7 novels where sibling dynamics are on full display.
While many will likely be separated from their brothers and sisters on National Siblings Day this Friday, we wanted to take a minute to celebrate the bond, the complexity, the exasperation, and joy of siblings. As Zadie Smith wrote in her dazzling novel On Beauty: “People talk about the happy quiet that can exist between two loves, but this, too, was great; sitting between his sister and his brother, saying nothing, eating… He did not consider if or how or why he loved them. They were just love: they were the first evidence he ever had of love, and they would be the last confirmation of love when everything else fell away.”
But if you’ve experienced the more menacing, Dick Dastardly side of a brother or a sister (or both!), perhaps Shel Silverstein’s poem “The Hat” is more apt: “Teddy said it was a hat, So I put it on. Now dad is saying, ‘where the heck's the toilet plunger gone?’”
So here are 7 books that explore the indefatigable connection of siblings:
The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine
Cathleen Schine’s The Grammarians charts the lives of two quirky sisters—twins—who love each other just as much as words, grammar, and the dictionary. So much so that as kids they develop their own language, are inseparable, and hilariously harangue their psychologist uncle with their witticisms, intelligence and twinness. As they grow up and life contorts their worlds and language, the twins discover what life is like, separate. Katy Ball in her Best of the Month review called the book “Light-as-air but free of fluff…funny, moving.”
Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn
Sharks in the Time of Saviors is mythical and grounded, humorous and heart wrenching, contemporary and timeless. It follows three siblings who grew up in Hawaii and dispersed to the mainland for their grown-up lives, and all the while each is trying to figure out their own identities—in relation to themselves, each other, and the legends of their childhood. From the heat of Hawaii, to the riotous banter with their parents, sibling confrontations, competition and jealousy, and then the shattering disappointment of falling short of expectations, Washburn’s debut beats with the complexity of sibling love.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett’s latest novel, The Dutch House, follows a brother and sister who grow up in a fairy tale—a huge house, a loving father, and a caring staff. The only thing that’s missing is their mother, who fled the pressures of parenting and managing the household when they were young. When their father dies and leaves his fortune to their stepmother, the kids are left to fend for themselves, and go on to live drastically different lives than they had imagined. The house of their youth haunts them through adulthood, and revenge is their desire—but not in the way you imagine. The Dutch House is a moving and thoughtful exploration of the unshakable bond between siblings and is an absolute joy to read.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Beautiful and rough, Jesmyn Ward's novel explores loss and memory, family structures, race, and poverty. In her National Book Award winning novel Salvage the Bones, a working class African American family in Mississippi prepares for Katrina and labors through its aftermath. Destruction, alcohol, violence, abandonment, and death squeeze at the family, and the four siblings, as they fight to survive.
Eden Mine by S.M. Hulse
In Eden Mine, Hulse weaves a rich yet understated story of a crumbling mining town in the west and the unforgiving violence that forever alters lives, communities, siblings, and the simple ability to hope. When Jo Faber’s older brother is accused of bombing the neighborhood church, Jo is left alone to deal with the fallout. Samuel is a suspect for a variety of reasons, and as Jo reckons with her brother’s crime and its effect on the lives around her, she must come to grips with the death of her mother as well as her own entrapment and future. Hulse is a master storyteller—with every revelation she leads you further into the complex realization of how fanaticism and violence can erupt in a landscape as beautiful as Montana, and how to forgive—or forget—the sibling you love most.
The Nest by Cynthia d'Aprix Sweeney
Each of the Plumb siblings have been counting on their inheritance to save them from their own financial misdeeds. But when their father dies, and they learn that “the nest” is significantly less than they were planning for, their relationships with one another are turned upside down. As each vies for what they need (and the costs associated with college tuition, car accidents, mortgages, and more)—their collective and individual dysfunction come full circle. Full of high drama, memorable characters, and the love and the past that will forever bind siblings together.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
This is a rich, searing, and unforgettable novel about twin brothers that also happens to be one of Amazon's 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime. I remember reading this novel and being consumed by the scope and bond of orphaned brothers who become estranged in adulthood. Will their childhood, shared history, and fascination with medicine bring them back together? From Ethiopia to New York, Verghese charts an unforgettable path of love and exile, healing and medicine.
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