A Boston Globe Best Children's Book of 2017
A 2017 BCCB Blue Ribbon Book
A 2017 New York Public Library Best Book for Kids
A 2017 VOYA Top Shelf Fiction Pick for Middle School Readers
A 2018 NCTE Notable Verse Novel
A 2018 CCBC Choices Book
Claire and Abi have always loved their summers at the lake house, but this year, everything's different. Dad and Pam, their stepmom, are expecting a new baby, and they've cleared out all of Mom's belongings to make room. And last summer, Abi was looking at boys, but this summer, boys are looking back at her. While Abi sneaks around, Claire is left behind to make excuses and cover up for her. Claire doesn't want her family to change, but there doesn't seem to be a way of stopping it. By the end of their time at the house, the two sisters have learned that growing up doesn't have to mean their family growing apart. WHEN MY SISTER STARTED KISSING is Helen Frost's beautiful novel-in-verse about summertime and coming of age.
A Margaret Ferguson Book
About the Author
Helen Frost is the author of several books for young people, including Keesha's House, selected an Honor Book for the Michael L. Printz Award. Helen was born in South Dakota and currently lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with her family.
Read an Excerpt
When My Sister Started Kissing
By Helen Frost
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2017 Helen Frost
All rights reserved.
TEN YEARS LATER
Dad glances in the rearview mirror. Get ready, he says, to make your wish. We're about to cross the railroad track. We've turned off the highway onto the gravel road that circles Heartstone Lake. Abigail smiles back
at Dad, lifts her feet. We always do this, she explains to Pam, who says, That's a nice family tradition. Dad doesn't even have to think about his wish. He says what he says every year: Good fishing!
He winks. Abigail and I exchange a look. We love Dad, but when we're at the lake, fishing is all he ever thinks about. Pam has something else on her mind: I wish we could decide what to call
the baby. She looks at Dad, then out the window. If she's thinking up a nature name like Buck, she doesn't tell him — or us. Abigail's distracted, trying to get a signal on her phone. No luck.
Tell me again how long we'll be here, Dad? she says. About a month, he says. We always have the landline. She tries again, gives up, turns to me. What's your wish? she asks. I shrug and peer into the trees, trying
to see the lake. Every year when I was little, I'd lift my feet and wish for the same thing: To see Mom again. Last year, I closed my eyes and thought: I wish Dad would not get married. I knew it was impossible. And mean.
I hated Pam already. Her makeup and nail polish, all those different-colored shoes and fancy jewelry. I wished we could keep our cabin for the three of us, like it had always been — just Dad and Abigail and me.
It halfway worked. Pam didn't come to the lake with us last year. So that wish came true. Sort of — in September, they got married as they'd planned. And this morning we all got in the car, heading north.
This year, I've decided to change my wishing strategy to something more realistic: I know Pam is here to stay, but I wish she'd quit trying so hard to be our mom. The cabin's small. It won't be easy to stay out of her way.
I look across the backseat at Abigail. Sun shines through her brown curls. Whatever she's wishing sends color to her cheeks, and her half smile says she has a secret. I bet her wish is about kissing.
Claire was just a baby. She can't remember the day Mom died. And I can't forget — even if I wanted to. I have a lightning-shaped scar
on my arm, reminding me of that rain and thunder and lightning. All of us crying except Mom, who did not cry. Or talk. Or move. We had to leave
her on our blanket on the beach. Dad carried Claire, and I walked in front of them up the path to the cabin. We got in the car,
and Dad drove down the road to the Johnsons'. TJ was three years old, like I was. He gave me Benjamin Bunny, his stuffed rabbit, so I wouldn't cry.
Dad promised him we'd give it back, but I refused to let that bunny go. Each year, I'd think, This summer, I'll give him back to TJ. And then
I somehow wouldn't. By now, it would seem so childish to give him back. Especially after what happened the night before we left last summer.
