Then I Met My Sister by Christine Hurley Deriso
April 8, 2011; Flux
-Book provided free for review as part of blog tour
Please welcome Christine Hurley Deriso to Alison Can Read. She was kind enough to contribute a guest post to the blog today as part of a blog tour through Teen Book Scene.
Summer Stetson lives inside a shrine to her dead sister. Eclipsed by Shannon's greatness, Summer feels like she's a constant disappointment to her controlling, Type A momzilla and her all-too-quiet dad. Her best friend Gibson believes Summer's C average has more to do with rebelliousness than smarts, but she knows she can never measure up—academically or otherwise.
On her birthday, Summer receives a secret gift from her aunt: Shannon's diary. Suddenly, the one-dimensional vision of her sister becomes all too solid. Is this love-struck, mom-bashing badass the same Shannon everyone raves about? Determined to understand her troubled sister, Summer dives headfirst down a dark rabbit hole and unearths painful family secrets. Each revelation brings Summer closer to the mysterious and liberating truth about her family—and herself. (courtesy of Goodreads)
I had to read Then I Met My Sister on a deadline. A shared ARC was passed around to the participants of Ms. Deriso's blog tour, so I had to read it as fast as I could to send it off to the next reader. Sometimes reading on deadline can be a real drudge - forcing yourself to read page after page when you'd rather be doing something else. Luckily, that was not a problem with Then I Met My Sister. I plowed through this book in a day, having to force myself to put the book down!
I connected with Summer from the first page. She has a sarcastic, dark take on pretty much everything, which is a voice style that I always enjoy. Summer lives in the shadow of her sister Shannon who died nine months before Summer was born. Consciously or unconsciously, Summer has gone out of her way to be everything she thought Shannon was not. Shannon got good grades, so Summer barely gets by. Shannon had a wall full of trophies - she did everything and universally excelled. Summer excels in laziness and quitting. Shannon was kind and obedient to her parents. Summer is outspoken and challenges her mother about everything. It's pretty hard to live up to the perfect sister, so Summer doesn't even try.
The summer before Summer's senior year of high school - when she finally is going to surpass Shannon's age - Summer's aunt gives her a journal that Shannon kept the last few months of her life. It turns out Shannon wasn't so perfect. After overachieving for so long, Shannon finally cracked. She abandoned her good friends and took up with a jerky boyfriend and rebel new best friend, constantly fought her mother, and fought herself. She'd lived for other people for so long that she didn't know who she was anymore.
I thought Summer's family dynamics were fascinating. And I loved how the diary helped Summer learn secrets about her family that tore them down but eventually helped build them back up. Summer's mom is incredibly controlling and can't accept Summer for who she is. The diary helps Summer understand why. Summer's dad is boring yet dependable, but the diary shows another side of him. I love how Summer's relationship with her parents both changes and doesn't change. It was fascinating to see how her parent's flaws affected Shannon's life and how they now affect Summer. I also love how all of the characters grew through the novel, yet essentially stay the same. There was forward momentum but no kiss-cry-everything's-perfect-now endings that usually make me roll my eyes.
The only plot other than Summer's exploration of her sister's journal, was her growing relationship with her friend Gibs. Such a wonderful character. Super smart, kind, thoughtful, handsome, funny. An all around great friend. I love how he supported Summer, but also challenged her. He looked at her family from the outside in and had insights that Summer wasn't capable of seeing. Even better, there's a positively squeal-worthy moment between them on the beach. Look forward to it.
If Then I Met My Sister has a weakness, it would be a lack of action or a strong plot line. The book is really a character exploration. Summer's perception of her sister changing from cardboard cut-out to three-dimensional person and Summer's perception of herself changing from unworthy to full of potential. The only plot is the relationship with Gibs, but even that is a mini-character exploration. Their interactions are dialogue-heavy and often revolve around Shannon and Summer's family. This didn't bother me at all. I loved delving into a family, getting to know their secrets, and seeing them start to turn into something better. But others might get frustrated.
I highly recommend Then I Met My Sister. You'll love Summer's voice. This funny, frustrating, lovable girl makes the book worth reading. Add to that a great guy and a family haunted by their past, and you have a very interesting novel.
Rating: 4 / 5