Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sisterhoods and San Francisco

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares
Random House, 2011

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Dutton, 2011

In the last week, the two novels I finished reading both had one thing in common: girl power. Not necessarily in a 1990s, Spice Girls "If You Wanna Be My Lover" sort of way, but in a "know and embrace who you are, surround yourself with people who love you for you, you are a strong young woman" sort of way.

Not long ago I shared my thoughts on Ann Brashares' fourth novel in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, Forever in Blue, and how much I was looking forward to the fifth installment. Sisterhood Everlasting did not disappoint, though I will admit that it wasn't exactly what I was expecting. Brashares was brave in that she diverted from her tried-and-true formula when telling readers about the lives of Tibby, Carmen, Bridget, and Lena ten years after the events of Forever in Blue. They're all grown up now, but traces of their past insecurities are still very present and their bonds tested. I liked that the girls were still recognizable, but this felt much more like an adult novel to me than YA. My less than glowing comments are only two: first of all, I loved that Brashares brought back some secondary characters as well, but I felt that she left them underdeveloped. I know they aren't the protagonists, but it just felt like a tease when someone would be mentioned but then we didn't get anything more than that. I also felt that throughout the series as a whole, there were some characters who just always got the short end of the stick. I know not every story can have a happy ending, but for two characters in particular I was more than slightly frustrated by the choices Brashares made.

If a happy ending and something more in line with YA, chick lit-y, warm-fuzzy story is what you're in the mood for, then I have two words for you: Stephanie Perkins. I came across this fantastic up and coming author earlier this year when browsing the shelves of my local library and picked up her first novel, Anna and the French Kiss. I was immediately taken with her charming writing style. Perkins is incredible at capturing all the warm, amazing, butterflying, agonizing, devastating, and completely wonderful roller coaster feelings that come with having a crush and falling in love for the first time. Lola and the Boy Next Door is a companion novel to Anna, so people who read the first get to still see a few of their favorite characters in a new setting. San Franciscan Lola is a girl with big dreams and an even bigger wardrobe - she's a budding costume designer with an older, rock and roll boyfriend, a shy best friend, two fantastic dads, and a whole lot of unrequited feelings for Cricket, the boy who used to live next door. She feels like she has a pretty good handle on all of this until Cricket moves back. Suddenly, Lola has to look at various things in her past that she'd rather not and learns that looking fabulous on the outside only counts if you're making the effort to be a good person on the inside. Perkins takes readers on a fantastic journey. You may not always like the choices Lola is making, but you can't help but root for her and hope that she figures things out in spite of all that. I also cannot applaud Perkins highly enough for how wonderfully she took on the characters of Nathan and Andy, Lola's dads. Lola is very straightforward about it and has an attitude that I find commendable - neither dad is less of a man than the other or anything like that, they love each other, and they love her. It's a fantastic home and family environment that was so refreshing to see. I quite literally could not put this book down which is the highest compliment I can pay any writer or work. 2012 can't come soon enough for the final companion novel in this collection, Isla and the Happily Ever After. If you haven't heard much about Perkins, just wait because you will.

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