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February 9, 2011

Heather Gudenkauf on Sisters

Posted by Stephen

Heather Gudenkauf's These Things Hidden, the follow-up to her excellent The Weight of Silence, explores the sometimes complicated relationships of sisters. In this special essay she discusses how her own sisterly bonds influenced her writing. As a bonus, she also shares her favorite sister-themed novels. These Things Hidden is in stores now and in paperback...perfect for reading groups!

these things.JPGI’ve always been fascinated by the bonds between sisters and I delve even more deeply into family dynamics within the pages of my new novel, These Things Hidden. Sisters Allison and Brynn have a very complicated relationship made even more rancorous by their cold and demanding parents. You’d think that since I grew up the youngest of six I would have an abundance of drama, angst and petty conflicts from which to draw writing material. Not so much.  

I have two wonderful older sisters and, despite the typical disagreements, I knew, and still know, that I could always count on them for wise counsel, moral support and the ever important fashion advice. My sister Jane, nine years older, was often charged with babysitting me. She cheerfully carted me along to cheerleading practices, always made me feel like a welcomed member of her circle of friends and didn’t bat an eye when I ate two-thirds of the candy she was supposed to sell for a cheerleading fundraiser. When I was in college she also invited me into her home so I could live with her family and save some money while I did my student teaching.
My sister Molly, four years older, could be counted on to play Little House on the Prairie; she gave me egg-white facials, and organized, cast and choreographed legendary shows in our garage that the entire neighborhood came out to see. Molly also did my hair and makeup for my wedding --- never have I felt as beautiful as I did on that day. Molly was also the very first person that I told about my dream of being a writer and she encouraged me every step of the way. When a close family member was very ill, my sisters were there to hold my hand, pray when I felt that I couldn’t and help me remember that I could still smile.
When my sisters and I get together we inevitably talk books. We recommend authors and titles; we pass books on to one another. We chat about the characters as if they are old friends and shake our heads at the life choices they have made and celebrate their triumphs.
Every single day I count my blessings for my sisters as well as my three brothers. Along with my wonderful parents, they made me who I am today. From them I’ve learned about generosity and the importance of giving of oneself. They’ve taught me that it’s okay to laugh at myself and that it’s okay to cry. They have been right there with me during my very best days and during my darkest moments. I hope I am for my siblings even a fraction of what they have been for me. I cherish the memories we have made and treasure the moments, though due to distance and the bustle of life are too few and far between, making each email, text and phone call even more special. 
Some of my favorite books about sisters (in no particular order):
·        Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
·        A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
·        Ramona and Beezus by Beverly Cleary
·        My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
·        The Color Purple by Alice Walker
·        The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
·        What We Keep by Elizabeth Berg