Ann Brashares has taken the teen world by storm. A former editor, last fall she broke out from behind the scenes with her first novel, the surprise bestseller The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. This year, she returns with another book for savvy young readers, a smart sequel to her first book called The Second Summer of the Sisterhood.
With her newest title, Brashares again takes us into the hearts and minds of four teenage girlfriends, Tibby, Carmen, Lena and Bridget, whose mothers met at a prenatal aerobics class while they were still in the womb. "When I thought about when these girls become friends, it was never early enough," says the author. "I wanted a totally unquestioned relationship to one another, like siblings." And Brashares has indeed created a sisterhood with these girls a set of siblings like no other: one is Greek, one Latino, one blonde and one somewhat nondescript. While the author does hint a little at the ethnicity and background of each of her characters, she leaves much to the imagination.
"I wanted to indicate that there is variety and a general openness among the girls," she explains. "It's a colorful picture, but not specifically drawn."
More important than their backgrounds, though, are their friendships. Realistically enough, each girl has her own quirks, and she is loved by the others in the group for them. Brashares expertly captures the essence of true girl power through these characters, but she is also able to express the emotions and difficulties that almost every teenager goes through. Brashares' first book centered on a "magic" pair of jeans (any pair of pants that can fit perfectly on four unique teenage bodies has to have special powers). The girls pass these jeans along to each other throughout the summer and find romance, friendship and strength by wearing them. As each of the "sisters" takes her turn with the pants, she finds that the summer isn't filled with all the happiness she had hoped it would be: Tibby has to learn the hard way who her real friends and family are; Carmen jealously destroys her mother's new relationship; Bridget faces the truth about her mother's death; and Lena deals with an unexpected pregnancy.
Indeed, the first passing of the pants proves to be bad magic rather than the good omen that the girls had envisioned. But as the pants and the summer move on, the girls come to realize that it's not the pants that help them survive their traumas and see them through their joyous moments, but the closeness and comfort of their strong, lasting friendships. "I think of the pants as pulling them into the plots of their lives," says Brashares, "and there needed to be a challenge, something difficult in their lives." Compared to the first book, the second is a bit more daunting. The challenges the four mates face are somewhat more adult in nature: restoring faith in friends and family, dealing with a single parent's romantic life, coming face-to-face with death.
"The girls are aging with each book and will continue to do so," says Brashares. "I felt that they were more mature and capable of dealing with some weightier issues."Brashares' books aren't just how-to guides to surviving the curve balls of the teenage years. They are a peek into the lives of everyday people who have their own personalities, styles, histories and dreams. Love, friendship, commitment and honesty are important elements here, and Brashares combines them all flawlessly.
So what's next for the Sisterhood? "I'm not sure where it's all going," admits Brashares, "but it's going somewhere." At the very least, we'll see another summer of trials, tribulations and triumphs from the girls, and we may possibly see a glimpse of their colorful faces on the big screen. But time will tell with all of that. Until then, remember: Pants=love. Love your pals. Love yourself.
Heidi Henneman writes from San Francisco.