Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sisters, Sisters! Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin

Half and hour ago my sister locked me out of her room. Then she opened her door long enough to hang this sign on it:


Then she closed the door again. It was the sixth time Lexie had hung the NO PEARL sign that month

Lexie is thirteen. She has a lot going for her--a neat room, great grades, lots of friends, many interests, from violin to soccer to knitting, a boyfriend, a bra, and her own key and cell phone. Inveterate list-maker Pearl charts her sister's qualities in a table along with her own and sees that Lexie has a point in finding her company uninteresting at best. Lexie is nine, a reluctant student; her room is a mess; she has no friends except Justine, a first grader who lives down the hall. Her only notable interest is collecting stuffed animals, and she is forced to list her cat Bitey as her boyfriend.

Pearl looks at her list ruefully, but is clueless at what to do with her uninspiring life. Spying on Lexie and struggling to overhear her phone conversations through the bathroom wall are the only exciting activities she can come up with, and Lexie understandably retreats to her room behind her NO PEARL sign and her locked door.

But then Grandaddy Bo has a bad fall and it becomes evident that he's not going to be able to continue to live alone out in New Jersey. As he moves in to Pearl's room, Lexie and Pearl suddenly find themselves unwilling roommates, sharing bunk beds, a small closet and bureau, and more time together than Lexie thinks she can bear. It's time for Pearl to come up with another of her famous lists, new rules for living with (and understanding) her big sister. Some items become immediately obvious after Pearl's first efforts to get attention from Lexie's friends:

1. Don't hide Lexie's shoes, even if you think it's funny.

2. Don't show Lexie's boyfriend her baby blanket.

3. Don't talk about her throwup.

Some take more observation and and something new to Pearl--insight:

7. Listen to what Lexie says. I mean really listen and then pay attention. It's important to pay attention.

8. Take her seriously. She has no sense of humor about herself and everything embarrasses her.

Pearl has an epiphany when she realizes that fear of embarrassment is the secret to Lexie's behavior. The breakthrough in their relationship comes when Lexie, who claims to be too "mature" for Halloween, finally agrees to dress up and take Pearl and Justine trick-or-treating. Lexie even comes up with a costume as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and as they make their rounds, she gets in the spirit of the night and begins to have fun--until she meets up with a frenemy from her class at school:

Our buckets--all three of them--were growing heavier, and when we stepped into the fourth-floor hallway, I heard Lexie draw in her breath. "Uh-oh," she said softly.

"What--," I started to say, but I stopped when I saw a girl Lexie's age at the other end of the hall. Lexie didn't expect to run into Mandy or anyone else she knew.

Mandy was walking with two little kids, holding tight to their hands. Mandy, I hate to point out, was not wearing a costume--or carrying a bag.

"Lexie!!" exclaimed Mandy, and she began to laugh. "WHAT are you doing?"

By now it was plain to just about everyone in the world, probably even to babies, that my sister was trick-or-treating. It was also plain that Mandy Stanworth was not.

"She's--," said Justine, but I clapped my hand over her mouth.

"My sister's taking my friend Justine and me trick-or-treating," I spoke up. "Lexie didn't want to wear a costume," I went on, "but I had a tantrum and yelled, 'I can't go without my sister with me! And she has to wear a costume.' I cried until my parents made her dress up like Dorothy."

Pearl even ad-libs a non-existent sick cousin for whom Lexie has thoughtfully offered to collect a bag of treats, and Mandy is suitably impressed with Lexie's maturity. Lexie is grateful for her sister's rescue and suitably impressed with Pearl's insight into the situation from her point of view. It's a turning point in the sisters' relationship, and the reader is sure that Pearl's side of her sibling comparison list is going to be looking up from now on.

Ann M. Martin's latest, Ten Rules for Living with My Sister (Feiwel & Friends, 2011) shows off the Newbery-winning author's insight and skill in portraying developing relationships with friends and siblings in fiction that rivals that of Beverly Cleary's famous stories of Beezus and Ramona. Publishers Weekly says, "Credible characterizations, on-the-nail humor, and well-observed family dynamics add up to another hit."

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