Blogger’s Note: It is impossible for me to write about this book without discussing some (fairly mild) spoilers. It’s the same information that was spoiled in the Kirkus review of the book, so if you’ve seen that, you should be fine.
Tibby, Lena, Bridget and Carmen are in their late twenties, and though they have sworn to always be close, their lives and experiences have pushed them apart. Each girl is in her own world, and each girl seems to be a little lost. When Tibby sends each girl a plane ticket to Greece, they are filled with excitement, hoping that this trip will be the reconnection they so desire. When tragedy strikes and questions are left unanswered, each girl retreats into herself and away from her friends. Will the girls find their way back to each other?
This is a hard book to write about. Because these characters are so tied to my own adolescence, revisiting them in their late twenties is emotional (to say the least). I’m 26, close in age to where these four friends are supposed to be. Much of what they are dealing with, I am dealing with. Reading this book was much more personal than I expected. Readers beware: this is not light beach reading.
Brashares does not shy away from difficult subject matter. This has always been the case, and it is part of what draws readers to her books. Her straightforward prose often offers an unflinching look at the darkest, ugliest parts of her characters, and yet it also surprises readers: there are some really beautiful sentences present in this book.
The story starts off fairly dark. Some readers might find it too maudlin or overly-sentimental, but sticking with the book will be worth it in the end. The middle of the book noticeably sags as the three girls adjust to the tragedy that has upset their worlds, but once the reader is past that, the book is compulsively readable–it will be difficult to put the book down. The ending is bittersweet, and while it won’t satisfy every reader (what series can, really?), it is, in many ways, very fitting.
It’s clear that Brashares respects her characters, and she also has a lot of love for them: her series has spanned five books (and I can’t shake the feeling that there could be a sixth), and she has remained true to her characters and their motivations through it all. Yet it is also this loyalty to the characters that I struggled with in this book. Too often, I felt confused and frustrated by how little growth I saw the girls exhibit. Carmen is still stubbornly selfish, unable to see things clearly until she has a revelation, usually at the hands of someone else. Lena still runs away from every possible moment of happiness. Bridget draws inward at the first sign of conflict, putting herself in actual danger and causing immense harm to the people who love her. (She also is at the center of the book’s mystery: Eric’s patience with her is flummoxing.)
Is the lack of character growth Brashares’ intent? Is she trying to make a point that the girls are incapable of growth when they are apart? The four previous books saw the girls struggling with their identities as they grew up and apart, but as a reader, I always felt that there was some progress. With this book, it was almost as though the characters had backslid somewhat, retreating into their former selves. At the same time, though, I never felt like it was outside of the realm of possibility: the overarching theme of this book is discovering one’s adult self. Maybe a little backsliding is necessary. It has been for me.
Some suspension of disbelief is necessary for this book. The girls face improbable situations, and Tibby’s oddly prescient letters started to irritate me (just a little). Brashares’ makes a mistake with a genetic illness that will be completely overlooked by most readers but stuck in my craw a bit. Despite my issues with the book, I still loved it. I was moved by the characters and their stories, as I always am with Brashares’ novels.
A must-read for anyone who enjoyed the series. Despite my reservations, I really loved this one.
Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares. Random House: 2011. Review copy from publisher.