30 Books in 2018 #2: Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager & Barbara Pierce Bush

Sisters First.jpg

I kind of love the Bush twins.

Just like I love Megan McCain.

And I love Chelsea Clinton.

And I love Maria Shriver and Caroline Kennedy.

And will probably love Sasha and/or Malia Obama should they ever decide to live life publicly again.

I find people who had political childhoods fascinating. Particularly women who have come out interested in telling their own stories and the stories of other. Which is why when I opened the copy of Sisters First, the memoir that Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush wrote together on Christmas I squeed and clapped my hands. (My sister received a copy of Chip and JoAnna Gaines’s book, The Magnolia Story, “This,” in Mary’s words, “is the difference between us.)

The book is slight, just over 200 pages, written as a series of essays, alternating between the two women, talking about their rather exceptional life, which was documented by outside sources from the beginning and yet somehow very private and as normal as was at all possible. But normalcy is impossible when The AP Wire has pictures of you within minutes of your birth.

We hear about their “wild party days,” (mostly a few fairly normal college bar hops) Jenna falling in love with her husband, (he was a young volunteer on the ’04 campaign) and the confluence of events that lead to Barbara starting her foundation. (It’s meant to be a sort of global version of Teach For America for health care providers. I find it fascinating and will be reading more.) Not to mention countless notes, emails and antecdotes from their father and grandfather. (The emails from HW are fascinating. They are adorable and kind of bonkers, and I definitely read them in Dana Carvey’s George Bush voice…)

While well written and creatively put together, I didn’t feel I came away from the book knowing either Jenna or Barbara much better than I do from their public personas, although I’m compelled to read much more about Barbara’s work, and about Barbara Bush, wife of George HW Bush. This makes the book something of a failure as a memoir. I didn’t expect any kind of deep expose on the Bush family, but some deeper insight into these two presidents and the women around them beyond, “Gampy likes fishing, and we sure were surprised when Dad started painting,” would have been nice.

There are glimpses of that, the note that W sent the girls on the eve of the Iraq invasion and the talk he had with them about his alcoholism after they got visibly drunk at a family function are deeply moving, and Jenna’s recounting of interviewing her grandfather on his 90th birthday shows flashes of something more, there’s just not enough there, there.

Still, the book made me cry a few times, if only because I’ve been missing my sister, and clearly these two love each other very much.

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