A couple of weeks ago, on a Tuesday, I sat down and read Forever In Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood in one fell swoop, stopping only for food and the occasional bathroom break. Three days later, I went to see the author, Ann Brashares, read at a bookstore in San Francisco. And, while my friend and I might have been the oldest ones there without kids of our own, we declared that she looked a little bit like Mary Louise Parker and sounded a little bit like sin, and we wanted to follow her home. For days after that I talked about my love for the book, and my love for the author, and then life intervened and – oh, life, you scoundrel, you.
Which is why I’m writing this now.
Forever in Blue is the final book in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series of young adult novels. If you’re just hearing about this for the first time, let me sum up: The Sisterhood novels are about four girls, destined from birth to be best friends. They are Bridget, the hot blond one; Carmen, the sassy Latina one; Tibby, the hipstery filmmaker one; and Lena, the ethereal artistic one. Just about the time normal teenaged girls would be drifting apart, these four girls find a pair of blue jeans with the mystical powers to fit each of them equally well. If you’re a woman, you know these pants. They’re your “hot” jeans, your “sexy” jeans, your “skinny” jeans, and in them you feel like a goddess. For these four girls, it’s the same pair of jeans, and by sharing them they strengthen their friendship while they are away from each other during the summer months.
When Forever in Blue opens, the girls are having a crisis of faith. They’ve each gone away to college, have new friends, new interests and new drama. It’s becoming harder and harder to see each other, and the only correspondence between them is when they ship the pants to each other. And that’s the real point of book four — the pants have enabled the girls to communicate without really saying anything about their lives, and they’ve grown farther and farther apart, the pants becoming nothing more than a crutch.
“Aye carumba!” I cried when I finished the last chapter. Because this exact same situation has happened within one of my groups of friends – not the pants part, but the believing we’re still connected when we really aren’t part – and THAT is why even grown women should read these books. But I digress.
Individually, the girls are up to big things. Confused about being in a loving relationship for the first time since her mom died, Bridget heads to an archaeological dig in Turkey, where she almost lets her insecurities lead her into an affair with a married man. Carmen feels like she’s losing herself at college and allows herself to be manipulated by a girl way more starved for attention. Being that this is the last book in the series, Carmen finds herself, but not before she almost lets go of the others completely. Tibby is experiencing the glory of first love, until a drunken first sexual experience leaves her worrying that she might be pregnant. And Lena is struggling to get over her first love, Kostos, and also find out what kind of artist she’ll grow up to be.
For the first time, the pants actually become the tertiary story, behind the individual tales of the girls and their waning friendships. Gone are the extensive details of the pact they made (one of the rules is that they can never wash the pants, which becomes grosser with each passing year), the modifications they make to the jeans (puff paint, embroidery), and the necessity that each important life decision be made while wearing the pants. That’s okay, though, because if you’ve stuck through the series, and suspended disbelief about the elasticity of the jeans, you’re most likely really on board to see Bridget, Carmen, Lena and Tibby grow up.
The Sisterhood series is a brilliant assessment of growing up as a woman, and these are not little girl issues Brashares is dealing with. She covers sex and death and falling in love for the first time. They make really stupid choices and sometimes don’t even admit they were wrong. Her characters realize their parents are not infallible. Often, the girls have to be adults in their own right, before they’re ready. And all this is wrapped in snappy, succinct writing that make it a breeze to get through each book in a single shot.