Two Sisters Vie for Attention in Our Little World

Sibling love can quickly flip to sibling rivalry. Even hate.

Sisters Bee and Audrina Kocsis are very different. Studious, smart, and plain, Bee must constantly fight for the attention that comes naturally to the younger Audrina who lights up every room she enters. While the girls’ parents profess to love their daughters equally, Bee is quick to pick up on any word or gesture that favors Audrina. There are their names. Audrina’s name is beautiful and musical, while Bee’s, Borka, after her father’s dead Hungarian aunt, is “hideous.” On Christmas, Audrina receives a gold charm bracelet, while Bee gets a New York Yankee jersey with Don Mattingly’s number 23. “He’s a lefty, like you,” her mother explains. Bee, however, hates baseball and covets Audrina’s bracelet.

A hot sweltering day in July,1985, is the perfect time to visit nearby Deer Chase Lake. Bee and Audrina are joined by Max Baker and his little sister Sally who, along with their parents, moved in across the street. But the day starts out on a sour note when Bee notices Sally wearing Audrina’s gold bracelet. After Sally goes missing at the beach, Bee finds part of the gold bracelet in the sand. Rather than give the evidence to the police, she hides it, possibly sending the search team off in the wrong direction.

Karen Winn (Photo credit: Christopher J. Gaffney)

We know right from the beginning of Karen Winn’s Our Little World, that Audrina will die. Having that information fuels our imagination. As the tension between the two sisters intensifies, we wonder not only if Bee will murder her sister, but if she’s also responsible for Sally’s disappearance.

While Sally’s brother, traumatized by his sister’s disappearance, becomes quiet and withdrawn, Bee enjoys the attention she receives as the witness to a crime. The popular clique, led by the queen bee Hope, besieges Bee with questions about Sally’s disappearance. Soon, Bee is accepted into their group, ignoring her longtime friend, Leah. 

Finding new friends, however, doesn’t make Bee’s life any better, at home or at school. Audrina continues to dominate the family environment. While Bee brings home straight A’s, her academic achievement pales in comparison to Audrina’s star role in Peter Pan. Bee copes with her depression by pulling out her hair, a condition known as trichotillmania, living in constant fear that her mother will discover what she’s doing. Bee longs to be with Max, but his grief over losing his sister keeps him isolated. As the days pass, there’s little chance that Sally wandered away from the lake and will be found alive. Imagining her dead, however, is too horrible for Bee and Audrina to imagine.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Mrs. Baker was at the beach with the children that day. Why wasn’t she watching four year-old Sally? Although there were people on the beach, no one comes forward with any information that can help. The police are regarded as inept, particularly a young officer, Jimmy, who is inexperienced and preoccupied with caring for his aging mother. Those closest to the tragedy suffer the most, with Max’s parent’s marriage falling apart. Bee’s father visits Mrs. Baker frequently, ostensibly to handle repairs. But when Bee witnesses them embracing, she fears they are having an affair. 

A tragedy experienced by one family has a way to ripple out into the community, touching many others. Bee and her family, struggling to find their footing after Sally’s disappearance, are soon facing a tragedy of their own. 

Winn’s novel resonates on many levels, but what note it truly sounds involves sibling relationships. Sharing the same parents, the same home, and, possibly, the same genes, doesn’t always guarantee the same memories or feelings about childhood. This novel is sure to spark some discussions come that next holiday gathering. 

Our Little World
Karen Winn

Top photo: Bigstock

About Charlene Giannetti (547 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. The film is now available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other services. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.