Tuesday 3 February 2015

#CBR7 Book 13: "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" by Ann Brashares

Page count: 303 pages
Rating: 4 stars

 Four fifteen-year-old girls, life-long best friends, are about to spend their first summer apart. On the night before three of them go away, they discover a pair of second-hand jeans that Carmen, the original owner, was planning on getting rid of. They discover that despite their varying heights and body types, the jeans look awesome and super flattering on all four of them, and decide to use the jeans as a device to keep in contact throughout the summer. They make a pact that they need to make the jeans count for something, and have to send them on within one week of receiving them from the previous girl in line. Over the course of eight weeks, the girls will have all had the pants twice.

Beautiful, but very shy Lena is going with her younger sister to visit their grandparents in Greece for the first time. She's annoyed to discover that her grandmother is trying to set her up with Kostos, a very handsome young man from the village, and determines to avoid him just because her grandmother is so adamant that they are perfect for each other. She just wants to work on her painting and brood about being so far away from her friends. After a big misunderstanding, the Kostos' grandparents and her own have a massive falling out, and she spends much of the summer trying to work up the courage to tell everyone the truth and sort everything out again.

Carmen, whose mother is from Costa Rica, is spending the summer with her dad, who she's only had sporadic contact with since her parents got divorced years earlier. She's imagined a relaxed and carefree summer, where she will help her dad shop for bedlinens and kitchen items for his no-doubt sparse bachelor pad, while they eat take-out and discuss movies. Instead she discovers that her father is living with his new fiancee, who has two teenagers of her own, and that they are planning to get married by the end of the summer. Carmen is crushed that her father didn't so much as give her a hint at what to expect, and feels terribly out of place with her new step-family, where everyone is tall and blond and seem more like her father's biological kids than she is. Carmen deals very badly with her new situation and keeps acting more and more like a spoiled brat, until the disastrous visit culminates with her breaking a window and hopping on a bus back to her mother.

Bridget is spending the summer at a soccer camp in Baja, Mexico, where she makes a lot of new friends while still desperately missing her old ones. She falls in love with one of the assistant coaches, and despite extremely strict rules about the players and coaches fraternising in any way, throws herself into an attempt to win his affection. She also has to come to terms with the fact that the coaches won't always let her be the stand-out player on the field, frequently disappointed that the coaches order her to play in positions that limit her abilities.

Finally, Libby isn't going anywhere, facing the prospect of working a retail job at Wallman's pharmacy, jealous of her friends who are off experiencing things. She decides to make a documentary basically showing the sad existence of people around her, but the film making and her summer takes an unexpected turn when she unwittingly befriends twelve-year-old Bailey, who's sick with leukaemia, but refuses to let Libby treat her with any kind of pity. Bailey keeps meeting her at Wallman's after work and insists on helping her with the documentary. Also, since she has had to face up to the possibility of dying, she's a lot less self-pitying and annoying than Libby and her friends.

To begin with, I rolled my eyes a lot when reading this. All four of the girls really are such quintessential teenagers, with their narcissism and their complete lack of perspective, so focused on their own wants and feelings, with very little though for anyone else or the world in general. I work with teenage girls every day, they felt very real, but not necessarily in the most likable of ways. Each of the girls has her own issues and worries though, which tempers the annoyance I felt for them. Lena has always been judged by her looks, and no one really sees past her stunning beauty. Carmen refuses to admit how much her parents' divorce actually affected her. Bridget still mourns the loss of her mother, and is prone to the same depression that led her mother to eventually kill herself. Libby barely ever sees her dad because he's working all the time, while her mother is constantly busy raising her tiny and demanding siblings. Reading this book made me so intensely glad I never have to be a teenager again.

My favourite character was totally Bailey, the snarky twelve-year-old who because of her horrible illness has become wise beyond her years. Thanks to her, Libby is forced to snap out of her own self-pity and grow up a bit, and the wisdom she slowly gains slowly trickles on to her three other friends as well. Also, annoying as I found the four protagonists on occasion, they are teenagers, and teenagers are awful. It would have been more unrealistic if they were all great all the time. Their friendships were also a thing of beauty. Most of the time, there are too many Mean Girls in YA fiction. Here none of the girl is the bitchy friend, they're just all supportive and there for each other. For much of the book, I was pretty sure this was a three star read, but towards the last third of the book, especially after it made me cry, I had to upgrade it. Once a book makes me cry actual tears, it deserves a four star rating. I have not watched the movie, and suspect I don't want to. Just looking up the casting afterwards to remind myself of who Hollywood felt were good facsimiles of the protagonists convinced me that the movie is probably not for me. I'm also not sure I have a burning need to read the many sequels (where I'm assuming the jeans must get pretty threadbare), but I don't at all regret buying this book in an e-book sale.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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