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Summers of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

By Carrie | Books | September 17, 2009 |

By Carrie | Books | September 17, 2009 |

As my recent reads have been a bit hard going I decided on something lighter for my next lot, and what’s lighter than Ann Brashares’ books about friendship and items of clothing? Actually, they’re not total fluff and they may or may not cause a lump in my throat at some points, and I don’t care who knows it.

The basic plot is thus: A group of four friends are going their separate ways for the summer. They’ve known each other their whole lives (their mothers having met in a prenatal aerobics class) and it’s the first time they’ve really been apart. They find a pair of pants that magically fits them all, despite their different shapes, and decide to share them, passing them back and forth all summer with letters. (Sidebar: Pants in the UK means underwear, which would have put a different, if somewhat gross, spin on the whole thing.)

There’s Lena (the beautiful, reserved one), Bridget (the outgoing, but troubled, athlete with The Hair), Tibby (the rebel) and Carmen (the brat heart). They’re all very different but their love for one another, and desire to stay close over that first summer, is clear from the beginning.

In the first book, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Lena goes to Greece with her sister Effie, falls in love with Kostos against her will, and spends most of the book trying to ignore her feelings. Carmen is thrilled to be spending the summer with her estranged father in North Carolina, thinking it will just be the two of them, but has an unwelcome surprise when she meets his new family. Bridget goes to football camp in Baja California and gets entangled with one of the coaches. Eric is older and unattainable but Bee won’t take no for an answer. Tibby has the tearjerker storyline. She is left home alone all summer to work in a Walgreens with people who take it far too seriously. She’s befriended (unwillingly at first) by Bailey, a 12 year old with Leukaemia. She’s wise beyond her years and shows Tibby what’s important. Her joy for life will make you cry, unless you’re a bitter and twisted person who doesn’t find a dying child talking about her fear of time heartbreaking.

I probably like this book so much because I like the film and always cry at that. I’m such a pushover in my old age. I cry at every episode I see of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” for goodness sake. I swear I didn’t used to be like this. Anyway, I really love the film, and think it’s a great adaptation of the book. I even prefer Lena’s storyline in the film. They changed it a little, and for the better, since her relationship with Kostos feels real, it develops over time and you can see they have feelings for each other. In the book, she spends most of her time avoiding him, he sees her naked accidentally, she sees him naked accidentally, they share a kiss at the end and suddenly she’s in love and in a long distance relationship. I didn’t buy that at all. Possibly because I’m not 14.

In the second book, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, Lena and Carmen are home for the summer, Tibby is in film school, and Bridget runs off to Alabama to stalk her estranged grandmother. Lena broke up with Kostos out of fear, then she’s heartbroken when she hears he’s got a new girlfriend. Carmen’s mother is in love, and Carmen isn’t happy about it. Pissed at being ignored, she sabotages the relationship, (how many abandonment issues can one child have?) and basically acts like a brat for the whole thing. Bridget has lost herself over her relationship with Eric in the previous book, and has to face up to her issues with her mother, who killed herself a few years before. Tibby tries to fit in with her cool friends at film school, but learns some people aren’t worth it. She bonded with Brian McBrian (best name ever) in the last book, and he has become a permanent fixture in her life. She also decides to make a film about Bailey.

In Girls in Pants, it’s their last summer before college. Lena is getting over her heartbreak and focuses on her art, but she has to fight to win her father’s approval. Carmen is dealing with becoming a big sister and lets her jealousy surface. Again. She pushes it away when she meets a boy, but only lets him see the ‘Good Carmen’. Bee is at soccer camp, this time as a coach, and is surprised to see a face from her past. Tibby is running away from love and worrying about growing up, but faces up to changes after witnessing Carmen’s mother give birth.

In the final book, Forever in Blue, the girls have been away at school all year, and haven’t all been together since the summer before. It’s Carmen’s turn to lose herself, not finding her footing in college and blending into the background. She’s befriended by Julia and encouraged to attend a summer acting workshop - working on the sets. Grateful to have any kind of attention, she doesn’t see that Julia is not a true friend. Lena is thriving in art school and meets a sexy artist who opens up her world in more ways than one. But of course, the memory of Kostos is never far away. Bee goes on an archaeological dig to Turkey (as you do) and flirts with her professor, but she worries about what she’s left behind at home. Tibby is in love with Brian, but unfortunately sex doesn’t bring them closer. Anxious about where they’re going she breaks up with Brian, but that pesky love won’t go away. And the girls have to face up to a future without the pants holding them together.

Right phew, there’s the gist. I suppose I could have boiled it down to ‘Four best friends have a magical pair of pants and get up to all sorts of fun’, but I didn’t want to. The thing I love most about these books is the friendships between the girls. So many times these days girls seem to be portrayed as these backstabbing, boy stealing, drama starting cows who use and abuse each other to get ahead. It’s lovely to read a book about teenage girls where friendship is the key thing. They may not always agree with each other, but they’ve got each other’s backs. They love each other unconditionally, they’re supportive, they have fun together. It’s how it should be. There are a couple of things I don’t like so much in the books, Lena’s storyline in the first one I’ve mentioned, and Carmen’s attitude can be a bit grating, but had they all been perfect it wouldn’t have been much fun to read. Overall the stories are compelling and well written and you want to find out what happens in their lives. Tibby is definitely my favourite out of the girls, and I found myself frustrated a lot by Lena, but then I think that’s because she’s a lot like me, personality wise.

And since I’m here, and this is going to be a stupidly long post anyway, I’ll mention the second film. It definitely doesn’t live up to the standard of the first. It’s missing the magic, the feelgood factor. It tries to cram far too much in, including plots from the three other books, and it moves through them way too quickly. Bridget is thrown around the books’ timelines, going from the dig of book four, to her grandmother’s house in book two, and neither storyline is given proper attention. There’s just too much going on, much of it sad - Bee’s dead mother, Tibby’s relationship imploding - without much of the good. (Seeing Tibby fall in love would have been nice.) It’s just plot, plot, plot, heartbreak, plot, they fight, and there’s no time to just sit with the characters and get to know them again. It’s sweet, but there weren’t many moments that made me smile, and it didn’t leave me wanting to watch it again, like the first one did. But happily I can return to the books whenever I like, and feel that lump in my throat again. And again.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Carrie’s reviews, check out her blog, Teabelly’s Place.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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