In the Media

My Sister, My Self review
Reviewer: Dr Cathy Goodwin (Seattle, WA USA)

September 22, 2006

When I review a book, I usually have a copy right next to the computer, so I can refer to key passages and even quote a few lines. But this time I don't because I gave away my review copy right after I read it. I have a friend who's very close to her two sisters and I knew she'd enjoy reading this book. And I just ordered a gift copy to give a professional associate who's very close to her own sister.

That's the kind of book My Sister, My Self is: destined to keep circulating and (unless you're very careful) dog-eared and pencil-marked.

The theme of this book is, Your position as a sister will influence just about every area of your life - family, career, personality. What drew me into reading and re-reading is Stark's assertion that she can guess the birth order of a woman with only a few brief clues. Accountants (if I remember correctly) tend to be middle sisters.

And what amazed me is, she got my number! I am an older sister -- the bossy kind, not the caretaker type. And I fit her description quite accurately: totally independent and enjoy being in charge. I can't help noting how many older sisters tend to seek entrepreneurial careers and never really fit in as "team players."

I suspect most readers will do what I did: fast-forward to the chapters describing themselves. But I hope therapists and coaches will also enjoy reading this book because a lot of behavior that seems dysfunctional can be attributed directly to birth order. And from what Stark tells us, these influences go deep and can be hard to change.

Stark focuses solely on families with sisters, which means someone else has to write the book about sisters with brothers and only children. But Stark has been quite comprehensive, even including a large chapter about being a twin sister -- an experience far from my own.

What puts this book in the five-star category is Stark's willingness to discuss the dark side of sisterly relationships. Presumably, as a therapist, she's heard everything.

In particular, she recognizes that some women will experience the sisterly relationship as a drain on their energy with no rewards in sight. She's carefully non-judgmental. Perhaps because her study would attract women who care about their sisters, she offers few examples of sisters who "divorced" their relationship. Rather we hear a few quotes from women who don't want to give up, although the effort seems pointless. Frankly, I think many women will recognize themselves and feel reassured to fit into a category.

Sometimes a book leaves you wanting more because there's a gap in what's presented. Here I found myself wanting more because the book raised provocative questions. For example, what's too much: when does a sister get dragged down by ties that no longer deserve to be honored? When women don't have sisters in their lives, do they tend to seek out special friends or do they always have a sense of something missing? When sisters are spaced far apart (i.e., one is eight years older than the other), do they experience birth order relationships differently?

And while I respect a study of 400 women, I would find it instructive to talk about famous and literary examples of sisters. Author Lisa Scottoline, herself a twin, has explored the twin theme in her superb murder mysteries. In one best-seller, a well-known lawyer is stunned by the appearance of a strange woman -- a low-life claiming to be her missing twin sister. And in the WNBA, twins Cheryl and Coco Miller are now playing on separate teams, after playing together in high school and in an elite college program. They're both doing well.

In summary, I recommend reading this book before making your next gift list. It's the kind of book that (I suspect) many women will want to share. It's perfect for book clubs with a psychological edge -- the kind of book that makes you want to start a conversation.

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