Puzzle Pieces Claire
We're almost there. I love the pine-tree smell as we get close. It makes me feel like I belong here. Just one of many things I love: Sunsets reflected on the water. Riding my bike
over gravel roads. A light breeze blowing through my hair when I'm out in the kayak. Loons and swans and water lilies. Dad met Mom when they worked at a camp across the lake, back
when they were teenagers. They fell in love, got married, and came here for a month each year. They planned their lives around it — Dad became an English teacher so they could be here
every summer. He tells us how much Mom loved this cabin, and we've kept things like they were. Our book shelves are full of her poetry and art books — some with corners still turned back so we can look
for the pages she was reading. Her easel stands by the window, holding her watercolor of a birch tree with a bluebird in it. That tree was half as tall back then, compared to now. Bluebirds still perch
on the branches — do great-grandchildren of the one Mom painted fly past our trees? When we're at the cabin, I like to think: Mom picked up this exact same puzzle piece
and fit it in its place. Or: She got out of jail free with this Monopoly card — and now so can I. Her parents built the cabin the year she turned eleven — the age I'll be by the time we leave. I try
to picture her and Dad building the new addition the year I was a baby — the year Mom died. I've heard about that all my life: how Dad set me down and ran into the water. He tried
to save Mom, but he couldn't. He could only save Abigail and me. All three of us must have been so scared. Now we're almost to the cabin. I won't say this out loud, but being here with Pam is going to be a little weird.
Almost the Same, Except Claire
The minute Dad unlocks the door, and we go in, I'm like — Whoa! What happened here? Everything is almost the same, except — I don't know — I shake my head to clear
my thoughts. When Dad and Pam drove up last weekend, Abigail and I would have come, too, but our cousin invited us to a roller-skating party, and we stayed home so we could go.
When they got back, Dad said, We changed some things around, and we were like, Sure. That sounds good. (I didn't mind missing out on sweeping up the mouse poop.) But this is way more than what
he prepared us for: Everything straightened up. Puzzles and games moved to a top shelf, leaving the game shelf empty — except for a flower vase. My throat tightens. That vase — I bet it's Pam's. I make myself
stay quiet. Dad says, Girls, let's get the car unpacked. Pam shouldn't carry anything too heavy. Claire, can you get the fishing poles and tackle box? Abigail, you can set the cooler over there.
He points toward an empty space under the window — where Mom's easel used to be. Where did they put it? And where's her chair? Deep and cozy,
my favorite place to sit and read the books I love (where are the books?) or watch a storm roll across the water — I felt like that chair could hug me. Abigail looks like she did when she lost
her sketchbook one day last summer after we'd spent all day at the beach, and then she found it a week later, off a trail where she had to reach
into poison ivy to retrieve it. Dad, I manage, where's Mom's ... chair? I catch a look between him and Pam. Dad says, Remember? The back of it had a tear
in the cloth. And, he adds, we'll need that space pretty soon now, for the baby. That word — we — slides by so easily, erasing my word — Mom. I wonder — does it erase Abigail and me?
All Mom's Art Claire
I get it. I do. All the stuff from our old life together would make Pam feel like she does not belong. This rearrangement says: Pam is here to stay. And make room for the baby. Don't get me wrong,
I know it's not the baby's fault. He's not even born yet. But — over there? I nudge Abigail and nod to where all our framed pictures — even that cheesy one of the four of us in bright green shirts — aren't hanging on the wall.
Plus ... Look, I whisper. Abigail sucks air through her nose. All Mom's art — and ours — has disappeared. Dad's gone back to the car. Pam stares out the window, blocking the light, resting her hands on her stomach as she stands there, alone.
