February 01, 2007


Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood. By Ann Brashares. Delacorte Press. $18.99.

      It seemed like such a high-school thing: four friends sharing a pair of old jeans that miraculously fit all of them, despite their different (and changing) shapes. That was The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ann Brashares’ first book about Bridget, Carmen, Lena and Tibby. Yes, the girls were in high school then, and also in the followup book, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood. And yes, many of the travails they faced were typical in novels aimed at high-school girls – boy trouble, family trouble, interpersonal trouble. But somehow those thrift-store pants held the stories together as effectively as they held together this highly mixed group of friends.

      And then came Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood, which stayed with the four friends (and the pants) into college – and made it clear that this multi-volume story was still not finished. Now it is, and it has turned into a deeper and more adult tale than anyone reading only the first book would likely have expected. Forever in Blue is the final summer for the pants – their disappearance near the end becomes a multi-person emotional crisis that leads to a deeper and more lasting friendship among the girls, who are now becoming young women. But it is not by any means the finale for Bridget, Carmen, Lena and Tibby, all of whom readers have gotten to know, and love, and perhaps sometimes find frustrating, in the earlier novels. Brashares sends the girls off every which way during this “fourth summer of the sisterhood,” showing them struggling with adult desires, impulses and needs even though they are still in college and not quite able (or willing) to be fully independent.

      Much that happens here involves the girls’ relationships with men, such as Bridget’s with her highly attractive and highly married archeology professor and Lena’s with a summer fling that seems to have the potential to be so much more. Carmen and Tibby have relationship issues, too. But what Brashares does so well is to show that the four young women are not defined by the loves in their lives but by the far more lasting friendship among themselves. This is a powerful message to give to high-school and college readers, and Brashares delivers it with warmth, love and humor (one of her chapter-opening quotes comes from a Dr. Seuss book: “Poor empty pants/ With nobody inside them”). There are some decidedly adult happenings here – a pregnancy scare, for example, and some big problems with co-workers – but there is also plenty of strength in the four protagonists; and it is that strength that helps pull them through some trying times and will assuredly, in their continuing fictional-but-almost-real lives, help them as they move further into adulthood and true independence. But perhaps “true independence” is not quite it. Brashares’ point is that interdependence, the kind that comes from good and true friendship, is the glue that holds life together. It’s quite an uplifting message, and quite a fine sendoff for a truly remarkable pair of fraying blue jeans.

No comments:

Post a Comment