Sisterhood Everlasting (Random House 2011) , the adult follow-up to the popular YA series, picks 10 years after we last saw the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Lena is a part-time art teacher and struggling artist who is STILL pining after Kostos. Bridget is living in California with long-time boyfriend Eric, but can’t settle down into a job or a place to call home. Carmen has a successful acting career in New York playing a secondary character on a crime procedural and is engaged to a network executive douchebag named Jones. Though still friends, geography and grown-up responsibilities mean that contact between the sisterhood is sporadic at best and they are all missing the closeness that they once shared. So when Tibby, who has been living in Australia with her boyfriend Brian, sends them plane tickets for a reunion in Greece, they all jump at the chance to be together again. And when they get there, something happens that changes their lives forever.
This is not the book that I was expecting. It was… sad. I mean, deep in your bones kind of sad. It’s not like the original books didn’t have that element to them, after all the first one features a kid with leukemia, but it always felt like there were other stories of joy and discovery to balance the darkness. And there is hope in this story too, but this is probably not a book I would have chosen to read if I had not already been so attached to the characters. Ann Brashares has a lovely lyrical quality to her writing that really draws the reader into the emotions of the story, but as a person who has the tendency to get a little too emotionally involved with fictional characters, that can sometimes be a dangerous thing.
I think that one of the strengths of this series is the way it depicts female friendship. Female friendship is something that I think a lot of writers don’t quite get right. Most often, there’s a quirky best friend whose only function is to support the main protagonist. But each of these characters are all fully complex, flawed women in their own right. Their friendship is definitely tested in this book, as they all react quite differently to the sadness that I will not specify for fear of spoiling anyone, but they also love each other deeply and always come through in the end.
Overall I really loved the book, but I do have a few issues with the story:
- I found myself kind of annoyed that three out of the four girls were still together with, or at least still hung-up on, their love interests from high school. Really? People change sooooo much in their teens and twenties that relationships in high school rarely last, at least happily. I realize that fans of the original series would have been mad if those characters hadn’t still been around, but three out of four couples staying together is statistically unlikely. By the way, this is a problem with a lot of other YA books that go on and on about soulmates. Speaking of which…
- Why is Lena still moping about Kostos? I mean, it’s been THIRTEEN years! I know I’m alone on this, but I always thought that Kostos was a total bore. Plus, all those two ever did was jerk each other around.
- I think there were times when the characters were too similar to their teenage incarnations. I get that the author wants to make them recognizable to the readers of the original series, but the characters sometimes displayed behavior that is understandable and even endearing for a tumultuous teenager, but unlikeable and irresponsible for a twenty-nine year-old. Like I said above, people change a lot in their teens and twenties, and there were times when I felt the characters, particularly Bridget, had not changed enough. It’s also possible that I have a different perspective reading this at thirty-one than I did reading the original series at the age of twenty-five.
- There was a twist in the middle of the story that I felt was manipulative and wholly unnecessary. The story was already incredibly affecting, and this twist did nothing more than to serve as a sucker punch to characters (and readers) who were already vulnerable. This, by the way, is often why I read the back of the book first. This practice is inconceivable to a lot of my friends, but if I hadn’t known how this twist was resolved, than I never would have been able to make it to the end of the book.
Sisterhood Everlasting was not the easiest book to read, but I certainly don’t regret reading it. I loved revisiting the characters and when I finished the book, my first clear thought, after I had finished cleaning up after my flood of tears, was that I missed my friends. And a story that can produce that kind of visceral reaction is a beautiful thing.