to the other side, into adulthood, that is unlike any other relationship.

With siblings, or surrogate-siblings, you share inside jokes, trauma, memory, and deep loyalties. You often have your own shorthand. You were once in the care of your parents, and may one day be their caregivers. You might have children, and their relationship as friends and or cousins inspires you to remain close, even when life gets in the way. You like to think that you would do anything for them, and vice versa. In my book, I wanted to push that potential, to see how far it would bend before it broke.

My book, like so many others, crosses the boundaries of genre: it is a suspense, a thriller, a family drama, a work of literary fiction. Many authors would likely describe their own books as such, reluctant as we are to be painted into a genre corner. 

Many of my favourite books feature siblings, and also could be described as falling into any number of categories. And so, in no particular order, and likely neglecting the bookish sibling of one of these wonderful novels, I offer some lovely books, all of which feature, in some capacity—adventure, secrecy, suspense, and that special relationship between siblings and friends who feel like sisters or brothers. These are books to buy for your brother, your sister, your sister-from-another mister, or, naturally, yourself.

*

The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick DeWitt

I loved this book for its raw and economical writing style, the way it is different from so many other books in its Wild West setting, sometimes violent and unsentimental approach to characters and plot. A terrific, timeless, gold-rush era novel about the Eli and Charlie Sisters on an old-fashioned quest. In DeWitt’s hands, the style is like Irving Welsh and Cormac McCarthy rolled into one Southern Gothic bundle. 

Little Sister, by Barbara Gowdy

This book again has an otherworldly quality that I am drawn to. With a dash of magical realism, of old-timey nostalgia, and of urban work and relationships, Little Sister takes Rose, the protagonist, out of herself and into another’s life in a way that is elegantly described by Gowdy. The idea that we could feel—mind, body, and soul—from the point of view of another is a terrific story worth visiting.

*

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews

Oh, this book! It has the delicious dark humour that Toews executes so beautifully and that is the marker of so many sibling relationships. The story revolves around a family, around sisters, and it is as much about the challenges of mental health as it is about supporting those we love no matter where it takes us. Yolandi, the narrator, takes us into the darkness of witnessing her gifted sister Elfrieda’s struggles with depression, attempted suicide, and a desire to end her life in the comfort of a Swiss clinic that will enable this and aid her in her plan. This book begs us to question things we think we believe, and to put ourselves in the lives of the characters. The writing is stunning and poetic, and it urges us forward through the beautiful and tragic story.

Clara Callan, by Richard B. Wright

There is something about reading diaries and letters in novels that I love, and I know I’m not alone. It is not at all a gimmick in this lovely historical novel, however; the writing style and the descriptions of both small-town Ontario and the big city of NYC bring the perfect mix of detail, compelling plot, and comfort. Structured around exchanges between the two Callan sisters over the course of five years, this book is the perfect curl-up-and-read novel. Put the kettle on; it’s that kind of book.

Brother, by David Chariandy

I am certain that you have either heard of this book or have it in your TBR pile if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading it already. The brothers at the heart of the novel that takes place in and around Scarborough are Michael and Francis. They learn about themselves, place, dreams, and how they see and are seen as they explore the limits of their city and of other people. A violent tragedy cuts through the early blossoms of their lives and the novel alternates between youth and adulthood, reflected through the eyes of adult Michael. The book is unflinching, heartbreaking, and beautiful. By the line, and as a whole, this is a book to be cherished. 

Anne of Green Gables, by oh come on, do I really have to say? The beloved LM Montgomery!

Oh, Diana! Featuring the grandmothers of bosom friends everywhere, how could I write about siblings or sibling-like friendships without including Anne and Diana? For every girl who has ever looped her arm into that of her BFF, I offer the perennial favourite, the one and only, Anne of Green Gables. Where would Anne be without her Diana. Finally, orphan Anne has to walk to and from school with, to delight in secrets and scandals, to shriek with and cry with, to embrace. It's the epitome of youth, imagination, and female friendships, and if you are someone who has yet to read this iconic book, I envy you. 

*

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

Or, quite frankly, any of Bradley’s books featuring Flavia DeLuce, the 11-year-old sleuth, youngest sister of three, chemist, and solver of mysteries. Flavia’s relationship with her sisters, Daphne (Daffy) and Ophelia (Feely) treads the line (oh, who are we kidding, it is usually well over one side) between love and hate, torment and reluctant sisterly devotion. These books are an absolute delight: funny, clever, fast-paced, and completely original. And if you ever get a chance to see Alan Bradley in person, go: you are in for a treat!

Things to Do When It’s Raining, by Marissa Stapley

A male-female friendship that blossoms into more is at the heart of this beautiful novel. Mae and Gabe grow up together, fall into love and out again, their histories and childhood weighing down the potential of their shared happiness. Can friends become lovers? Can lovers stay friends? When we know someone their whole lives, what happens as we grow and change? Questions many of us have experienced colour this rich and compelling tale that charts a lifetime of friendship from the bestselling author of Mating for Life. 

*

About Sister of Mine: 

Penny and Hattie are sisters in a small town, bound tight to the point of knots. They share a secret they cannot escape, even while it pulls them apart. One night, a match is lit, and Penny’s terrible husband is killed—a marriage going up in flames, and offering the potential of a new life. The sisters retreat into their family home—a house of secrets and memories – and try to live in the shadow of what they put in motion. But Penny’s husband is not the only thing they are hiding, from the outside world and from each other. Under a cloud of long-held resentments, sibling rivalry, and debts unpaid, the bonds of sisterhood begin to crack. How long will Penny and Hattie demand the unthinkable of each other? How often will they say, “You owe me,” and when will it ever be enough? 

*

Laurie Petrou is author of Sister of Mine, published by HarperCollins in Canada, and just released in the US via Crooked Lane Books. She is the inaugural winner of the Half the World Global Literati Award, a Globe and Mail Top 100 author (Top 5 First Fiction for her first book, Between), and Associate Professor and Director of the Masters of Media Production at Ryerson University’s RTA School of Media. You can find her on Twitter @lauriepetrou

August 23, 2018
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