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Dreams For Significant Girls: Not Significantly Enjoyable

August 11, 2011

Dreams of Significant Girls
Cristina Garcia
ARC from Simon and Schuster
July 2011 $16.99 238 pages

A fast read, with an interesting premise: In 1971, three girls from different backgrounds are roommates at a posh Swiss boarding school. They’re an unlikely trio- Cuban-Jewish Vivien, who loves to cook. Brash, loud Ingrid, a troublemaker who quickly gets a reputation for being fast. Shirin, a wealthy and sheltered Iranian princess, who just wants to be left alone to study mathematics, but also on some level yearns for a friend.
So– I was expecting a little feel-good unlikely bonding. Call it: “Sisterhood of the Traveling Bell Bottoms?”
This book was all right, a fast un-demanding read that I polished off in an evening. But it was disappointing. Each of the characters was complex- with a lot of past going on. But, as the perspective shifted between the three girls telling the story, I began to feel like each one of them sounded less quirky and more, in need of therapy for working out the stuff they were dealing with. Granted, for privileged rich girls who are supposed to be living a charmed life, each one is wrestling with something: Ingrid’s rebellious behavior has gotten her kicked out of multiple schools, and her father’s wrestling with his memories of WWII. Vivien’s parents’ marriage is having trouble. Shirin has everything money could buy, but she’s lonely and desperate for friendship, so much so that she’s willing to buy it.

I feel like this book never quite sorted out the right rhythm, in dealing with each girl’s life balance, or the trouble they got into together. It was trying to be a story about the three of them bonding despite their differences, and their boarding school coming of age adventures. But, from first boyfriends and relationships, to horseback riding incidents and family secrets, I felt like the balance was off. Never quite salaciously campy enough to be a trashy guilty pleasure, and kind of too emotionally askew to be affecting. Maybe I wasn’t buying into the posh setting, maybe it was the girls’ characterizations?

No, wait, I know: One of the characters actually said: “If I wrote this in a book, nobody would believe me.” That is, in fact true of some of the major plot twists.

Verdict: While I didn’t hate the book enough to give it a really angry heave off the top of a very tall cliff, I’d definitely toss this one over. Meh.

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