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I willingly admit it–I pinch books from kids. Okay, maybe I don’t, but when a kid with well-developed tastes tells me to read something, I listen. That’s how I first considered reading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants –my cousin Kimmy (I nearly said “little cousin”, but she’s just turned 14) left it behind on a recent trip visiting from Canada, so that my mum andI could read it.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling PantsWhich is how I sat down with it last night. It was a quick read–very quick. I must have taken not more than three hours to get through. But in those three hours, the book had me go through the whole spectrum of emotions–everything from giggling madly to having to put it down because I was in tears. A bit like being a teenager, no?

That is, of course, precisely the point, and for once, I can completely understand how this became a bestseller–it’s because it deserved to be one. Ann Brashares, a first time novelist, managed to do something that a lot of people writing for children or young adults just can’t. She remembered exactly what it was like–what it was like to be 15 and working at a first dumb job, visiting family somewhere where you’re completely a fish out of water, feeling disappointed and angry with your parents, living on all the glorious intensity of infatuation. Evoking all of those emotions in not a small feat. It’s the difference between writing for teens and successfully writing for teens.

At any rate: our protagonists are four friends, due to spend their first summer apart. Carmen is off to visit her dad in North Carolina, not aware that she’s going to find him in the throes of preparing to be married again and take on a new family. Bridget (“Bee”) is flying to football camp in Baja California, where she’s going to fall in love with one the coaches and leave common sense behind. Lena’s packing for Greece, where she’ll visit her grandparents and end up tearing the fabric of their trusting social existence in the village. And Tibby–well, Tibby’s going to stay at home and work at the supermarket, and you don’t learn anything about life or meet anyone interesting working at the supermarket, do you? (And just like that, you know that you can sometimes learn life’s most important lessons precisely because you had to work at a supermarket) They’re all apprehensive as well as excited, they’re all aware they’re going to miss each other–and that’s where the Pants come in. The Pants magically fit all of them perfectly, so they agree to share them, using them for a few days or a week and then sending them along to the next person, linking their separate summers with a pair of jeans.

I don’t want to throw in any serious plot spoilers–the surprises in the book are varied and precious. But after reading a synopsis that told me more or less what is described above, I didn’t expect a book that would successfully touch the depths in its characters and make me feel that I’d lived their summers. Such is the immediacy of Brashares’s writing and the keenness of her understanding of 15-year-olds. It is very plainly a book written for the young–the language is simple enough for that–but it’s full of feeling not entirely beyond the ken of the oldest and most jaded of readers. Other than one or two false notes in the “Lena” part of the story, this is a classic.

Wikipedia, unfortunately, informs me that there are three more books in the series, and the plot summaries don’t make them sound promising–they seem downright soapy, in fact. But then, those are other books, not this one. And I haven’t read them, so perhaps I shouldn’t judge them too quickly. This one, I know, is to be savoured and re-read and re-read again.

As for you, not-so-little-Cousin Kimmy–I read this book on your birthday. Many hugs to you and the best year a girl could hope for.

And lady, may I just say, you have SUPERB taste.

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