My addiction to YA literature has moved on to another series. I decided to check out Ann Brahsares The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Aside from the fact that I am going to really milk this series for review fodder, I really enjoyed it, for many reasons.
Seldom do I find stories written by women that tell women’s stories that I think get so much right. Here, we have the stories of four young women, Bridget, Carmen, Lena, and Tibby, who have grown up together, and for the first time are going to spend a summer apart. Young women who have grown so much a part of each other and have formed such a tight bond, a sisterhood that forged long before the eponymous pants found their way into Carmen’s closet from the thrift store, must branch out and discover how to be whole women by themselves.
And that is a story that I don’t get to read often in popular young adult fiction.
I fell in love with this book just a little bit… more than a little bit.
Which is why it pains me just a little bit to write what I am going to write.
Three of the four girls goes away from home to stretch her wings in situations that are so poignant that I felt the need to hide my face behind my book and bury my tears in the pages. Of the four of them, Tibby alone remains in Washington, D.C. for the summer, getting a summer job, dreading being home without her friends. During her shift at the department store Tibby begins an at first reluctant relationship with a twelve year old girl named Bailey, who passes out in the middle of the antiperspirant display that Tibby had built. Through a series of events that leads Tibby to Bailey’s bedside both at the hospital and at her home, it is revealed that Bailey has leukemia.
We pretty much know what happens to kids with cancer in books like this.
Bailey serves as a vehicle to help Tibby learn to see past appearances as they make a documentary together, or the “suckumentary” as Tibby likes to call it. First intended to be a slightly mocking film about people Tibby finds somewhat laughable, Bailey conducts interviews that help Tibby see these people for unique and wonderful people, each broken and needy like she herself is. Bailey is, of course, here to teach a Very Special Lesson to Tibby, who will then go on to learn so many wonderful lessons from it that she will pass on to her friends in the form of a message on the Pants.
Because naturally Bailey’s time runs out. Time, that thing that Bailey fears most, calls up on Bailey. And Tibby goes through a long and painful denial that she must call upon the Pants and her friend Carmen to help her overcome.
I must ask: Why do we always read of the story of Cancer Girl from the perspective of the healthy and able bodied outsider? I have read so many stories (My Sister’s Keeper, comes to mind, and although she doesn’t die, I know I have read others where the Kid with Cancer is meant to teach a lesson from outside the perspective), and have yet to find one that tells Bailey’s story. Bailey is brave, and good, and wonderful, and she has much to teach us, but does she not ever depart the world with any wisdom of her own? Is she only here to impart and never receive?
I hate that the Baileys of YA are only ever vehicles and never the main character. I hate that I have to read Bailey’s story from someone else’e eyes. It reminds me that the disabled and chronically ill are to be talked about, but not to. Our stories and lives are teaching tools, but not to be lived or experienced. We are to be silent.
Bailey’s story marred this otherwise exceptional book for me, and yes, I was delighted to also have Bailey be a young woman, another woman’s story, but she was just a window dressing, like Tibby’s guinea pig who also died.
Bailey lives on, though, in the Pants, and in Tibby’s first movie, and in the friendships she forged outside of her sisterhood when she needed to. I just wish that it didn’t take Bailey’s life and story to teach this Very Special Lesson.
Also worth noting, the author uses the word “lame” frequently, although I think it was only for two of the characters, as casual dialogue. It grated on me to no end. I wish it wasn’t so pervasive. This otherwise lovely novel that has strong feminist language and themes was kind of flawed by this.
Thank you, always, to Chally, for recommending this book to me. I am going to be reading the next in the series very soon. It seems that one of the girls deals very seriously with depression, and if this is a continuing theme, perhaps you will hear from me on that one too.