Hey all! Welcome to my latest discussion post, focusing on the various sibling relationships to be found in the books I’ve read. Having three siblings myself, I’ve experienced many of the ups and downs that come hand in hand with having to share your place in the family with several others who are at times frustratingly similar to you and at others see things so differently that you wonder how you could be descended from the same parents.
For once in these posts, I’m not limiting myself to YA fiction, mostly because there’s one entry on the list below that I couldn’t write a post about siblings and not include. Whatever the genre, though, portrayals of siblings are far from monotonic: they run the gamut from unconditional love to outright vitriol and everything in between. Whether it’s sibling bond or sibling spat, every one of the relationships we’re drawn to has realistic, compelling characters whose interactions have wide ramifications on how we understand them.
And who says those interactions have to end positively? After all, there’s no feud like a feud between two people who share the same blood. Ever since Cain and Abel, we’ve known, respected and been fascinated by just how potent the hate between brothers and sisters can become. Just look at all these paintings of Cain bashing his brother’s head in.
Of course, let’s not forget that when siblings decide to work together instead of fuelling the flames of rivalry, they can become some of the most powerful teams around. There’s no story without a little dramatic tension, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have happy endings.
In fact, I’ll start off with one of those happy endings…
5. The Dragna siblings, Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Who they are: Donatella and Scarlett Dragna
Why they’re special: Scarlett and Donatella are the epitome of unconditional sisterly love. One of Caraval‘s cleverest twists takes place at the start of the novel, when the siblings are caught talking to Julian by their tyrannical father. Both sisters immediately blame the other, and you’re shocked by how much hate must lie between them..until it’s revealed that Governor Dragna’s punishment of choice is to whip the innocent sister and make the other one watch. The bond persists through the novel, and in fact, the entire premise of Caraval is that Scarlett must brave a tangle of intrigue and danger to find her missing sister.
4. The Dracul siblings, And I Darken by Kiersten White
Who they are: Lada and Radu Dracul
Why they’re special: The relationship between Lada, Vlad the Impaler reimagined as a young woman to awesome effect, and her younger brother Radu is…complicated, to say the least. Their contrasting world views clash as often as they cooperate, not to mention that they both love the same man. By the end of Now I Rise, the second book in the trilogy, Lada and Radu’s paths have diverged enough that they appear poised to become sworn enemies moving forward. Yet a certain familial love still binds them, and no matter what happens, someone’s heart will be broken. (The readers’, probably.)
3. The Lear siblings, The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton
Who they are: Gaela, Regan and Elia Lear
Why they’re special: Remember King Lear? This is King Lear as you’ve never seen it before. Gratton’s Gaela/Goneril, Regan and Elia/Cordelia may not exactly be their Shakespearean counterparts, but there’s the same dysfunctional, occasionally deadly rivalry pulsing between them. Gaela and Regan love each other more than anyone else in the world, but unlike the Dragna sisters’ love, there’s an undercurrent of toxicity to their devotion. You get the sense that their bond, built on mutual hatred of their father and ambition for the throne, isn’t quite healthy.
Meanwhile, there’s sweet, demure Elia who everyone loves–except for her sisters, who despise their youngest sibling for her attachment to their cruel, unstable father. The three sisters’ interactions and feelings toward each other make up a huge part of The Queens of Innis Lear‘s success, and are an eye-opening portal into the ugliest and most passionate sibling relationships.
2. The Vogler siblings, Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones
Who they are: Liesl, Josef and Käthe Vogler
Why they’re special: Wintersong, the first book in the series, doesn’t give much credit to Josef and Käthe. They’re portrayed as mostly one-dimensional side characters in Liesl’s story. Not so in Shadowsong, where their messy, conflicted relationship is brought to the forefront. There’s no shortage of resentment between the Vogler siblings, but there’s also no shortage of love–and at the end of the day, it’s the latter that wins out. Käthe in particular, who appears a shallow trope in Wintersong, develops fantastically in its sequel. Her strength of will shines in a chapter near the end of the novel, when she’s entrusted with something very important and called her sister’s “lighthouse in the dark.” Liesl and Josef’s feelings toward each other are a whole other matter, but develop with similar touching depth.
1. The Siegel siblings, You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Who they are: Adina and Tovah Siegel
Why they’re special: Within YA contemporaries, this is basically the novel for twin relationships. Adina and Tovah may share birthday and genetics, but with one a musical prodigy and the other an aspiring doctor, they are as different as can be. Even more importantly, on their eighteenth birthday, one finds out that she won’t develop Huntington disease, and the other finds out that she will. The rest of the novel explores how they come to terms with their knowledge of their fates and with the long-standing grudge dividing them, and it’s simply a brilliant look at sisterhood.