Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares
Random House, 2011 (currently available)
Genre: Contemporary Realism
Face Value: The cover suggests the beach read that it is, though it’s unfortunate that even this adult venture had to include a headless girl in some form. The inside cover uses phrases like “whose friendship became a touchstone for a generation” and “as moving and life-changing as an encounter with long-lost best friends.” If I’d never heard of this book and picked it up in a bookstore I’d think standard mass marketed chick lit.
Does it Break the Slate? Nope, not even a little bit. As I explain in the review, the first book bent the slate, the second one broke it and three, four and five begin the process of putting it back together.
Who would we give it to? Anyone who has read and enjoyed the earlier Pants books will probably enjoy reading this one. It might make you angry. But you will enjoy it. If you haven’t read and liked the earlier books, don’t use this one as your introduction.
Review: It’s so hard to decide how I felt about this book! I loved the first two books in this series. I read the first one as an actual YA, when it came out my senior year of high school and when the second one came out while I was in college I sat and read it in the Borders cafe instead of writing a paper. I loved the friendship between these girls. These books pass the Bechdel test with flying colors – it’s all about conversations between young women, and I appreciated the way the truly huge issues were given equal weight to smaller ones, in a way that rang true with my perception of the teenage experience. And so I kept reading, when book 3 came out in 2005, and book 4 in 2007. And I was disappointed. Those issues, handled so beautifully in the early books started to become clunky and overwrought. The girls kept learning the same lessons. Poor Carmen never seemed to be able to catch a break. One of my friends’ Goodreads reviews said it best “let’s just pretend this series ended with the second book.” But we couldn’t help but be excited to read Sisterhood Everlasting, to find out what these characters we couldn’t help but still like were like as adults. And in fairness, this adult venture is better than 3 & 4 but not nearly as good as 1 or 2.
Warning: THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD. If you don’t want to know, stop reading!
First, what I liked: it’s a fast, engaging read. I read it straight through in 2.5 hours without getting bored. I cried my eyes out. The resolution was satisfying, and felt like it brought more satisfying closure to the series than previous ending, in book 4. Also, I love getting to see YA characters as adults in a fully realized book way, as opposed to a 2 page “see into the future” epilogue. Yes, I’m talking to you J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins.
But despite the good qualities, there was a lot not to like. Here are my major concerns:
1. How could you kill off Tibby, Ann Brashares! She is my favorite character! And not only did you kill her, you do it right away, so we don’t even get a glimpse of story in her voice! We needed her to bring some cynicism, realism and humor to the story!
2. And Tibby! Why on earth did you go swimming in the ocean by yourself when you are weakened by a debilitating illness? When your friends are coming in a few hours? Wait until tomorrow for crying out loud! Also, I get that it has to be hard to tell people that you’re dying, and I can’t even imagine what you went through. But by not telling people you cheated them out of spending time with you and knowing you as a mother and sharing your last moments with you. Stupid. And I don’t buy it from your character.
3. Lena, you have a job teaching at RISD but seem to be able to take limitless time off of work to travel without losing your job. I wish I could figure out how to do this.
4. Why does Carmen have to have the same plotline and learn the same lesson in EVERY book? I think she would have figured it out by now.
5. Also, while we’re talking about Carmen, why does she never get to have good epic sexy romance? All of the others do, but she is either alone or dating jerks.
6. AND WHY ARE ALL THE OTHERS STILL WITH THE SAME BOYS THEY MET IN HIGH SCHOOL? I mean really. It’s totally implausible. I buy the relationship between Tibby & Brian because I feel like that’s built out of friendship and we’ve seen it develop over the course of the books. But I have always felt that Bridget being in a relationship with Eric is more than a little creepy and inappropriate given the circumstances of how they met. And Kostos? Other than the fact that he is a sexy Greek man, we have no clues as to what is so special about him, or the depth of connection between him & Lena. And sorry Carmen. Apparently if you didn’t meet a good man when you were fifteen, clearly it is impossible to find love and happiness in this universe.
7. All of the girls are in relationships with men who make a lot of money (or at least more than they do). 3 of the 4 (Brian, Kostos and Carmen’s jerky, destined-to-be-dumped fiancee Jones) are described as remarkably wealthy, and Eric does well for himself with a good job & law degree. All of our protagonists are getting by, but none of them are granted the same level of financial or professional success. They get to be taken care of by these brilliant & successful men so that they can devote their time to the job of Being a Good Friend (see #3).
8. Continuing in the same vein, all of our heroes, even poor Tibby, find redemption by the end of the book, but not one of them finds it through professional success. They find it through their relationships with men (Lena, Bridget), motherhood (Tibby, Bridget) and weirdest of all, for Carmen, realizing that her career ISN’T important after all. Here we have these four fantastic women, we spent their whole teenage years getting to know, and learning about their intelligence and talents and capabilities. But as adults they aren’t fulfilled by these things, they aren’t enough. We don’t learn a thing about Tibby’s career – I had hoped she would leave some kind of documentary for her friends as a legacy (it would have been cheesy, sure, but meaningful and I would have wept through that whole scene), but no. Her filmmaking abilities are shuffled aside in favor of motherhood.
Would I recommend this book? Sure. Especially if you read and liked the earlier books. But as a standalone, or introduction to the characters – probably not.
Review copy from library