My Sister Sif by Ruth Parks

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fourteen-year-old Erika and her older sister Sif are desperately homesick and want to flee their life in the city. Their island home, Rongo, and their family are calling them. 

Arriving on Rongo, a green dot in the Pacific, they find the locals frightened by the changes to their world, and cracks forming in their once-perfect home. Even in this paradise, Erika and her family feel the threat of the encroaching world. And it isn't only Erika's home that needs her attention. Henry Jacka, a young American shell-collector, catches Sif 's eye and uncovers a long-guarded family secret. Only the determined Erika can prevent him from revealing it. 

Ruth Park's prophetic tale, My Sister Sif, is a distinctive, much-loved classic by one of Australia's most highly acclaimed authors. It will appeal to a whole new generation of young Australian readers.

My Sister Sif
is a beautiful, fable-like speculative story - a small, lovely novel that mixes fantasy into reality so well it feels like it really could have happened. 
I'm not going to give away what those fantasy aspects are, in case you decide to read it - I think it's nice to be surprised. I came to it not knowing very much about the story itself, and I was very quickly swept up in it. The magical aspects of the story are perfectly ordinary to the characters, making the story feel very much of our world.

I always love stories about the bonds between sisters.* Sif is my favourite - she's shy and a dreamer. Erika is more practical, and despite being the younger sister she feels she must look after Sif. Erika is so sure that she knows best she can be obnoxious, but she's ultimately an endearing character, despite her mistakes (she is fourteen, after all). Her relationship with Pig is adorable. Their island home of Rongo is well-drawn and realistic,** and I think the young narrator and the magical, childlike freedom of the story will appeal to younger readers (I would've loved this even more if I'd read it when I was ten or twelve), while the thoughtfulness and relevance of the issues raised in the story will interest adult readers of YA, too. It's easy to read and authentic and just the sort of book you want to hug.***

The issues raised in the novel are even more important now than when it was first published, but the story has a real timeless quality. There are parts of My Sister Sif which remind me that it was originally published in the 1980s, aspects of the story that speak of a different generation (things I can imagine in my parents' childhoods which don't exist in mine): Erika having a secret hideout that no grown-ups know about, the girls being able to just roam about and leave Australia on their own, Erika seeing adults as this entirely separate species who just don't understand kids. It adds to the charm. Despite the environmental protection message and fantastical creatures, the central themes of My Sister Sif are the same as a lot of YA: characters trying to become independent, relate to their family, figure out who they are and where they belong. It's a gorgeous little book.

My Sister Sif on the publisher's website

*I am the eldest of two! Sisters are the best! I really liked Frozen, like a lot, mainly because sisterly love saves the day.

**When I'm reading, I tend to fill in the detail places described with places from my own memory. I've been to Vanuatu a couple of times, and once swam in a very lovely lagoon on the island of Efate, so I kept imagining that. I don't think Rongo is a real place, but it'd be nice to visit if it were.

***You hug books you really love, right? Or is that just me?
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