(Originally from All About Romance)
2007, Young Adult
Delacorte, $18.99, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0385729367
Part of a series
Sitting down to write a DIK series review for Ann Brashares’s compelling Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants quartet has been harder than expected. DIK status has never been questioned, but to put into words the sheer depth of the emotional content, characters, and stories is nearly impossible without descending into that embarrassing land of “gush.” A truth universally acknowledged: bad reviews are easier to write than good. Desert Island Keeper reviews are hardest of all.
When Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants first came out, I wasn’t going to read it. The title hit me as stupid, as did the premise: four friends joined together by a pair of jeans? Even the back blurb wasn’t promising, coming across as saccharine and uninspired.
Thank God for my best friend, much more open-minded than me, who picked it up. She then sent me a copy in the mail with the inscription “This is how I feel about you.” Of the two of us, I’m the mushy one likely to descend into maudlin declarations of BFF. So if Jen was affected, who was I to argue?
Thank God for my best friend. I devoured the first book in one night, then danced with joy at the news of the two sequels already in book stores. When the fourth – and final – story came out in January of this year, I was there to get my copy, though I put off reading it for a couple of weeks, just so I could hold onto that “It’s not over yet!” feeling a little longer. Now that I’ve finished, I have that strange mixture of joy and sadness, having read something wonderful, but knowing that I’ll never get to read it for the first time again. I’m also intensely jealous of, but excited for, others who have not yet been introduced to Brashares and get to discover her for themselves.
The four novels follow the summers of four girls who have been friends since before they were born. Carmen is a vivacious Puerto Rican with a bit of a temper. Bridget is a star athlete, and “single-minded to the point of recklessness.” Lena, an artist, is as shy as she is beautiful, and Tibby is ironic, brilliant and an amateur filmmaker. Book 1, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants details the girls during the first summer they’ve ever spent apart. In a last minute shopping trip, they discover a pair of jeans that miraculously fits them all perfectly, even though they are all different sizes and shapes. They decide to form the Sisterhood and share the jeans between them, because surely wearing magic jeans will make magic things happen.
The second book follows a similar passage. The girls separate again, taking last summer’s lessons and the jeans with them again. The third book is a bit different as it takes place in the summer before they go off to their respective and different colleges, and the fourth book different again as the four have been separated for a year and need to learn how to come back together.
There are four things that really make these books among the best I’ve read. The first is the characters. Brashares is not afraid to have her characters make mistakes, unpopular decisions, and really dumb moves. Equally, her characters are capable of selfless gestures, acts of love, and broad sentimentality. They laugh, cry, fight, make up, shout, dance, go it alone, ask for help, fall apart, and put themselves back together again. In short, everything that you and I and everyone else does. And they do it with an intensity and realism that will take your breath away.
Second, Brashares doesn’t buy into sentimentality like too many YA authors can. Her characters don’t necessarily learn from their mistakes, things are not tied up into neat bows, there are no easy moral sound bytes. Growing up rarely means instant wisdom, and Bee, Lena, Carmen and Tibby struggle through the gap between who they are and who they want to be, between the lives they lead and the lives they think they should be leading, between reality and all their many dreams. There aren’t convenient solutions to these problems, and Brashares refuses to create instant happy endings.
The third aspect that really superglues these books to my DIK shelf is the emotional depth of the stories. Every single one of these books has made me cry, but every single one has also made me laugh out loud. The central friendship, so warm on its own, is backed up by secondary relationships between families, other friends, and lovers. While the plots may seem quiet, the emotional journey of the four main characters is vast and diverse, intriguing and gripping.
And finally, Sisterhood celebrates true friendship in all its glory and ugliness. Friends play such a deep and important role in our daily lives, but rarely is it captured as vividly and realistically as it is in these four novels. Friendship is not always songs and laughter; true friendship goes through ups and downs, heartache and joy, just as any relationship. Brashares captures this truth in all its intricacies with her four novels.
There are any number of other reasons to read this series beyond the four I’ve outlined, but read them. Read them. I’ll be sitting over here, alternately jealous of and excited for you, and thank God once more for my best friend – for more than just introducing me to Ann Brashares.