Cough, Sputter, Blink Claire
Dad has this little thing he does — half cough, half sputter, a little blink, before he answers one of our tough questions. But really? I wouldn't think
something like this would throw him off. This morning, Abigail, standing with her back to me as she got dressed, said in a quiet voice, Claire, I think I need a bra. News flash —
she's thirteen. I said, Tell Dad, and she said, I will. Now the two of them are doing the supper dishes, and she tells him. I expect him to go, Blah, blah, blah, my little girl is growing up. But Dad actually blushes
and looks down at the dishwater. I'm not sure I'm the one to help with that, he says, with a glance across the room at Pam, who jumps right in like she knows Abigail better than Dad does, and of course
she is now our family expert on girls' clothes. I'd be happy to take you shopping. Let's go soon, before the baby is born, she says. Abigail glances at me. Pam says, How about tomorrow afternoon?
I'm sure Abigail will hate this, but the look she gives me seems to mean, How can I say no? Before I know it, Pam has the whole thing planned, and Abigail has agreed to go.
Just the two of them. I'm not jealous. I don't like the mall. But seriously, Dad? Please. Finding new underwear for Abigail is harder than patching up a couple hundred skinned knees?
Splinting my broken ankle, halfway up that mountain? Harder than selling Girl Scout cookies in a blizzard? Taking your daughter shopping is suddenly harder than burying Stokie, our three-year-old pet lizard?
Harder than burying Mom? I don't want to start crying.
I'm going out in the kayak, I say. Dad knows I won't be gone too long. But Pam butts in and tries to tell me what time I should come home.
Claire, in the kayak
Out in the kayak at sunset,
water bugs walk across
orange light on the water.
What if Pam offers me
a trip to town? Shopping time
has always meant Dad-time to
me. Pam doesn't have to be
our mom! I like being alone
with Dad — and with myself.
She stood on the shore looking
out. Now, in the kayak, she moves across
my surface through the water lilies, observing
every water bug, each jumping fish, following the
birds through air and water. Two loons call to each
other — or do they call to Claire? She watches them
dive, tries to guess where they'll come up. Every
year when the family arrives, she greets me
like a good friend, wearing a pair of
old jeans, a faded sweatshirt under her life
vest. Sometimes a baseball cap, tilted sideways.
Everything well worn, comfortable. She always
seems to need a haircut — her shaggy bangs
(uncut for how long?) hang over her eyes
so she has to keep pushing them back
all the time. She started out taking
long, hard strokes. Now she
leans back to rest.
Come On In
Let's go swimming, Abigail suggests.
It's our second morning here; the lake is clear
and cool. A school of minnows skims across
the rocky bottom. Come on, Claire, over here!
she says as she dives off the dock. Out on the lake,
two ducks glide in for a landing. Abigail turns
to me, laughing. It's not so cold, she calls out,
once you get used to it. My stomach churns
as I go in slowly, step-by-tiny-step,
dipping my toes, my knees, into the shallow
part, until I'm in up to my waist. Abigail,
already past the drop-off, dares me to follow.
She swims straight out to where the current
carries her toward Anna's Island. Water flows
from one end of the lake to the other, and near
the island the current helps a swimmer who knows
how to catch it. That's fun — you can swim faster
than you thought you could. Of course,
if you try to swim against that current, instead of
being a better swimmer than usual, you're worse.
Once at the end of last summer, Abigail and I swam
out to the island, and Dad rowed his boat beside me
to give me a ride back. This year, will I be able
to swim all the way out and back? We'll see.
Splashing It with Color
I've been told I was a happy baby,
a cheerful little girl. I'd wake up,
jump out of bed, and Mom would say,
Good morning, sweet Abigail. According to Dad,
she and I lit up the room
together. Every morning,
like the crack of dawn, he says, she was the lake —
dark, still, and quiet. You were the sun
splashing it with color. How does that
make Claire feel? I don't know. Was she
fast asleep those early mornings
when all that Mom-and-me joy
opened the day? We've shared
a room since Claire was born, so I know she must
have been there. Has she always liked to let the sun
begin its climb into the sky before she opens up her eyes?
Would You Be Okay?Claire
I'm taking the boat to the marina this morning, Dad says. Who wants to come? I love being on the lake with Dad. I do! I say. And when we get back, I want to go over to the Johnsons'. Abigail, if you're back from the mall by then, you should come, too.
