Review: My Sister's Girlfriend

My Sister's Girlfriend

by Gail Marlene Schwartz, co-written and illustrated by Lucie Gagnon

Rebel Mountain Press, 2022

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Kathryn Hall

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Fifth grade student Talia Cohen-Sullivan lives with her father and sixteen year old sister Jade in contemporary eastern Canada. Talia likes math, art, and her best friend Carmen, but she does not care much for boys yet. Talia’s mom died from cancer three years ago and Talia is used to being the most important person to her sister. When Talia sees her sister kiss another girl she is first jealous and then anxious that Jade will be hurt when people find out that she is gay. Talia’s reluctance to communicate with her family and friends leads to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. As everyone is well-intentioned, and as they are willing to get therapy, learn more, and reach out to each other, it ends happily. This book captures the nuances of tween thoughts, feelings and actions in a realistic way and models how families can support each other. There is no sexual activity beyond kissing, and the homophobic episode is mild.

The black and white illustrations by co-author Lucie Gagnon are understood to be drawings by the main character, Talia, who likes to draw. They are at the head of each chapter and reflect the content of the chapter. These small, understated drawings work well with the quiet, gentle tone of the book.

I would recommend this book for any library with middle grade books, including Jewish libraries. I particularly appreciate the natural way that homophobia, and how to respond to it, are handled.

My Sister’s Girlfriend is well written and completely appropriate for 3rd grade through middle school. Author Gail Marlene Schwartz is Jewish and the Jewish content is present, as main character Talia and her sister Jade are Jewish, and so was their mother who died from cancer three years before the time of the story. They make challah, celebrate Chanukah, and decide not to go to services for Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish content is limited, but entirely positive. Both authors identify as queer women, so there is an authenticity to the lesbian characters in the story and realistic depictions of the response to characters coming out. The setting is in contemporary eastern Canada, where the authors have lived. Talia’s best friend is Hispanic. 

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Reviewer Kathryn Hall is a retired pediatrician, lifetime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, volunteer librarian for her synagogue for over twenty years and for her local LGBT+ center for the past six years, and active in her local PFLAG chapter since it was founded in 2008. She has a special interest in Jewish children's literature with LGBT+ content. She lives in Central California with her husband, the youngest of her three children, and two of her eight grandchildren.