Sisters by Raina Telgemier
Raina wanted a sister once but once she had one she realized that had been the worst wish ever. Her sister Amara is independent and confusing in the way that young kids are and they almost never get along. A cross-country trip with the whole family in the van doesn't sound like it's going to be the worst thing ever but it doesn't sound like it's going to be easiest trip either!
It's funny that I had complaints about the characters in Drama but not these two, other works since they're all in the same age group and Telgemier really nails how people act and interact in the pre-teen/early teen years here. I imagine having actual events to go on really helps since that was the most spot on version of a family gathering I've ever seen; the adults are all perfectly comfortable around each other and you can never tell if they're that oblivious to what's going on or if they're just trying to ignore it (in my experience it is more of the former), the kids separating up based on ages (the older ones just sitting around and the younger ones running around like hellions) and the few kids who are a few years out of sync with the groups ending up on their own. It's part of the reason I used to prefer hanging out with my mom's side of the family than my dad's for years (where there's a much smaller age range, on my dad's side it's over 20 years for my generation!) and it's a nice reminder that even though you grow up, gain control over your life and make more connections, and sometimes more easily, that being a kid can be rather lonely at times and siblings can be an important part of that.
If this had been a work of fiction I would have applauded Telgemier for not giving her main character an "easy out" in this situation and making amends with her sister immediately and instead I have to admire her sister a bit to be so perceptive at an early age. She's a very interesting person/character, someone with a lot of bluntness which she both wields and comes out very accidentally, those moments are right next to ones where she's very happy and certainly feels like how some people can be that seemingly contradictory over a period of time. The other family relationships came off very authentic as well, I am a little curious about what eventually happened with her parents (I had started wondering a little before Amara asked about it) but that's not the main focus of the story so I'm fine with no immediate resolution there.
This was a very solid work all around, not only did the story feel real but the pacing and the regular comedic beats flowed great as well. There were subplots that tied the story together and reoccurring jokes as well, those don't always happen in real life so I'm impressed that Telgemeier was able to look back at her childhood and see what could be used to tie everything together. As I was writing this review I was trying to figure out why this story seemed so familiar, since I had never been on a road trip that was exciting in quite the same way, and then realized they reminded me of the Amelia Notebooks from when I was in elementary/middle school. So that's my additional recommendation with this review, some of them might be too young for a middle school fan but they're halfway between comics and novels so I'm sure there would be a lot of overlap between the fans*.
*although I don't think I'm seeing my favorite one on the list where she has to take home ec classes, in retrospect that was probably a major inspiration for my own crafting adventures.