Can you quote The Parent Trap word-for-word? Did you, like me, live in a country where there is no such thing as two month long residential summer camps in forests, and dream about going to one and finding your long lost twin? Does your father still refer to Lindsay Lohan as ‘the Lohan twins’? The nostalgia of Lohan’s breakthrough movie never wears off, but in order to get you ready for watching it fourteen times, as I know you will, over the coming holiday season, here are five books to read if you LOVE The Parent Trap.
1. Lisa and Lottie by Erich Kästner
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This is the book upon which your all-time favorite movie, and the original 1961 adaptation starring Hayley Mills, are actually based! Published in 1949, the book has essentially the same plot as the movies: two little girls meet at summer camp, discover they are twins and hatch a plot to reunite their estranged parents. Kästner, who was German, was a pacifist and he apparently wrote for children because he believed in “the regenerative powers of youth.” He was opposed to Nazism and was interrogated by the Gestapo and excluded from the Nazi-run writers’ guild. His books were burned during the book burning ordered by Josef Goebbels, but he survived the war. He died of natural causes in 1974, at which time the Bavarian Academy of Arts founded a literary prize in his name. Also named after him is the asteroid 12318 Kästner. I read Lisa and Lottie by chance as a kid, having picked up an old copy in a second-hand bookshop, not realizing that it was actually the book that inspired my favorite film. I just thought the plots were weirdly similar and at the time we only had dial up internet so I didn’t actually google it until recently. Ya live, ya learn, eh?
2. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfield
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Twins Kate and Violet have always experienced premonitions. Though Vi embraces her psychic abilities, Kate does her best to ignore them and live a normal life. As adults, both return to their native St. Louis. Vi has become a psychic medium, while Kate has two children and a quiet, suburban life. However, a minor earthquake occurs and Vi is certain another, devastating one is yet to come.
Amazon calls the book “Funny, haunting, and thought-provoking,” saying “Sisterland is a beautifully written novel of the obligation we have toward others, and the responsibility we take for ourselves. With her deep empathy, keen wisdom, and unerring talent for finding the extraordinary moments in our everyday lives, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of the most exceptional voices in literary fiction today.”
While this isn’t quite the ‘laugh-a-minute’ precocious-tween extravaganza that The Parent Trap is, it does take a closer, more grown-up look at the power of sisterhood and loyalty, and what it means to share with someone the closeness and intimacy of twinhood.
3. Sweet Valley High 1: Double Love by Francine Pascal
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Did you love the Sweet Valley High books growing up? Nah, me neither. I never had them, but a lot of people seemed to! So much so that they became New York Times bestsellers and are considered classics. I’m tempted to revisit the youth I never had and embark on the Sweet Valley journey, following twin sisters Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield and all they get up to, or, as the book cover rather hilariously puts it, “their laughter, heartaches, and dreams.”
Elizabeth is sweet and good-natured, while Jessica thinks the world revolves around her. In this book, the first in the series, Jessica sets her sights on Todd, the one boy Elizabeth really likes. While Sisterland is adult literary fiction, Sweet Valley High goes back to the YA vibes of The Parent Trap, encompassing themes of teenage angst, sisterhood and loyalty, much like our beloved movie.
4. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
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So, Harriet’s not a twin, but she is a precocious tween, partial to more than a little deception, much like The Parent Trap gals. If you haven’t read the book, or seen the 1996 movie starring Michelle Trachtenberg and Rosie O’Donnell, then you really ought. The story follows eleven year old Harriet M. Welsch, an aspiring writer, who, encouraged by her nanny Ole Golly, keeps meticulous notes about her day-to-day life and the people in it in her notebook. She follows a spy route each day, documenting the people she observes such as various shop workers, classmates, and friends. However, Harriet’s ruthless note-taking gets her into hot water.
5. Wise Children by Angela Carter
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This is one of my favorite books, and also happens to be about twins. The sisters, Dora and Nora Chance, share a great bond, much like the twins in the movie and have a pretty mad family situation. (Their family tree is actually mapped out on the Wikipedia page for the book, but don’t go there until you’ve read it, for fear of spoilers.) Dora and Nora are former chorus girls who recount the bizarre and hilarious exploits of their tumultuous theatrical family. This was Angela Carter’s last novel and she went out with a bang, employing elements of fairy-tale, magical realism and surrealism in this unique book. Upon her death in 1992, shortly after Wise Children‘s publication, Salman Rushdie wrote an obituary for The New York Times, in which he said:
[Wise Children] is written with her unique brand of deadly cheeriness. It cackles gaily as it impales the century upon its jokes. Like all her works, it is a celebration of sensuality, of life. More particularly, it celebrates wrong-side-of-the-tracksness, and wrong-side-of-the-blanketness too. It is a raspberry blown by South London across the Thames, a paean to bastardy (and the novel is a bastard form, never forget, so novelists must always stand up for bastards). Angela Carter was a thumber of noses, a defiler of sacred cows. She loved nothing so much as cussed — but also blithe — nonconformity. Her books unshackle us, toppling the statues of the pompous, demolishing the temples and commissariats of righteousness. They draw their strength, their vitality, from all that is unright eous, illegitimate, low. They are without equal, and without rival.
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