By Ben & Maureen Tai, 15 August 2022
During our annual summer visit to Toronto – our first in three years – my kids and I stopped by Little Island Comics, our favourite independent bookshop in the city for children’s comics and graphic novels. Coming from book-starved Hong Kong, we were giddy with excitement and hardly able to restrain ourselves from carrying armfuls of new finds to the cashier’s counter. As I added Smaller Sister (ages 10+), a graphic novel by Maggie Edkins Willis to my stack, I was heartened and pleasantly surprised to see an unfamiliar title, Bad Sister (ages 8+), tucked in among my tween son’s pile (yes, boys are NOT always put off by books about girls).
Both books are about the uniquely multi-layered and complicated relationship between siblings, one told from the point of view of Lucy, the well-meaning, hapless younger sister in Smaller Sister, and the other, from the point of view of Charise, the energetic, cat-loving and inexplicably mean older sister in Bad Sister. I chat with Ben to get his take on these two engrossing sisterly reads.
M: Hey Ben, can you tell me a bit about each book, starting with Smaller Sister?
B: Ummm, Smaller Sister is about Lucy and her older sister, Olivia – or Livy – and their relationship as Livy battles with anorexia, which is an eating disorder where you make yourself not eat food.
M: Wow, heavy topic. You love eating food. Can you imagine someone not liking to eat?
B: No, but Livy does it because she’s self-conscious of her body and she, I don’t know, wants to look good I guess.
M: What about Bad Sister then? What’s that book about?
B: It’s about a girl called Charise and her little brother Daniel, and she’s always doing bad stuff to her brother, for example she cracks his tooth with a golf club – by accident but still – and she gets in a lot of trouble.
M: Hmmm. Why do you think Charise is like that?
B: I dunno.
M: Doesn’t the book tell you though?
B: Not really, she’s just not very nice to her little brother all the time. She comes up with all sorts of ideas and tries to have fun with him, but in the end, he always gets hurt.
M: Oh dear. Is it a happy ending then? Or a sad one?
B: Happy I guess, because they make up and end up having fun together.
M: That sounds a little like you and your sister. Is Anna ever mean to you?
B: Yup, all the time [face crinkles up with pretend crying].
M: But you still love her, right?
B: You know, it’s complicated.
M: Yeah, sibling relationships aren’t easy. Any lessons learned from these graphic novels?
B: Ummm [thinking hard] …that anorexia is an illness and that it’s bad. And that you can always be forgiven even if you’re crap.
M: [eyeroll] Thanks Ben.
B: Can we play a game now?