“Sisters” is Raina Telgemeier’s companion book to her New York Times bestseller and Eisner award-winning “Smile,” and it’s equally as charming and adorable as “Smile,” if not quite as profound.
Focused on a teenaged Raina on the cusp of entering high school and her complicated relationship with her younger sister Amara, the story jumps between present day as Raina’s family (minus her father) drive from California to Colorado for a reunion and flashbacks of earlier years. Though the story focuses primarily on the sisters, there is a lot about the family in general as the it grows, struggles financially and even considers divorce.
Telgemeier’s light cartoonish style is a joy to read. It’s easy to absorb, lovely in its execution, and wonderfully consistent throughout. Telgemeier renders the characters at different ages with a flawlessness that is simply masterful. The flashback sequences have a gorgeous, but subtle, yellow tone that distinguishes them from the present day scenes. It’s an effective touch, but Telgemeier’s cartooning skills are so strong, the color shift is more of a fantastic bonus than it is a necessity.
Though the entire book is beautiful, the flashback sequences have an almost ridiculous quotient of cuteness that helps them stand out as the most fun. Telgemeier is such an accomplished artist that she excels at visual gags, making the book legitimately funny with exceptionally precise pacing. The flashbacks work as a particularly wonderful contrast to the present-day relationships, adding an effortless and emotional context that is both subtle and unsubtle in the way that families often are. The flashbacks are key toward advancing understanding of the girls’ relationship and ultimately helping to lend the book the needed emotional resonance.
Raina and Amara are very different, and Telgemeier does an exceptional job of stepping outside herself and writing both girls in layered, well-considered ways. They are each smart and interesting in their own ways but also flawed the way children — and adults — naturally are. Telgemeier also allows the two sisters to ultimately come together through the bonds of other things they do share, which is an excellent commentary on family.
The only real failing of “Sisters” is that it feels a bit slight compared to “Smile” — likely due to the intensely personal nature of “Smile” and its ability to focus on that awkward age when everything is so desperate and important. By contrast, “Sisters” pulls back a bit in order to focus on both Raina and Amara and as a result, though it reveals interesting details about the sisters, it also loses some of that intensely personal focus that made “Smile” so relatable.
“Sisters” is yet another strong offering from Telgemeier, adding to an already impressive line up of books and proving yet again that she’s one of the most impressive modern comic creators.