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Sisterhood Everlasting: Review

June 14, 2011

Sisterhood Everlasting
Anne Brashares
Bertelsmann/Random House June 2011.
347 pages $25.00

Although I have a stack of books to read, and deadlines to meet with them, I started reading this days after it arrived on my doorstep. Why? Mostly because of a seed this Booking Through Thursday planted in my brain. Got me thinking about the difference between YA novels and “age appropriate” novels, and my draw to read the former.

By taking Tibby, Lena, Carmen and Bee, four best friends through several books, and having them grow up into an adult novel, this book is like a test case. It highlights the different expectations I bring, as an adult reader of YA novels, to YA versus “age appropriate” novels. I read about the friendship between these four girls as teenagers, a friendship among divergent personalities, cemented by a pair of pants. First loves, school woes, finding themselves. College. Honestly, I read YA novels to catch a little respite from dealing with my own grownup shenanigans. There are several ways YA storylines play out in a more straightforward, focused narrative, as opposed to the way adult novels, and adult life, can feel bafflingly cluttered with choices. Not all of which are choices we consciously make.

I felt disgruntled, reading about Carmen the TV actress watching her weight, Lena teaching art classes, Tibby off in Australia. I feel like, as adults, they’re living diminished and timid versions of what they wanted as teenagers sharing memories and the mystical pants that fit everyone. With one exception, Bee… was sort of like what she’d been in the previous novels. Flighty, prone to wanderlust. In the first half of the book, I remember wondering if, or why, Anne Brashares had recycled her characters to tell the story she wanted to tell, a women’s career and friendship story. I remember having similar feelings about Ender Wiggin and Speaker for The Dead.  In both cases, there were definitely moments that I felt these characters had been shoehorned into the story Brashares wanted to tell, of young women sorting out their adult lives.

Not sure when I felt like this settled down into a proper Traveling Pants sort of book. I can’t remember the moment when I felt like the plot felt less forced on the characters, and instead became more of a natural outgrowth of what Carmen, Bee, Tibby and Lena might do. Lena, in particular, is a frustrating character to me– because over the course of the books, she does a lot of running away from happiness. Even making an effort to run away and hide— when she could choose a pretty simple way to be happy. Being frustrated at that in a character is possibly easier than changing that in my own character. Or maybe I’m reading too much in.

I get annoyed when a book makes me cry. It’s more like being annoyed with myself than the book. And glad that I happened to have a day where I was hanging out at home and reading it. When a book catches me by surprise, it can be all kinds of awkward- wanting to have a good wail of bookish distress, on the subway, for example, or in a crowded coffee shop. But, home, alone, nobody saw me howling and weeping and blowing my nose. Even if it’s justified by the plot, I always feel grumpy and manipulated by books and movies that make me cry.

I feel like, in this case, that was my reaction, not the book’s fault. I could digress and say other books do a much more gratuitous job of creating a cry-fest. And that seems to be a fixture in fiction marketed to women… like the way to arrange a novel about women and friendships is to make sure someone gets a disease, or dies, or has grieving to do. I know it’s not a modern thing… Look at La Boheme, of course. Still, definitely not my favorite scenario. On some level, I acknowledge such thing as a “good cry,” but I get grumpy.

Thanks to Karen Fink at Random House for sending me an ARC

For every book I read in 2011, I’m donating $1 to the New York Public Library.

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