I loved Ann Brashares’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants novels. I credit those particular Young Adult titles with re-introducing me (at the grand old age of 22) to all of the fabulous creativity that can be found in the YA section of the local bookstore and library. Brashare’s most recent release, 3 Willows, is also a tale of friendship. This time between three young girls who live in the same world that we all fell in love with via the trials and tribulations of Lena, Carmen, Bridget, and Tibby. I was very hesitant to read this story initially as the girls are quite young.
The novel begins with them graduating 8th grade and proceeds to document each of their individual journeys during the summer before they enter high school. Polly is the child of a single mom who is often absent and distant and spends the summer trying desperately to mold her body into model material. Jo’s parents have succumbed to a trial separation after the death of her older brother proves to be too much of a strain on the family. Jo finds refuge at the family beach house, tries to fit in with the older girls she works with at a local restaurant, and has an eye opening fling with a manipulative boy. Straight-A student, Ama, is shocked to discover that her summer academic camp has assigned her to trudge around in the wilderness and live in a tent for weeks and weeks. Her hair products are confiscated when she gets off the plane and you honestly wonder how she’ll make it through days of hiking, blisters, and the end of term cliff repelling exercise.
At the beginning of the summer the young girls have begun to drift apart, but as the months pass each begins to think back to the true root of their friendship. A friendship that is quite literally grounded by the 3 willow tree saplings that the girls grew for a school project and planted in a nearby wooded area. When one of the friends faces a personal crisis Jo, Ama, and Polly’s bond becomes stronger than ever as they surround their friend with the support she so desperately needs. Fans of the Traveling Pants novels will be delighted to meet-up with familar faces from the original books including Tibby’s family, her boyfriend Brian, and even Lena’s snotty sister Effie. Despite the age of the characters I very much enjoyed the story and look forward to upcoming novels. It will be interesting to see how Brashares handles their aging and the requisite issues that their entrance into high school will undoubtedly introduce.
Wintergirls is quite simply a painful book. Absolutely not for the faint of heart, this gut wrenching novel explores Lia’s downward spiral into the depths of advanced anorexia. Stemming from a reckless bet with her friend Cassie, Lia makes a dangerous oath.
I took the knife out of my pocket and cut my palm, just a little. “I swear to be the skinniest girl in school, skinner than you.”
Cassie’s eyes got big as the blood pooled in my hand. She grabbed the knife and slashed her palm. “I bet I’ll be skinnier than you.”
“No, don’t make it a bet. Let’s be skinniest together.”
“Okay, but I’ll be skinner.”
Over the next few years each falls into a dangerous cycle of restricting and purging until their friendship completely falls apart. Then one night Cassie calls Lia’s cell thirty-three times. Lia never answers and Cassie is found dead in a local hotel room. What follows is an in depth look inside the mind of a desperate teenager riddled with guilt whose only coping method is to keep food as far away from her as possible. When Cassie’s “ghost” starts appearing to Lia and carrying on very maliciously toned conversations with our suffering heroine your heart will just break.
Laurie Halse Anderson captures the hopelessness, fear, and pain of Lia’s daily struggle beautifully. As a reader I found myself becoming wrapped up along with Lia’s family in the daily hope that she would please just drink the glass of proffered orange juice, or eat a spoonful of cereal, but in the end anorexia is never just about food. It’s about finding control in chaos and Lia’s story and how her life unfolds in the aftermath of Cassie’s death is handled with profound and eyeopening care. Even though this book deals with an extremely dark subject matter I feel that Wintergirls is too powerful of an experience to be missed. You’d be surprised what you can personally uncover when you strive to take a brief step out of your literary comfort zone.
When I began reading Tender Morsels my initial reaction was that I absolutely didn’t think this book should be considered a young adult novel. Rape and incest pop up in the first few pages and the tone is extremely dark and lurid, but after I came down from my momentary puritanical high horse (and let’s face it, I read every trashy V.C. Andrews novel cover to cover by the age of 12 so it was time to give up the hypocrisy) I became completely engrossed in this gorgeous and magical tale of Liga and her two daughters, Branza and Urdda.
Margo Lanagan’s whimsical retelling of the traditional fairy tale of Snow White and Rose Red bares many subtle and some not so subtle resemblance to the classic version we are familiar with. There is of course a bear, a bush, and a wicked dwarf, but there is also a strong undercurrent of deep magic that protects Liga and her little family from the evils of the past for many many years. But then curious and headstrong Urdda dares to step out into the real world where danger, evil, and adventure lurk in the shadows. Once separated from her mother and sister will she ever be reunited with them again?
I loved this novel for its realism and roughness as well as the fact that it didn’t shy away from the dirt, grime, and crime of the world. It fundamentally strives to illustrate how hiding from life and living a watered down and safe existence limits one’s chances for happiness much more so than it protects. Margo Lanagan is a true storyteller in the finest sense of the word. You won’t soon forget the worlds and characters she weaves in Tender Morsels.