The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown is an “After That Summer, Nothing Would Ever Be the Same Again” kind of book, but unlike a lot of books (and films) with the Unforgettable Life-Changing Summer trope, this one is about adult rites of passage rather than teenage ones. Dealing with sibling relationships, family dynamics, and ways of avoiding and seeking one’s destiny – or “growing up” – if you will, Weird Sisters is funny, warm and clever.
Three sisters, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia, have been brought up on Shakespeare and other classic authors in a small college town; their father is a professor and their schooling was unconventional, which they variously resent and are grateful for. All three sisters return home because their mother has cancer but also for reasons of their own – their experiences in the wide world have been difficult and they need space to lick their wounds and decide what to do with the rest of their lives – even if these are hard to picture when their mother is suffering from chemotherapy side-effects. The sisters naturally have distinct personalities – Rose is responsible, Bianca or Bean is lost city girl, Cordy is a free spirit at a loose end. Growing apart has left them slightly broken; growing together might smother them – what are they to do?
Weird Sisters has echoes of Alice Hoffman’s work in its lovingly evoked details of the quotidian, of the big things that change lives and the small things that make them worth living. There is genuine poignancy in some of the scenes, and while others are lit with humour and charm. Part of it is narrated in the second person plural, reinforcing the sense of sisterhood, but I can see how some might find it a bit annoying:
But going to Broadway would have required a tenacity Cordy just did not possess. We were too easy on her, yes, and when she forgot to do her chores and skipped off to the pool, or pulled us away from our own work to build a fort in the dining room, we forgave her those trespasses, and did her chores for her. We helped her with her home-work, we baby-sat for her, we let her sit in the library at Coop and read for hours at a time, and when it finally came down to it, Cordy was sorely unprepared for the fact that her smile and her ability to get an entire room of Shakespeare scholars to do the Macarena (true story) would not necessarily guarantee her perennial success.
Still, Rose would tell you Cordy always got the best Christmas presents.
Bean would tell you Cordy never lost a board game in her life, even when she did.
Cordy would tell you all these things are true. (101)
It’s the sort of book that relishes other books; the sisters are always unselfconsciously reading (and it would be great if we were told what they were reading) and the quotes from Shakespeare that at first seem clever throwaways eventually sometimes mean more. It’s the sort of book to be read lying on the grass while sipping iced tea, and it’s the sort of book that is enjoyable but not perfect, that made me intrigued to see how the author evolves.
Brown, Eleanor. The Weird Sisters. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2011.