Sunday, April 28, 2013

Switzerland Summers: Dreams of Significant Girls

Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina Garcia
Simon & Schuster, 2011

Vivien, Shirin, and Ingrid have absolutely nothing in common, at least on the surface. One is a Cuban-Jew who loves food and lives in New York, one is a German-Canadian wild child, and one is quite literally an Iranian princess. The only thing they share are three summers together at a boarding school/camp in Switzerland in the early 1970s. During that time, these girls become the unlikeliest of friends as they navigate relationships, families, expectations, and the desire to follow their own dreams.

I've walked past this book a hundred times at my library, and since I was in the mood for historical fiction but not something based around a war, I finally decided to give this a try. Over the course of a few hours, I got to know each of these girls who take turns narrating. This was an aspect of the storytelling which I loved - it's interesting to see how each of them describe the same school, people, and summers, and each girl has a very distinct voice and perspective.

However, to me, historical fiction is a delicate genre in that by setting a story in a specific time period other than the present, authors need to make it an essential part of the story, that these events could only take place in that time or place. This novel didn't quite get there for me. The girls sent each other occasional telegrams and letters during their time apart, and at the end history played a slightly bigger role, but overall I felt like you could have set this in the year 2012 instead of 1972 and it wouldn't have been so different. I also had a hard time suspending my belief that these girls would actually become such close friends - not to say such friendships never happen, but the events that unfolded combined with these personalities left an edge of apprehension always in my mind.

If you're looking for a quick one-time read that explores complicated relationships and the realities of growing up, borrow Dreams of Significant Girls from your local library - it may be the book for you. I liked it alright once, but I wasn't in love.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Cristina Garcia's Website

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