Oh, Young Adult Lit you are my Bravo Foxtrot Foxtrot.
A while back I read and reviewed Ann Brashares’ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants here. I loved it, and proceeded to immediately read the sequel, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, but neglected to write anything about it. I have come to you, dearest readers, hoping for your forgiveness, and to make up for such forgetfulness. I have recently checked the third book out of the local base library and can’t possibly read it or the other books in my “To Review for FWD” stack (YES! I really have one of those!) until I rectify this situation.
If you aren’t familiar with the series and are disinclined to read my previous post, which is just fine by me (for reals) here is a quick recap (you may skip ahead here): The Traveling Pants series is about four young women, Bridget (Bee), Carmen, Tibby, and Lena, who are best friends, and who describe themselves as so close that they forget where each of themselves ends and the other begins. They grew up together having been born all within the same seventeen days, each coming from different ethnic and economic backgrounds with different household situations (although they are all fairly securely middle-class, with at least two of the families being arguably very upper-middle, and the series is squarely hetero-normative), starting with their mothers all being best friends themselves. Their mothers drifted apart after the suicide of Bee’s mother following her long depression. The girls, however, remain close right up until their first summer apart when we first meet them, and Carmen comes into possession of the eponymous Pants at a second-hand store. The Pants help them through their first summer apart, when they learn how to be together even when apart, and that the word “friends” is stronger than many people give it credit for. They learn how to be strong for each other through the life shattering events that are part of the growing, aching, and changing from childhood into young adulthood, especially as young women.
It is amazingly poignant, as it gives us stories of four young women told from four young women’s perspectives, and that is what drew me to it initially. I have many criticisms to make of the book, and I am willing to make them and discuss them openly in comments. This book is from a cis, straight, perspective. Much of it passes the Bechdel test, as in, huge chunks of it go by passing with flying colors because it is about the parts of girls’ lives that involve shit that matters to girls/young women and women as they relate to the other women in their lives, and a lot of that, funnily enough, just doesn’t always revolve around men.
The Second Summer of the Sisterhood returns us to these same young women, getting ready to go, once again on their separate ways, except that wasn’t the plan all along. In the beginning only Tibby had plans of going away to a summer film camp, and the other three girls were going to stay behind, getting summer jobs. But suddenly, Bee, dragging along some demons from her past, and new ones from the summer before, made an impulsive plan to go to Alabama to see her Grandmother.
It is Bee’s story that strikes at me the most. Bee, who during the last book was impulsive and active and defiant, who couldn’t sit still and had to run. Bee, who suddenly came home, and quit soccer — an activity which had been a huge part of her life since she was very young — and became quiet. Bee, who died her golden hair as dark as she could get it, and withdrew from everyone but the three other girls in the book who tried to give her the space to figure out who she needed to be at this time. Even then, we see that the impulsive and super-active, full-throttle life was Bee’s way of coping with her mother’s suicide. Bee had always thrown herself forward into life in hopes that she will outrun the sadness of that death, or so it seems to me, and each of her friends sometimes describe themselves as standing back and holding their breaths as Bee makes up her mind to go after something she wants, ready to be there and catch her, or pieces of her, when she gets it. Even Bee sometimes describes herself as running away from something by the end of the first book.
But Bridget has decided that she is going to Alabama to meed the grandmother that her father never allowed her to know — her mother’s mother. This flip of narrative interested me, notably because it is usually the mothers we hear about, distancing and holding their children from knowing their fathers’ families. This interested me, because here is a young woman telling her father that she has a right to know these people, that she has an agency outside of what he decided for her. Her father disagreed with how her grandmother wanted to handle Bridget’s mother’s depression, and he blames her in part for her death, and Bridget wants to meet her and decide for herself.
But Bridget is fighting her own depression.
A sexual encounter at the end of the first book has left Bridget reeling. And without my getting into the dynamics of whether or not this could be considered statutory rape or consensual teenage sex, Bridget has realized that she has to find out more about Marly, her mother, and this grandmother she hasn’t seen since she her mother died, in order to face that depression, before she engages in anymore activity that she isn’t quite ready for*.
So she decides, since no one recognizes the young woman depression has made her right now anyway, she goes to Alabama to meet Greta, her grandmother, and puts on a remarkable ruse of pretending to be a young girl looking for summer work, lying to Greta, and doing daily chores for the old woman. Through the summer she rediscovers her love of soccer, loses some weight (because weight and depression and blah blah blah!) that allows her to be able to put the magical Pants on once again, energizing her with the love of her friends, and gives her the strength to tell Greta the truth, which gives her the tools to realize that she doesn’t have to spiral into depression like her mother did…which was her greatest fear. That she would be helpless to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
Bridget’s depression is written in a way that I find strikes me in the heart. Once again, I have to read parts of this book in a room away from others because I get all teary-eyed. The building relationship between Bridget and Greta is important, we get to see two women, separated by an entire generation, with a huge gap stolen by devastating depression, yet brought back together by the aftermath of that depression and a depression unique to each remaining woman. I love the way that Brashares takes the stories of four young women and weaves other women into them. And once in awhile she writes disability in a way that doesn’t break my heart. Or, it breaks my heart in a good way.
If you have read my previous post, and remember the story line about Tibby and Bailey, I have a quick note there.
Tibby goes to film camp, and makes a string of poor decisions in an effort to try to be clever and popular with the kids she thinks are important or cool. In the end, she winds up making a film about Bailey, which she gives to Bailey’s parents, but which also has the benefit of teaching her, again, a Very Special Lesson about people, continuing the idea that Bailey was always a plot device, and never a character all along. An event on the Pants, and not a person. Bailey becomes a personality trait about Tibby, and was never meant to become a person, so please feel free to discuss this as well.
Since I spent so much time discussing Bailey and Tibby in the last post I wanted to focus on Bridget in this post, although I feel that there will be more Bee to come.
*Bridget was very young and emotionally traumatized in the first book by the death of her mother. I read her as aggressively and almost destructively seeking the attention of Eric, the coach at her camp, and it was all very messy and complicated and I didn’t read any blame to be placed on any one person. That being said, Eric, as the older person, had the responsibility to stop the relationship if it was unwanted instead of allowing it to continue, being that Bridget was fifteen at the time of the encounter and he was eighteen. Some aspects of the relationship between Bridget and Eric make me uncomfortable, and some read to me as simply something I advocate for: Teenagers being allowed to discover sex on their own terms. Age of consent laws are awkward for teenagers, where the magic number between legal and illegal are literally overnight. I also wonder about the fallout of writing a character like Bridget seeking and having a sexual encounter and having such severe depression. It is just a thought.