Saturday, November 19, 2011

"Sisterhood Everlasting" and the nature of friendship

If you're an older person who enjoyed "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," your own experiences might have endowed it with a more poignant dimension. Growing up, we all had best friends that we thought would be with us our whole lives. But for the most part, at least for me, that hasn't turned out to be the case with many of them. I grew apart from my best elementary school friend by seventh grade. A close middle school friendship ended when our schedules were diametrically opposed in ninth grade. We both made new friends, and when her family moved to Georgia later that year, I didn't even hear about it. My college BFF likewise moved cross-country and, after a while, stopped contacting most of her New York State friends.

I'm fortunate to still have a few close friends from various stages in my life with me. One of them is Chris, a frequent commentor on this blog. I've also stayed in decent touch with two college friends, Dan and Melissa, but sadly, I don't get to see any of them nearly as often as I'd like to.

So with these experiences in my past, I naturally wondered how Tibby, Lena, Bridget and Carmen's friendship would fare as the girls aged, as careers, marriage, and children pulled them in different directions. Ann Brashares chose to tackle that subject in "Sisterhood Everlasting."

Of course, "everyone drifted apart" would be an extremely boring answer, as would "everyone still lives in town and is still BFFs." Their lives have changed a lot. Carmen is an actress on a show very similar to "Law and Order," and is based in New York. Bridget still never stops moving. She's still with Eric and has worked a whole series of temp jobs in San Francisco. Lena is an art professor, and that's the most interesting thing about her: she lives by herself in a one-bedroom apartment and spends her evenings renting movies, occasionally with her "sandwich artist" quasi-boyfriend.

Tibby is the conundrum. We learn early on that post-college, all of the girls shared a New York City apartment for a while. Tibby was the one to break the quartet, when she moved to Australia with Brian, who had a good opportunity with a software company there. But since then, she's sort of been...incommunicado. They will hear from her every once in a while, but don't really know what's going on. The time zone barrier keeps them from calling and finding out, and it's not like she's alarmingly silent.

Then she surprises everyone with plane tickets to Greece. She wants a full-scale reunion, in the town where Lena's grandparents lived, where she met Kostos, where the pants got lost all of those years ago. Everyone attends, but it doesn't go as planned. Three of the girls have to contend with not only a sudden loss, but with unraveling the truth behind it.

That's what gives the book its momentum. I've essentially recounted the plot of the first 40 pages. This book is a lot sadder than I thought it would be, because it does deal with grief (and there's nothing on the jacket to suggest that). Several plot elements I found to be slightly implausible (the drop-everything-and-travel-for-no-good-reason device is still very much in force), but I liked the book regardless. People always wonder what happens to YA characters when they grow up, and it's interesting to see each of them approach 30. If you hated the Traveling Pants series, this won't redeem it, but if you enjoyed it, I think you'd like this sequel.

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