It hasn't been a hugely prolific reading week for me. I listened to more of the Brothers Grimm book and crept a little farther in Clash of Kings. Since my deadline, I've had a little bit of time to catch up on the TV I missed and one of those shows is Bunheads, a show I didn't plan on liking but which I actually love because it feels like a quick and sweet YA contemp with awesome dialogue. Some parts definitely annoy me (I love Boo but the way they write her neuroses feels a little inauthentic) but I am enjoying it more and more with every episode. Anyway, this week I've been pining for a book with a similar amount of witty fun, smart girls, and well-rendered (if low-stakes) drama. I struck on The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants--a perfect book for the start of summer. I first read it in the spring of freshman year, during tennis season.
This was the only photo I could find from freshman year tennis. Oh, the bangs! Oh, the uniforms! You can tell I was on JV because only the varsity girls got official uniforms, and us lower classes were stuck with cheapo t-shirts. My school's colors were orange and black. Everything I have from those years looks Halloween-themed. What's cool about this picture is that I know, in my backpack sitting under the benches beside the tennis courts, was a copy of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I loved that book. I remember getting so sucked in to the story. I hadn't read a ton of contemporary YA (I was pretty much still all about fantasy and historical fiction) but this one spoke to me. I remember one tennis practice when it rained and a few of my friends sat inside the school doors waiting for the rain to stop. I read Sisterhood, the others talked, and one sang songs from The Little Mermaid (she was interesting--in a good way). This definitely could be one of those books that doesn't survive the passage of time well, but I'm finding it really delightful. Some people have criticized the girls' perfectly diverse personalities and interests (Lena paints, Carmen likes acting, Bee is an athlete, Tibby makes movies) but that doesn't bother me in these books. Maybe that's because I fell in love with them such a long time ago that they feel like real people to me, and I accept their flaws (and inaccuracies) without a second thought. And the writing is objectively great. There are so many moments where I've been like, "Wow, this is just good." One scene in particular that I love is the one where Tibby goes to Bailey's house (Bailey is a little girl with cancer who Tibby meets at her awful summer job at a drug store) and Bailey is lashing out at Tibby just to get a reaction, but Tibby doesn't want to be her confrontational self because she's just found out Bailey has leukemia. The dialogue is witty and sad, and brings both of those characters to life. I love the sense of optimism in these books. It's something I can't even really track to a certain move the author makes. I think it's just a general acceptance of the characters on the author's part. She is generous. She treats them with dignity. She understands their flaws and mistakes, but doesn't paint them precisely negatively. I think she understands that mistakes are how we grow. A mistake for a teenager who's just striking out in the world isn't really a mistake. There's no proselytizing, no moral statements the author is trying to play out for the benefit of readers at the expense of the characters. An example of this is when Lena goes to Greece to visit her grandparents and gets set up with this boy, Kostos. We know she's going to end up with him, and we also really like him from the start, but Lena is wary and the idea of being set up makes her really uncomfortable. So, Lena does everything she can to avoid Kostos. She's probably a little "anti-social" about it, but the author doesn't present this choice with any judgement, nor does she wink at the reader and foreshadow that Lena will eventually come around. Lena's choice is hers. Re-reading this book has been a good learning experience because I have, and probably always will, write characters that make poor choices and operate under a potentially faulty world view. I think the key is to write their struggles as humanely as possible. What did you read this week?