Friday, June 26, 2009

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants - Ann Brashares

Summary: Four very different friends. One pair of magical pants. And a summer apart...

We the Sisterhood, hereby instate the following rules to govern the use of the Traveling Pants:

1. You must never wash the Pants.
2. You must never double-cuff the Pants. It's tacky. There will never be a time when this will not be tacky.
3. You must never say the word "phat" while wearing the Pants. You must also never think "I am fat" while wearing the Pants.
4. You must never let a boy take off the Pants (although you may take them off yourself in his presence).
5. You must not pick your nose while wearing the Pants. You may, however, scratch casually at your nostril while really kind of picking.
6. Upon our reunion, you must follow the proper procedures for documenting your time in the Pants.
7. You must write to your Sisters throughout the summer, no matter how much fun you are having without them.
8. You must pass the Pants along to your Sisters according to the specifications set down by the Sisterhood. Failure to comply will result in a severe spanking upon our reunion.
9. You must not wear the Pants with a tucked-in shirt and belt. See rule #2.
10. Remember: Pants = love. Love your pals. Love yourself. (Summary from back of book. Image from

My Review: The author does a good job of putting 4 very different girls (and mothers) together in a realistic way. Mothers do create a bond while pregnant together for the first time, going through child birth classes, and postpartum. And it's also realistic for the mothers to grow apart with time. The uniqueness of this story is how the girls stay close over time despite their differences and as their mothers growing apart.

An aspect to this book I really like is how the characters are developed. There are 4 girls: Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget. Truthfully, Carmen's character annoyed me thoroughly throughout the entire story. But this is what makes the story believable. You like people even if they annoy you. Bridget is a poster child for confident, athletic jocks. Lena is your typical shy beauty, endearing in her obliviousness to her affect on others. Carmen is a loud-mouthed leader who doesn't know how to control her emotions. Tibby is your quirky, late-bloomer who strives to think independently.

The book jumps between characters as they experience their first summer away from each other, linking them together with letters written to each other and the passing of the Pants.

Bridget's story takes her to the sunny Baja peninsula for a soccer camp. She, within the first couple chapters, makes a rash decision and loses her virginity to a soccer instructor she seduces. (I'm being very blunt about this because I want mothers out there to know the subject matter--the movie brushes over this almost hiding what really happens in the book. I've had friends say they didn't know that happened based on the movie.) What I really liked about this part of the book was her recoil into herself from the experience. She realizes she was not ready for such an adult decision. She feels like she doesn't know who she is anymore and changes drastically. I see this happen every year with my students. Sometimes I wonder if the girls had read this book would they have thought twice before giving up something so special so readily. It makes you think. A good book makes you do that.

Carmen's story takes her to visit her dad--her parents are divorced. Upon arriving she learns her father is engaged again. She was under the assumption going into the visit that it would be a one-on-one visit with her dad. I mentioned I found her annoying. My reason was her immaturity and outrageous reactions. Again, this is very real. Sometimes we don't know why we're reacting the way we are: we just know we're emotional and things aren't the way we wanted them. This is Carmen's mantra almost to the end. I liked how the author channeled this painfully awkward emotional growth. Very real. It's good to see ourselves in others, hopefully allowing us to change and grow beyond these types of selfish reactions.

Lena's story takes her to Greece, visiting her grandparents with her sister. Being a quiet beauty interested in capturing the majestic beauty of Greece on canvas, Lena wants and manages to keep to herself. That is, until she meets Kostos. He throws her into a self-contradictory spiral. An unexpected and very revealing meeting creates the perfect barrier between the two in Lena's mind. An aspect brought up from this event is America's prudish view of naked bodies, as opposed to the European view of the human form. While I have to say I fall right in that American category, it brings to the readers attention that not all people think the same way. Lena's tortured social life outside of the Sisterhood is very real. She knows how to act around those who know her, but around those who don't she is mysterious and confusing to say the least. The author does a great job of depicting a shy, insecure beauty (from my opinion having had a friend just like her).

Tibby's story keeps her right there in their home town, being left behind. We've all been there, and it's not fun. Tibby's reaction is relatable--no one likes being the one left behind. She starts the story angry and lonely. She eventually makes an unexpected friend: Bailey. Bailey won't leave her alone, basically leeching onto her while she worked at the local store. While at first Tibby is annoyed, she learns to appreciate and eventually adore Bailey. It isn't until she realizes Bailey is terminally ill that she clings to the friendship. Despite the outcome being expected, you can't help but grieve with Tibby as she realizes she almost prevented their friendship. The strength portrayed by Bailey making her wise beyond her years teaches Tibby and the reader many lessons.

While this book is definitely written at a Young Adult reading level, there are many lessons and issues that reach beyond the Young Adult realm. You feel as though you're part of the Sisterhood, a very comforting experience for a teen. I would read this with my daughter so that I could talk with her about the growing pains each of the girls go through when I felt she was ready.

My Rating: 4 Stars, probably the best of the 4 books.

If I had to sum it up in one phrase: An endearing story of friendship and teenage maturation.


MindySue said...

Thanks for the review Kari, I particularly appreciate you NOT glossing over what happens in Bridget's the movie totally did. I really enjoyed this book but felt that there was some serious subject matter mother's might like to discuss with their daughters. This makes a great book for mothers and daughters to read together (or at least at the same time) so that they can discuss what happens.

Sweet Em said...

We read this book in book club and were lucky enough to have a senior in highschool sit in, who had read this book when she was a few years younger. This girl, now a few years into college, is our portal into "the youth" of today and tells it like it is. She said that most of her peers didn't notice the "recoil into herself" part of Bridget's story and just thought she was cool. I point this out, that girls might not appreciate the change in Bridget, unless they have a discussion with someone older about what happens.

Kari - can I suggest labeling this as a book club suggestion? It was a great one for our book club.


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