Three Sisters by Norma Fox Mazer (Scholastic Books: $3.95; 231 pages)
Reading "Three Sisters" is like watching someone crochet an afghan: Norma Fox Mazer begins with a few basic colors, then patiently works on simple stitches to create an intricate design. The pattern that emerges combines rivalry, jealousy, betrayal, loyalty, love.
Liz, 21, tall and beautiful, works part time and writes poetry. Tobi, the second sister, is an athletic, argumentative and intense college student. Last comes our narrator, Karen, a 15-year-old high school student searching for companionship, but not finding it in her family or among her friends. Karen thinks she has her sisters pegged: If they were desserts, she muses, Liz would be cool pineapple sherbet and Tobi dark bittersweet chocolate. Tobi would kill you for doing something wrong, while Liz would excommunicate you. Karen doesn't know much about herself, however, and when her older sisters are together, she's the outsider.
Sex and Romance
But even more traumatic for Karen is the breakup of her friendship with David. She and David have been hanging around together for a couple of years now. It's no big deal, they're friends, that's all, but lately they always end up arguing about the same subject: sex--David's ready, Karen isn't. And so when David goes off with Karen's best friend, there's Karen, the outsider again.
Tobi's romance is more complicated. She's in love with Jason--an older man, a sculptor who is her art instructor, divorced and with children. Not surprisingly, Tobi's parents are disapproving, and family battles alternate with truces.
Liz is the lucky one. For a year she's been going with Scott, handsome, intelligent, charming and, as the girls' mother observes, "a man who likes women." Now they're engaged-to-be-engaged. Everyone likes Scott. Who wouldn't? Karen's friend Marisa takes one look at him and comments, "I don't see how you keep from having a violent crush on him." The trouble is, Karen does have a crush on him.
It begins innocently enough: Out biking one day, Karen runs into Scott, smokes one of his cigarettes, and through that little intimacy becomes intensely aware of his physical presence. Besides the sexual chemistry, he may be the one person, in or out of her family, who really understands her. It's a dynamite combination.
Karen's crush escalates through various levels of craziness. She hangs around him, hounds him, fantasizes about him constantly, even dreams up ways to get Liz out of the picture. Then she feels guilty and gets down on herself. She worries that Liz will find out that something --but not as much as she wants--is going on between her and Scott, but then tries to come up with a way to tell her sister what's happening.
Scott doesn't help matters any. He's a man who likes women, yes--and he is attracted to his girlfriend's cute little sister. He kisses her. It's like handing a loaded gun to a baby.
Rounding Out the Story
Meanwhile, adding to all those emotional dramas: the girls' parents--a dentist and a librarian--argue with each other; they fight with Tobi about Jason; Karen argues with her mother. Mazer, whose list of acclaimed books is as long as your arm, has a particular talent for creating rounded characters. Jason, for example, the older man in Tobi's life, needs lessons in behavior--a hard right to the jaw might do it--but he's also a fine artist. The girls' sometimes-squabbling parents are entirely human. Grandma, a grande dame worthy of her own book, sails in and out magisterially.
By the end of the story, some things have come apart and others have come together for the three sisters. With a few surprises it all works out, as cozy and as finely crafted as a handmade afghan.