It’s hard to live in a sibling’s shadow, and it’s even harder when that sibling is younger than you! In The Sister Solution, Sammi has to deal with her younger sister Jorgianna skipping two grades to join her mid-way through her 8th grade year. Understandably, Sammi doesn’t handle this with incredible grace and maturity, especially when Jorgianna immediately joins the crowd of popular girls that Sammi and her best friend Eden had been trying to get into for years. But when Sammi learns more about Patrice—the Queen Bee in the center of the popular crowd—jealousy turns to concern as her little sister gets drawn tightly into that circle.
The Sister Solution is told in first person with alternately points of view, with some chapters narrated by Sammi and some by Jorgianna. This lets the reader see both sides of the conflict, showing how complicated the situation is. It’s also in present tense, which makes the story move quickly, and the voice of the sisters is very conversational, almost as though they’re telling us the story.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Jorgianna is SUPER smart, always wins stuff, always knows stuff, and has a…let’s say dramatic flair to her fashion—it’s on purpose, and she knows designers and can play the whole fashion game. She just cares more about what she loves than about what her peers think.
All of this, of course, is both intimidating and embarrassing for Sammi who lives in the flamboyant shadow of her younger sister. She assumes Jorgianna doesn’t understand the implications of her fashion choices or her “know-it-all” tendencies, and in some ways Sammi’s right—Jorgianna envies her sister’s kindness, her understanding of people, the ease with which she makes friends, and her ability to deflate stressful situations. But at the same time, Sammi is trying to make her sister into something she isn’t.
Sammi is full of contradictions concerning her sister, and these feelings are easy for anyone with an exceptional sibling to identify with. She’s jealous of the attention her sister gets, but she also admires her for the things she can accomplish. She wants her to stay out of Sammi’s space (i.e., her school) but also wants to help ease her way. She feels like her parents value her sister more than they value her, while also recognizing that Jorgianna requires some different treatment. Sammi is also really good at things, but it’s hard for her to notice her own success because her sister shines so brightly. (She does have several explicit successes in the book, though!)
One thing I appreciated is that each sister understood what the other thought of her—they actually know and understand each other pretty well. They weren’t just clueless kids unaware of the effect of their actions. That doesn’t mean they always made the best decisions, but both Sammi and Jorgianna gave some thought to the decisions they made and considered various sides of the issue. When Jorgianna gives Sammi the silent treatment, it was interesting watching Sammi realize that Jorgianna had learned that from her.
Although Sammi and Jorgianna will probably always have some disagreements, when faced with a mutual foe they joined together and overcame their differences. They grew as a result of what they went through.
As I’ve mentioned a time or two before, Jorgianna is REALLY smart. Like totally scary smart. But, while she isn’t quite the social butterfly her sister is, she can read social cues. She cares about how she looks—her clashing and eccentric outfits are carefully planned, and she can talk fashion with the most fashion-conscious middle schoolers, despite being several years younger than they are. I appreciate that the things that make Jorgianna stand out socially are things that are pretty conscious decisions. She’s not in need of a makeover or someone to show her the ropes. She’s just making her own path, fully aware that this is what she’s doing. Any social miscues are due more to age and experience than to her brilliant brain preventing her from reading the world around her.
Grandma, called “Banana” by the girls, is Sammi’s confidant. They hang out together and Sammi can talk to her about almost anything. She frequently offers good advice, and she helps Sammi see Jorgianna’s point of view. Banana is very much the real main adult in the story.
The girls’ parents are well meaning, just sort of there, mostly good enough so they’re barely noticed. They try to act as peacemakers while looking out for the best interests of both girls and in the process have relatively small roles in the story.
Every adult at the school is kind of a disaster. They’re clueless and ridiculous and no help to anyone. They aren’t really harmful, but they aren’t helpful either.
When Sammi realizes that Patrice stole her picture and entered it in the art show, she doesn’t tell anyone. She thinks about telling Banana, but she doesn’t primarily because she knows Banana would act like a rational adult and would insist on telling someone at the school. Even though that might be the right thing to do, it’s not a risk Sammi is willing to take. Eventually Jorgianna finds out by accident, and then India overhears when Jorgianna confronts Patrice about it, but no one ever tells an adult. Sammi just gets the satisfaction of knowing that her photograph won a prize, even if it was in someone else’s name.
Although as a parent and former teacher I kind of feel like they should have told an adult, I can also understand Sammi not wanting to deal with that mess. And I appreciate that her friends didn’t force her to deal with it—no one was in danger, the damage wasn’t continuing, so it seems right that Sammi got to decide how it was handled.
Patrice is the Queen Bee and there’s nothing redeeming about her. The more we learn, the more awful she is. She lies, she steals, she bullies, she manipulates. Because she’s so popular, she can be awful to people and they put up with it. Sammi fears no one will believe her if she says Patrice stole her picture, and she doesn’t want to deal with the social fall out of accusing Patrice. India is completely aware that Patrice only hangs out with her because she’s rich, but India puts up with it because it’s socially destructive to tell the Queen Bee no.
Eventually, the girls do group together and turn their backs on Patrice. There’s no revenge, she doesn’t “get what’s coming to her” or whatever, but Sammi, Eden, Jorgianna, India, and a few others see Patrice for what she is and they break the hold she has on them. They accomplish together what they were too afraid to do alone.
Noah is Patrice’s on-again/off-again boyfriend. He seems to be trying to break things off, and she’s not making it easy. Sammi has a crush on him, and her relationship with Patrice really blows up when Noah ends up liking her too. Patrice tries to make Sammi break up with Noah, threatening to make Jorgianna’s life difficult if she doesn’t. Through it all, Noah is just a nice kid who likes to read, not some unattainable superstar and not a stuck up jerk. He and Sammi share a kiss—innocent, but Sammi gets quite caught up in it. She also goes into some innocent detail about how it feels slow dancing with him.
Charlie is a good friend to Sammi, and there’s no sense of awkwardness. Boys and girls can obviously be friends. When Jorgianna is alone at the dance, he asks her to dance without being weird or freaky. He’s funny without being a clown, and he’s fantastic at miniature origami using gum wrappers. When other girls are overheard talking about cute boys, Charlie is on that list. He’s allowed to be funny and cute and artistic without also ending up being the “weird kid.”
Patrice’s circle shows how artificial friendship can be in middle school. Jorgianna is vulnerable partly because she’s never really had a good friend, so it’s so tempting to hang out with Patrice when she’s invited.
Eden is Sammi’s best friend, and there’s a lovely lack of best friend drama, which is nice with so much Queen Bee and sister drama. Eden always sides with Sammi, even when it means turning her back on the circle of girls she’s been trying to join.
This is a fun book that explores sibling relationships and middle school friendships without being overly simplistic. It was nice to see both sides of the sibling relationship because frequently you only see one side. It’s probably good for ages 9 and up—it helps to have some understanding of crushes, for instance—and it’s good for reluctant readers.
Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The Sister Solution by Trudi Trueit
Published in 2015 by Aladdin M!X
Read an ARC supplied by the publisher