TJ and the little kids will want to see you. Before Abigail says yes or no, Pam says, We might not be back from town until late afternoon. Do you still want to go? Abigail says, Yes. And then, to me, You can go to the Johnsons' on your own.
Pam asks how far away the Johnsons live, and Dad says, Our nearest neighbors — just up the road. Abigail is sure: she would rather go with Pam than go to their house. That look flits across her face — something she isn't telling me.
If She Knew Abigail
What would Claire say if she knew that TJ and I kissed, the night before we left last summer? And — what does TJ think about that now?
We were talking, and admitted that we wondered what kissing is like. I said, We could try it, and TJ said, Why not? We agreed: it was fun! But how will it feel
to see him again now? Since he lives here in no-phoneland, we haven't even texted since that day. Will it be awkward if we end up alone together? Although that shouldn't be
too hard to avoid, with all those little spies in his house — especially the nosy twins. Not sure which one it was who caught us holding hands behind their boathouse, a minute
after we had kissed, and blurted out, I'm telling! TJ thought fast. Nothing to tell, he told her. Abigailtripped, and I helped her up. That's it. Now scram.
Dad's Hand on the Tiller Claire
Good — since Abigail isn't going to the marina, I have Dad all to myself. The water's rough and he goes pretty fast, making me laugh as we go bumping over the waves. It's enough
just being together — we don't try to talk over the motor, but we point things out to each other: three turtles lined up on a log, a pair of swans at the entrance to the channel leading to another
lake, a blue dragonfly that lands on Dad's hand as he holds the tiller. At the marina, he buys bait and gasses up the boat. I get an ice cream sandwich, and go out on the dock to eat it while I wait
for him to talk to everyone he hasn't seen all year. We ran into Fred and Ruth Gibson: this could take a while. They like to know — and tell — everything about everyone, all up and down our side of the lake.
As we head back home, Dad says he heard about a new fishing spot he wants to try out. We drop our anchor there, and I sit quietly with him while he casts for perch and trout.
After a while, he asks me to pick up the oars and row over to a slightly different spot. He's not catching much, but we stay here for an hour or so. Comfortable, talking a little — or not.
Excerpted from When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost. Copyright © 2017 Helen Frost. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Claire always loved spending summers at her family's lake house. She felt close to her late mother there, but this year is different. Her father and new stepmother Pam have cleared out all of her mother's belongings. They are expecting a baby and for them a new and exciting period has started. Claire hopes to find support with her sister Abi, but Abi has other things on her mind. She has just discovered that boys are liking her back and she regularly sneaks out to be with someone she finds more interesting than her sister. Claire spends a lot of time on her own and keeps having to cover up for Abi. Claire is feeling lonely and left out, but is this really justified or are her own actions also part of the problem? Will her summer be a disaster or will she be able to have fun in a different way by giving new experiences a chance? Claire and Abi were always really close, but Abi is older and she's discovered boys. Pam is someone Abi can learn from, while Claire doesn't want to have anything to do with her. That's a fantastic subject for a story. I could easily feel Claire's pain and frustration. Everything and everyone around her is changing and she desperately wants things to remain the same, because she misses her mother and doesn't want to let go of the past. I loved the way Helen Frost explores her feelings. Claire is more sensitive than her sister and this gives quite a bit of friction, but there's a lot of love as well, which is the first step towards making things right. I love books about siblings and When My Sister Started Kissing is definitely a good one. When My Sister Started Kissing is an impressive story about growing up. I was immediately mesmerized by Helen Frost's beautiful words. Her writing is absolutely stunning. I love stories in verse and I liked that she's given each character she writes about their own form. It brings variety and the structure is clear and interesting. Because of the way she writes her story is deep and meaningful, which is something I loved about it. When My Sister Started Kissing is a gorgeous story about change, grief, hope and happiness. I really enjoyed reading this fantastic book.