The truth about sisters is that some you’re born with, and some you acquire—you don’t really have a choice either way. Occasionally, the universe aligns, and you’re given someone—a sister of the blood, or a sister of the heart. I had one of each growing up—my younger sister, who was my parents’ daughter, and an older sister, who’s truly a first cousin who lived nearby. We’ve always been there for each other, through thick and thin.
Some of my earliest memories are of my sisters—of playing together in the little house where I was born, or at the park, or in our various bedrooms. As the three of us got older, drama crept in. We became a never-ceasing rotation of pairs, and someone was always left on the fringes. But though we squabbled constantly, we still wanted to be together. Sure, we fought, but it was better to fight together than have peace alone. I remember arguments with my younger sister—shouting at each other and slamming doors one minute, heading to the mall together the next, the storm blowing over as quickly as it had come. And I remember not exactly fights, but angst with my older sister—a textbook introvert, I’d get moody and irritable with her constantly cheerful, effervescent personality, and she would just laugh, shut my bedroom door, and tell everyone “Laura needs her alone time.” We’re nothing alike, my older sister and I, but she still understands me far better than most people do.
As adults, the three of us are still drastically different people. We live apart now too, with at least an hour and a half of travel time between any of us. Sometimes we go months without seeing each other, or talking. None of it matters, though. We always pick up just where we left off. There’s so much shared history between us—more than we’ll ever have with other contemporaries, even our spouses. No one else knows our flaws and fears and joys as well. No one else has seen and loved so much of us. So if a little time goes by when we’re apart, no matter. It’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the years we’ve shared.
That sense of shared history which leads to strong bonds is what has always fascinated me about sister stories. I can’t count how many times I read Little Women while growing up—the March girls are all as different as can be, and grow in separate directions, yet their relationships with each other are some of the most pivotal in every one of their lives.
More recently, I’ve loved the sister relationships in Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, where boys may come and go but Lara Jean’s sisters are her touchstone—whether they inhabit the same space or not, her sisters inform so much of how Lara Jean thinks of herself as person. And then there’s Rachel Lynn Solomon’s powerful debut, You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, in which not just shared history, but shared genetics bind twin sisters Tovah and Adina together as they wait to discover whether one of them has inherited their mother’s degenerative Huntington’s Disease, and then deal with the fallout after the results of their medical test.
All things considered, it’s hardly surprising that when I started drafting my 2018 debut, The Light Between Worlds, I chose to center two sisters. It seemed only natural, after all, for a fantasy about belonging and the ties that bind us and the experiences that separate us, to follow a relationship that is all about shared history and connection.
In The Light Between Worlds, my central characters, Philippa and Evelyn Hapwell, hark back to two well-known literary sisters: Susan and Lucy Pevensie. I’ve always wanted a better story for these two—their relationship to each other in the Narnia books is, at every turn, superseded by the adventure at hand. The Light Between Worlds is my attempt to reckon with all the aspects of sister relationships that were overlooked in the Narnia series—the intense closeness of growing up together through shared trauma, the way mutual secrets bind children together, the difficulty of being close to someone vastly different than yourself, and the way sisters can remain joined by love and loyalty no matter the distance that separates them.
I wrote it, in part, to recognize my own sisters, but also as a reflection of the relationship I now see growing between my two daughters. The close connections that grow between young women has been a constant for me in life, when so few things are. So I find myself, over and over again, reading and writing in ways that reflect the strong and enduring nature of that particular bond.