On the day in September that my sister went into labor, I was hiking out of the woods with my husband after a three-day backpacking trip. I told Brian, “Maybe Juniper had the baby while we were out here, or maybe she’s about to have him now.” He thought I was probably wrong, but it turned out I was right. Although I didn’t find out until the next morning that Juniper was in labor, I hardly slept all that night. I didn’t sleep much until my nephew, Ronan, was born some 30 hours later.
Now everyone is asking me how it feels being an Auntie. The truth is that I don’t yet know. Because of distance, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet Ronan, so being an aunt feels abstract. Since I learn best from fiction, I thought maybe I could gain insight on being an aunt from aunts in books. But when I tried to call literary aunts to mind, I immediately thought of Harry Potter’s cruel Aunt Petunia, who makes him live in the space under the stairs, and Gilbert Blythe’s petty, selfish Aunt Mary Maria, who wreaks havoc in Anne and Gilbert’s household with her demanding ways.
I might not know anything about being an aunt, but I do know a lot about being a sister, and there are plenty of great sibling relationships in books. My sister and I were raised out in the country and home schooled, so it took me a good amount of my life to figure out that we’re not twins. Of course, I’ve always known Juniper is two years older than I am, but we did everything together and were educated at the same level, which might explain why I’ve always felt more like a twin than a little sister. Perhaps because of this, I’ve always felt drawn to books about twins. I’ll tell you about three of my favorites.
In The Girls by Lori Lansens, conjoined twins Ruby and Rose take turns telling their life story. Although they’ve never been apart, since they’re joined at the head, each twin has her own singular perspective on the events of their life, and her own unique voice. Though people always refer to them as “the girls,” it becomes obvious how different they are. There’s an urgency to their narrative: the girls share a brain aneurysm that will shortly end their life, and they want to make sure we hear their story before it’s too late. They have been lovingly raised by a couple labeled as their aunt and uncle, but we learn they aren’t blood relations at all, so this can’t strictly be said to count as an aunt book.
Another twin story that touched me was The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum. Karena, at 38, has not seen or heard from her twin brother, Charles, for many years. She knows he always struggled with mental illness, so she is alarmed when she is contacted by a hospital that treated him for a panic attack and released him before realizing his condition and the danger he could be in. Karena chases Charles around the country in the wake of tornadoes he is pursuing. When the twins find each other, it’s time for them to reckon with who each other has become and to face the question of whether they can re-establish a relationship while respecting each other’s decisions.
Now I’m in the middle of a marvelous new book about twins. In I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, twins Noah and Jude (brother and sister) alternate chapters to tell us their tangled story. Noah describes how they came into the world together, how they can calm themselves and each other just by breathing in and out together, and how they agree they’d save each other from drowning before they’d save either of their parents. By the time they’re 16, though, they hardly speak anymore. What happened? The reader must follow the pieces of story each twin has to try to puzzle out the whole, and so must Noah and Jude. Nelson writes in a voice so fresh and unexpected that at times her imagery and description is almost jolting as she tosses us whole-heartedly into the story, sending us tumbling head-over-heels until we can catch up–which is exactly what happens to the twins throughout this book, too.
I’m looking forward to handselling I’ll Give You the Sun with some trepidation. Some customers have told me they don’t like reading about twins, and one of these twins, Noah, is gay. I’ve had a lot of trouble trying to sell books with gay main characters. This book is brilliant, though, and may go over well with its intended audience–teenagers. They’re not afraid to read about terminal illness, as in The Fault in Our Stars, or about werewolves, vampires, and zombies, so I figure they can probably handle twins, even if one is gay. Meanwhile, I’m still on the lookout for good books with good aunts. Let me know if you have favorites.
Amanda MacNaughton is a bookseller and event manager at Paulina Springs Books in Redmond and Sisters, Oregon, as well as a non-twin sister, a farmer’s wife, an owner of an energetic Australian Shepherd puppy–and now, an aunt. She tends to read books that aren’t easy to handsell, but she keeps trying, hoping to overcome homophobia and twinophobia. She lives on a rural property shared with several neighbors, including a pair of identical twins, whom the energetic puppy loves to attack (in the friendliest way).