Invisible Sisters

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Overview


When Jessica Handler was eight years old, her younger sister Susie was diagnosed with leukemia. To any family, the diagnosis would have been upending, but to the Handlers, whose youngest daughter Sarah had been born with a rare congenital blood disorder, it was an unimaginable verdict. By the time Jessica Handler turned nine, she had begun to introduce herself as the “well sibling;” and her family had begun to come apart.

Invisible Sisters is Handler’s powerfully told story of ...

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Overview


When Jessica Handler was eight years old, her younger sister Susie was diagnosed with leukemia. To any family, the diagnosis would have been upending, but to the Handlers, whose youngest daughter Sarah had been born with a rare congenital blood disorder, it was an unimaginable verdict. By the time Jessica Handler turned nine, she had begun to introduce herself as the “well sibling;” and her family had begun to come apart.

Invisible Sisters is Handler’s powerfully told story of coming of age—as the daughter of progressive Jewish parents who move south to participate in the social-justice movement of the 1960s; as a healthy sister living in the shadow of her siblings’ illness; and as a young woman struggling to step out of the shadow of her sisters’ deaths, to find and redefine herself anew. With keen-eyed sensitivity, Handler’s brave account explores family love and loss, and what it takes not just to survive, but to keep living.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Ann Hood, author of Comfort and The Knitting Circle
Invisible Sisters is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Even as Jessica Handler tells us of her family's losses, she reminds us to celebrate life. Handler shows us how to move forward without being afraid to look back. This book is a gift.”

Michael Wex, author of Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods
Invisible Sisters is an unsentimental but deeply moving look at the ways in which loss––loss past and the loss that is still to come––can shape lives. Jessica Handler’s book is a quiet, near-hypnotic tour de force.”

Rosellen Brown, author of Tender Mercies and Before and After
Invisible Sisters chronicles the ambush of a happy family and its devastation in the face of every hope and effort. What Jessica Handler has rescued from grief, bravely and without self-pity, is the story of her own hard-won survival. The book in which she discovers a self separate from the anguished role she seemed destined to play haunted me from its very first page and has not let me go."

Kirkus, February 1, 2009
“With a sure grasp of revelatory detail, the author recalls homely verities from a vanished life. Her memory piece is an elegy for her dead sisters, who are not quite lost as long as they live in her thoughts. A heartfelt, painful family saga, skillfully told by a survivor.”

Teresa Weaver, Atlanta magazine, review April ’08 issue
“Some memoirs are affecting because they are universal, some because they are unique. Jessica Handler’s Invisible Sisters derives its gut-punch power from being both…. Handler tells this story with the lyrical elegance and cool remove of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking—the highest praise possible for any memoir of loss…. There is an undeniable burden in being ‘the only one left,’ but there is true grace in the act—and art—of first remembering, then surviving.”

Publishers Weekly

Based on a Pushcart Prize-nominated essay, this clear-eyed, candid work portrays the immense emotional toll that two daughters' illnesses take on a family living in Atlanta. Of the Handlers' three daughters, two developed fatal, rare bone-marrow disorders: Susie was diagnosed with leukemia when she was six and died two years later; Sarah, the youngest, suffered from Kostmann's syndrome, and died at age 27, in 1992. Haunted by these deaths, the author, the so-called "well sibling," revisits her conflicted childhood, when her father, a crusading civil rights lawyer from Harrisburg, Pa., and her kind, smart mother from Boston, were happy and still looking toward the future. The family's move to Atlanta in 1965 allowed the father to support labor unions, and Handler, as the oldest, was alerted to the importance of demonstrations and even taken to the funeral of Martin Luther King. However, with Susie's diagnosis (compounding the worry over Sarah's chronic sickliness), the parents "began the slow and terrible turning away from one another that erodes families facing the death of a child." In the last part of this affecting memoir, Handler struggles in her young adulthood to find her own way. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Essayist Handler debuts with a memoir of loving sibling bonds cruelly interrupted. The author's eight-year-old sister Susie died of leukemia in 1969, when Handler was ten. Their sister Sarah had been ill since infancy with Kostmann's Syndrome, a bone-marrow disorder like leukemia, but much more rare; she died at age 27 in 1992. Yet Susie and Sarah were at her 1998 wedding, the author avers. They remain vividly present in memory, appearing in the waking reveries and sleeping dreams of their healthy sibling. The girls' parents were liberal Yankee Jews transplanted to suburban Atlanta in the '60s. They lived with their children on "a lush street where professors and doctors grew big gardens and tied bandannas around the necks of their Irish setters." Dad, a crusading labor lawyer, was terrified by his daughters' illnesses. He went a bit mad, was hospitalized, fled to the Far East and then returned for a divorce. (Perhaps, Handler muses, Dad was angry with her for having a future.) Mom pretended all was well, but the entire family was plunged into darkness by the deaths of two daughters. The author's stark, lucid prose probes what those losses did to her parents and to her. Handler moved from Atlanta's Coca-Cola society to the coke culture of Los Angeles. She maintained a journal and kept pertinent ephemera. In 2004-05, she obtained and pored over copious medical files on her sisters' symptoms, medications and clinical trials. With a sure grasp of revelatory detail, the author recalls homely verities from a vanished life. Her memory piece is an elegy for her dead sisters, who are not quite lost as long as they live in her thoughts. A heartfelt, painful family saga, skillfully told by asurvivor. Agent: Sorche Fairbank/Fairbank Literary Representation
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586486488
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 4/14/2009
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Jessica Handler’s nonfiction has appeared in Brevity.com, More Magazine, Southern Arts Journal, and Ars Medica. An essay derived from Invisible Sisters was nominated for a 2008 Pushcart Prize, and her work has received Honorable Mention for the Penelope Niven Creative Nonfiction Prize. A teacher of creative writing, she lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 10, 2009

    A brilliantly crafted memoir of family and individual evolution in the face of illness. This is a book you'll fall into while the author takes you on her journey. A must read.

    A finely written memoir of love, hardship, family and evolution in the face of both sudden and long lasting illness. This is a story that comes alive with the truth of the author's pursuit of personal balance. Simple moments come alive with meaning as she takes you on her journey. An engaging and inspiring read for anyone who has a sister-or wishes they did.

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    Posted February 24, 2009

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    Posted March 21, 2009

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