I love summer books. I love the romance of summer. I love books about different vacation spots. I love books about road trips. I love seeing the beach on the cover of a book. To celebrate this lovely season, every Thursday I'm going to post a book and review of a summer book I'd recommend reading by the pool, at the beach, while driving across America (or whatever country you call home), in a hammock, in a cabin, on a boat, or at home as you dream of vacation. Happy Summer, everyone!
This week's summer book is:
3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows
Author: Anna Brashares
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: January 13, 2009
Number of Pages: 318
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Polly has an idea that she can't stop thinking about, one that involves changing a few things about herself. She's setting her sights on a more glamorous life, but it's going to take all of her focus. At least that way she won't have to watch her friends moving so far ahead.
Jo is spending the summer at her family's beach house, working as a busgirl and bonding with the older, cooler girls she'll see at high school come September. She didn't count on a brief fling with a cute boy changing her entire summer. Or feeling embarrassed by her middle school friends. And she didn't count on her family at all. . .
Ama is not an outdoorsy girl. She wanted to be at an academic camp, doing research in an air-conditioned library, earning A's. Instead her summer scholarship lands her on a wilderness trip full of flirting teenagers, blisters, impossible hiking trails, and a sad lack of hair products.
It is a new summer. And a new sisterhood. Come grow with them.
I was a bit late to the Sisterhood party. It's been a few years since I read them all for the first time, but all four of the original series' books were out when I first picked them up. I really enjoyed that series and have read all four books a couple of times now. I love that they focus on female friendship, with their respective romances playing out in the background. I love that the girls go through real issues and that they have realistic relationships with their parents. I love that they are fast-paced and easy to read. So when 3 Willows was released a few years ago I was so happy that Anna Brashares was returning to this series, even if it was with a new set of girls, because as much as I like the Sisterhood series, I couldn't get through her book The Last Summer (and I've tried, like, 3 times) and I hated My Name is Memory. So when I was thinking about what book I could review this week as part of my summer series, I thought of this one. I recently bought a copy of 3 Willows from my favorite used bookstore (for $2!) and so sat down to revisit it. Even though I don't like it quite as much as the original Sisterhood books, I did enjoy my second outing with the girls of 3 Willows.
3 Willows follows three former best friends at the beginning of their summer before high school. The girls are all 14 (which I believe is younger than the girls of the first sisterhood--who I feel were 16 maybe?), which made this more of a older MG book than a YA book. Polly, Jo, and Ama were best friends growing up, but have slowly grown apart over the past year or two of middle school. Like the Sisterhood series, each girl has a distinct and different personality from the other two. Jo is the pretty, athletic one who moved on from Ama and Polly to the popular girls. Ama, who's black and from Africa originally, is the smart one who's on track to follow her older sister to Princeton. Polly's the weird one with a hands-off single mother. While the girls are still friendly, they are no longer friends. A fact that makes each one sad in their own way.
Again, similar to the original series, you have two girls going away for the summer and one girl staying home, but there is no pair of magical pants in this book. The book does take place in the same East coast town as the other books (in Virginia or Maryland...I'm not sure, but Washington, D.C. is mentioned a couple of times and Jo spends the summer at a beach house that is close enough to get to by what seems like a short bus ride). The original sisterhood girls are mentioned a couple of times and early in the book, one of the girls talks about the pants and how different groups of girls at their school tried to find pants, or skirts, or even scarves that could serve as a magical clothing item to no avail.
Polly is the girl who is staying home. After she stopped being close with Ama and Jo, she was really left mostly to her own devices. Known as being "weird", she really doesn't have any other friends and her mother is also absent most of the time. I really felt bad for Polly. She is such a sweet kid and is obviously really lonely. Her mother is an artist who spends most of her waking hours at her studio and who insists that Polly calls her by her first name. Early in the novel, Polly goes to lunch with an old family friend, the only one who knew Polly's father (of whom she knows almost nothing and who her mother refuses to talk about), and finds out that her paternal grandmother was a beautiful model. The idea that she could be a model sticks in her head, and Polly decides that she spend the summer at "modeling camp." She's disappointed to find that modelling camp is a bit of a shady operation set up in the parking lot of the mall, but she throws herself into learning as much as she can about photography, poses, and runway walking. Determined to lose the curves she believes will stop her from making it as a model (she has a 34D chest and curvy hips), Polly's "diet" quickly turns into anorexia...and there is nobody paying any attention to her to notice.
Jo is spending the summer with her mom at their beach house. She believes her father will join them on the weekends as he has always done in the past, but early on finds out that her parents have decided to start a trial separation. Meaning her surgeon father will spend the summer at their house. Jo's brother died a few years back and since that time, her father has been distant anyway, so she decides not to even dwell on the fact that her parents are separating as they've seemed separate for years already. She throws herself into her new job as a busser at a popular restaurant with her popular friend from school, Bryn. Jo and Bryn want to get into the restaurant's in-crowd of older waiters and waitresses, and Jo begins to be accepted by the group when the cutest waiter starts paying attention to her.
Ama is thrilled when she wins a summer grant from the Student Leader Foundation. The grant is a prestigious award that will look great on her college applications. The program chooses where to send those who win and Ama is crossing her fingers academic camp or another program where she will spend the summer indoors researching and studying and is horrified when she finds out that the foundation is sending her to Wyoming (whoop! whoop! Sorry I always get excited when WY is mentioned as it happens so rarely) for a program called Wild Adventures. The program is weeks of hiking and ends with all students rappelling off a cliff. Ama is unhappy to be outdoors and pissed to be the only black student in the group. She doesn't want to quit because the program is for academic credit and she is terrified to start her high school career with a bad grade.
Overall, I really did enjoy 3 Willows. My love isn't quite the same as it is for the Sisterhood books, but I did enjoy reading about these new girls and liked and cared for all three. Again, this one seems geared to a younger audience than the original series, due to the girl's age, but I liked the pace and was glad that there wasn't any kind of magical gimmick to tell their stories. When the girls were in grade school they were given willow samplings that they planted together in the woods, so the chapters start out with small facts about willows, which was interesting and a bit gimmicky, but I liked that the girls didn't need magic to find their way back to each other.
I liked how certain characters from the original series popped up occasionally. Polly baby-sits for Tibby's little brother and sister, for example, and Brian stops by to grab something from Tibby's room once. Jo works with Effie, Lena's sister. It helps tie the original series to this book, but it's never too much and this book really stands on its own merit.
**SPOILER**I wasn't a huge fan of how some of the problems were wrapped up, Polly's especially since eating disorders are such a serious issue, and I definitely wish that had been explored with a little more depth and not wrapped up quite so neatly. At the end, she was just kind of like: oh well, I guess I won't be a model and will start eating again...which is very unrealistic. She needed to see a doctor and/or a psychiatrist. Anorexia is a very serious issue and even though Ms. Brashares never flat out tells us that is what is going on, it is very much implied. It seems reckless on her part to then just have Polly be ok after spending the whole summer with an eating disorder.**END SPOILER**
If you are looking for a quick, easy, summer book, I would recommend picking this one up--especially if you liked the original series. When I first read this, I was hoping that it was going to be a series in its own right, but this book was released 4 years ago, so I guess it is a stand-alone.