Friday, July 01, 2011

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series by Ann Brashares (Part 2)

Note: These are my thoughts on the entire series, so the discussion of each subsequent book contains spoilers for those previous but not the novel itself. For example, a review of book 3 may spoil parts of book 2, but will not provide any spoilers of the novel itself.  If you have not yet read any of these books or wish to begin with the first books in the series, click here to read part 1 of my reviews.

When I left off my last review, I had just finished discussing the second novel in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series, so it's time to dive into the third, Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood. This was the first book in the series I was picking up not as a reread, but as a brand new experience, so I was eager to see how Brashares writing would stand up when the book itself didn't have any particular nostalgia attached to it. In Girls in Pants, Carmen, Tibby, Bridget and Lena are about to begin their last summer before heading off to four different colleges. This summer, Carmen is working as a caretaker for Lena's grumpy grandmother who has been forced to come to the US after her husband died, and on Carmen's repeated visits to the hospital she keeps running into the same mysterious boy, handsome and intriguing but who Carmen feels is completely missing out on her selfish and angry side. Meanwhile, Lena takes a figure drawing class during the summer with a teacher who may change the way she views art, and herself, that is if her father doesn't get in the way. Bridget is finally her old self, and that includes spending the summer working at a soccer camp, only to realize that perhaps she hasn't left the past behind as well as she thinks she has. Finally, Tibby has to learn to have the same trust in herself that her friends do when an opportunity arises to take a friendship to the next level, only to cause Tibby to feel responsible for a serious injury to her sister.

At first, I found myself disappointed. Girls in Pants begins very slowly, and there is a lot of focus on characters who had mainly been on the sidelines in previous books- for example Tibby's younger siblings, Lena's grandmother and Bridget's friend Diana- or absent all together, like Carmen's love interest. Although I appreciate that Brashares was trying to round out the images we have of the girls, I felt like at times these side plots took away from the intimate connection I was used to feeling with the main characters, as four main characters is plenty as it is. I also didn't really enjoy the storylines in Girls in Pants quite as much as the previous two books, I felt like Carmen still had way too much growing up to do in order to be thinking about a serious relationship, and Tibby's insecurity seemed a bit over the top, as did some of the events with Bee at camp.

About halfway into Girls In Pants the pace of the story picked up and it managed to keep my interest til the end, but I admit I wasn't nearly as captivated as I had expected to be. I don't think that had anything to do with the memories I attached to the previous books, but rather that as a whole this is definitely the weakest of the bunch. My love of the characters kept me reading, but in the end Girls in Pants disappointed me, and many of the main events, especially the way things worked out for Lena, Tibby and Bridget, felt contrived.

Still, my feelings about the lacklustre third book certainly didn't prevent me from picking up the fourth, and was long considered to be the final, book in the series, Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood. This book was unique in that not only all the girls college students, having just finished their first year, but at eighteen, nearly nineteen, they are finally starting to feel like grown up, which means their problems are more grown up too. From the first page of Forever in Blue Carmen is conspicuously missing from her home town, not even being around when the girls try to have their annual summer friendship ceremony. Everyone wonders if, having been used year round, the pants are beginning to lose some of their magic and ability to hold the four girls together, as they seem to have drifted apart over the year.

This summer, Carmen is in Vermont working on a theatre production with her new friend Julia. College hasn't treated Carmen well, and she's become a shell of the outgoing, vibrant, person she used to be. Still, she's thankful she has Julia, a girl who seems far too perfect to be friends with her. Julia has been with Carmen through her terrible year, but will she still be there if for once, Carmen is happy? Meanwhile, Bridget has run off to Turkey when Eric tells her he's spending the summer in Mexico. Working an archaeological dig, Bee has her eye on a handsome young professor, and the fact that she has barely seen Eric over the last year means that her feelings of abandonment and longing are in full swing. Lena is in Rhode Island taking a summer art course, but the only thing more surprising than finding herself attracted to one of the other students, is when Kostos unexpectedly shows up. Lastly, Tibby is taking a film class at NYU and working at a local movie store, and with Brian planning to transfer to be closer to her, and her life would seem to be perfect. That is, until they take their relationship to the next level and the consequences of that action are more than Tibby bargained for.

The issues that Brashares takes on in Forever in Blue certainly felt both mature and realistic, and it was a welcome return to level of perception that I had grown to expect and love in this series. I had a few issues, but they were pretty minor. For what was such a big storyline in the previous book, Win is barely mentioned in this novel except for Carmen to say they went out a few times. That said, I wasn't very entranced by him so his absence was not particularly missed. He was replaced instead by Julia, who seems like an amazing friend to Carmen until the reader realizes just how imbalanced their relationship really is. I really loved this storyline for Carmen, I loved watching her come out of the shell she has created for herself after moving away from home, and seeing how she came to realize the truth about the relationships in her life, both with her friends and her family.

I appreciated how Brashares discussed the ramifications that having sex can have on a relationship through Tibby, as it is certainly an issue that increasingly younger girls seem to be facing. Bee's storyline felt perfect for her, I loved the acceptance she came to and how she tried to share some of her sunshine with her family, secondary characters who had been mostly neglected so far in the series. I always wondered how her twin brother Perry must feel with such a star for a sister, and Brashares definitely gives insight into what life is like for him. The last storyline belonged to Lena, and to be honest it felt a bit repetitive and whiny at times, but that is also my general feeling about Lena throughout the novels. Like Carmen, Lena comes out of her shell in Forever in Blue, but in a way that felt forced and like a huge change from her previous personality.

Overall, I was so glad that I decided to dive back into the world of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for the first time in nearly a decade. Though there were moments of disappointment, particularly in the third book, these are easy and remarkably perceptive books on the teenage experience. Still, even though the series wrapped up smoothly, I was definitely excited to see where ten years later would find the girls, in the fifth book in the series, the recently released Sisterhood Everlasting.

Click here for Part 3 of my reviews.

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