Exploring Sister Bonds

One of our most anticipated debuts of the season, Bryn Turnbull's The Woman Before Wallis, tells the true story of the American divorcée who captured Prince Edward’s heart before he abdicated his throne for Wallis Simpson. But it's also the story of a pair of sisters, and in her recommended reading list for us, Turnbull explores other titles that illuminate this bond.

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The bonds between sisters can be loving, fraught, conflicted, and challenging—often, they’re all four at once. Compared to books about brothers, sister bonds may seem like a seldom-explored familial bond, but as the books below show, they’re an incredible source of inspiration for authors and readers alike.

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The Quintland Sisters, by Shelley Wood

The Dionne Quintuplets were a media sensation in the 1930s—the first five identical sisters to survive past birth, they were a symbol of optimism in depression-era North America, so much so that thousands of visitors would flock to North Bay to see the girls in their purpose-built nursery-cum-tourist-attraction. As doctors, politicians, tourists and money-makers capitalize on the Quints as a monolithic entity—one face shared by five bodies—Emma, an aspiring midwife turned nurse, comes to care for the sisters as individuals.  

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Book Cover The Painted Girls

The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan

While you might be familiar with Edgar Degas’s “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen,” you might be less familiar with the story of Marie van Goethem, Degas’ young model. Living in poverty after their father’s untimely death, sisters Marie, Antoinette, and Charlotte learn to rely on each other to survive in the hardscrabble underbelly of 19th-century Paris. 

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Book Cover All My Puny Sorrows

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews

Elf wants to die. She’s made it clear to her sister, Yoli; she’s tried, more than once. Despite her success as a world-renowned pianist—despite her solid marriage, her beauty, her wealth—despite everything she has that Yoli doesn’t, Elf is determined to end her life: three weeks before she’s to embark on an international tour, she tries to commit suicide, ending up in a hospital with her angst-ridden sister at her side. Beautiful, funny and heartbreaking in equal measure, this is a story about the unconditional love between sisters.

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Book Cover The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood

In 1945, Laura Chase dies under mysterious circumstances. Fifty years later, her sister Iris reflects on her life, whilst simultaneously recounting excerpts from a book written by Laura, about a pulp science fiction author, writer of the eponymous novel, The Blind Assassin. This novel within a novel within a novel explores the relationship between Iris and Laura, between narrator and reader, and, ultimately, between who we think ourselves to be and who we really are.

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Book Cover The Lost Sister

The Lost Sister, Andrea Gunraj

When her much-loved (and resented) older sister is found dead in the woods, Alisha takes solace in the unlikely friendship of Paula, who, along with her own sister, is a survivor of a residential school. Compassionate and heartbreaking, Gunraj takes a unique approach to exploring how external factors can shape the ties that bind sisters together.

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Dual Citizens, by Alix Ohlin

In Dual Citizens, half-sisters Lark and Robin Brossard are polar opposites. Bound together by an unorthodox childhood in Montreal and marked by the indifference of their reluctant mother, Lark and Robin’s lives converge and diverge over the course of many years: they fall in love and out of it; they build careers and choose paths; they grow, from a common root, into separate people. But at the heart of her novel—as at the heart of mine—the overarching love story is about the enduring bond between sisters.

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The Sweet and Bitter of Cherry Season, by Molly Fader 

When her estranged niece turns up on the doorstep of her cherry farm, Peg doesn’t ask questions. No, she stopped asking questions long ago—besides,  Hope’s black eye speaks for itself. Instead, she offers Hope and Tink, Hope’s ten-year-old daughter, room and board in exchange for helping bring in the farm’s annual cherry harvest, and over the course of the harvesting season the extent of Hope’s past—and Peg’s relationship with her deceased sister—comes to life, ripening beneath the cherry trees.

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Book Cover Sister Mine

Sister Mine, by Nalo Hopkinson

Makeda and Abby are twin sisters, with one fundamental difference: Abby possesses magic, and Makeda does not. Born from the union of a demigod and a mortal, Makeda’s always felt second-best amongst her celestial family. When she has the opportunity to live amongst mortals she takes it—only to be drawn back into her family’s dysfunction by the disappearance of her father. Unique, vibrant and superbly surreal, this is a story about sibling rivalry on a cosmic scale.

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About The Woman Before Wallis:

In the summer of 1926, when Thelma Morgan marries Viscount Duke Furness after a whirlwind romance, she’s immersed in a gilded world of extraordinary wealth and privilege. For Thelma, the daughter of an American diplomat, her new life as a member of the British aristocracy is like a fairy tale—even more so when her husband introduces her to Edward, Prince of Wales.

In a twist of fate, her marriage to Duke leads her to fall headlong into a love affair with Edward. But happiness is fleeting, and their love is threatened when Thelma’s sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, becomes embroiled in a scandal with far-reaching implications. As Thelma sails to New York to support Gloria, she leaves Edward in the hands of her trusted friend Wallis, never imagining the consequences that will follow.

Bryn Turnbull takes readers from the raucous glamour of the Paris Ritz and the French Riviera to the quiet, private corners of St. James’s Palace in this sweeping story of love, loyalty and betrayal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 20, 2020
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