My sister and I have a comfortable relationship now, but that wasn’t always the case. Growing up, the seven-year age gap made pop culture references hard to share. Exceptions included Pokémon, Disney movies, and the PC games we ran on our big brother figure Le’s Intel i386 computer, which boasted titles like Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders and Test Drive 3: The Passion.
Perhaps the greatest divide was literature. Separated by our reading levels, I pored over Goosebumps and The Baby-Sitters Club while Nancie sounded out Peter the Rabbit and Dr. Seuss. Then, Harry Potter came along.
Though I was the same age as the main characters when the first book came out, my sister and I didn’t discover Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone until we bought it on sale at a Barnes & Noble in the US. We were in the middle of a family road trip and I’d already burned through the few books I brought with me. It took about ten pages and as many minutes to become hooked; we returned to the store a few days later and bought the remaining installments.
Eventually, Le started reading Harry Potter too. Being three years older than me and ten years older than Nancie, Harry Potter was one of the few books we had in common, along with The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. When Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was, Nancie and I pre-ordered it as a gift for Le – then rather unscrupulously took turns reading it before his birthday. The three of us attended the midnight premiere of one of the later films – a length I haven’t gone to for any other series before or since.
Yesterday, I asked Nancie what her favorite book was as a youngster. To my surprise, it wasn’t Harry Potter but a lesser-known YA fantasy series from the ‘80s called The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce.
“It’s basically about a girl who doesn’t want to be raised as a lady and instead aspires to be a knight,” Nancie wrote me on Facebook. “The series follows her as she grows up, from being disguised as a boy for a big part of it and essentially smuggling herself into training as a page, to being a fully-fledged woman knight recognized and respected for her strength and valor. I loved it because not only was it an empowering kind of story in the obvious way, it was also a story about growing up and struggling through adolescence, facing your fears and your insecurities, and becoming stronger as a result.”
Older siblings tend to underestimate the inner lives of their “baby” brothers and sisters. I remember being utterly shocked when Nancie casually dropped the word “nocturnal” in conversation at age 6 or 7, forcing me to revise my assessment of her language skills.
I enjoy the fact that this column gives us an excuse to compare memories (“I know we bought the book for Le, but I don’t remember when, where, and how”) and hear anecdotes from my sister’s own years at school.
As grownups, we realize we’re more similar than we thought. We both cry at everything, including commercials and action movies. All-you-can-eat sushi is never a bad idea, every stray cat needs petting, and brunching is a fine art. We sometimes cover our insecurities with sarcasm and are always bad at apologizing. We have zero interest in any televised sports except rugby and the Olympics. We read Harry Potter.
Photos: Sijia Chen