SISTERS FIRST: STORIES FROM OUR WILD AND WONDERFUL LIFE

 

Authors: Jenna Bush Hagen and Barbara Pierce Bush

Data: Grand Central Publishing, 238 pages, $28

This memoir by the Bush twins is full of stories that have never been told. It is not a syrupy or overly sentimental look behind the lives the twins led before, during, and after their White House days. It is well written and eye-opening.

When George W. Bush and Laura found out they were having twins, they decided to name the first one who appeared Barbara after George W’s mother. The second child born, Jenna, was named after Laura’s mother. Barbara says when she has to give her name over the phone—“Barbara Bush”— often people don’t believe her and hang up. Once when she was to give a speech, the audience expected to see the elder Barbara Bush.

This is a behind-the-scenes story: We never heard that the night before a presidential debate, instead of going over what he needed to study, “Gampy” hunted with a cadre of agents for hours looking for Spikey, Barbara’s beloved stuffed white tiger. The girls, in their early teens, were a handful. Their father referred to them, fondly, as “vipers.” Once a Secret Service agent told them to go and apologize to their mother. Another time their Episcopalian headmaster made a misbehaving Barbara scrape off gum from all the sidewalks around the school.

Theirs is the story of a life of joy, but also occasional tragedy, such as when Laura tells the girls about her going through a stop sign, causing a fatal accident. Or the loss of their grandfather, who was tormented with memory loss, or the tragic death of Barbara’s first love when she was in eleventh grade.

When their father was governor, they lived as near-to-normal lives as possible, driving a beat-up Jeep to Austin High School. Their life changed once they were “presidential children.” Barbara, in November 2000, was at Yale when the Bush-Gore election decision dragged on. Al Gore signs in the windows were visible from her college dorm room.

Jenna writes, “We traveled to Africa and Europe, met heads of state and kings and queens, and had a front-row seat to an entire decade simply by being born.” As close as they are, they are distinct personalities: Jenna often flying under the radar. As a youngster she sometimes enjoyed the spotlight, auditioning for roles on stage. It would be hard to choose the better of the two writers. Barbara writes eloquently about the attack on 9/11 and how lonely it was to be sequestered, scared and wondering if their parents were safe.

Today, Jenna Bush Hager is working at NBC as a commentator on “The Today Show” and has written three books. She is married and lives with her husband and two daughters in New York City. Barbara Pierce Bush is the CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps, which mobilizes young adults who help solve some of the world’s biggest health challenges.

Everyone should be as close to their siblings as these two are.

“Sisters First” is a delight in many ways. Particularly lyrical is Barbara’s beautifully written scene of Kennebunkport and the idyllic summers of camaraderie with 13 cousins playing outside, blissfully sailing with their grandfather, George H.W., among islands of seals and porpoises.

Mims Cushing lives in Ponte Vedra Beach.