This new story about friendship from the author of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series centers on three girls whose once-close friendship has faded as they've grown older and have fewer interests in common. Now it is the last summer before they all start high school.
Jo is spending the summer at the beach, but unlike past summers, her father won't be with them. An incredibly cute boy and a stolen kiss on the bus ride to the beach house give her other things to focus on instead. A chance comment from an elderly uncle sets Polly on a course to change herself into something different - but she risks losing herself along the way. And Ama, initially delighted to have won an academic summer scholarship, is dismayed to find herself hiking through the wilderness (with creepy bugs, blister-inducing hiking boots, and a slutty roommate) instead of soaking up knowledge in a cool, clean indoor academic environment. When she learns her experience is going to be graded, she is dismayed and horrified.
The novel tracks the girls' experiences throughout their summer, weaving backstory into the current narrative to create a clear picture of their former friendship as well as the changes in their lives that have caused them to drift apart. While the Traveling Pants books were about true and fast friends (albeit with a few bumps on that road), this book is about the way friendships can and do change over time into different, but no less precious, kinds of relationships. The girls are separated - and lost - through most of the book. They face their challenges alone, but the lessons they learn bring them insight that leads them on a winding road back towards their friends.
I enjoyed this novel - there are few writers who delve as skilfully into the nuances of friendship as well as Brashares. I did have some initial difficulty telling the girls apart, particularly Jo and Polly. Polly's issues worried me - I do not know what is in store for her in the next book, but her destructive and dangerous behavior is not something to be believably resolved as simply as it appears to be at the end of this story. I really identified with Ama - she was my favorite of the characters. The trials and tribulations of her wilderness experience left me laughing and and crying. Her issues with her hair were particularly hilarious. The Traveling Pants books are a tough act to follow, and while I did not immediately bond with these characters the way I did with those in the first series, I found 3 Willows to be a sweet, touching novel, and I'm certainly on board to continue with the further adventures of Jo, Polly and Ama.
3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows by Ann Brashares (Delacorte Press, 2009)
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Garish and Tweed: "It sounds like Brashares is planning on at least a sequel, but in the meantime this is a fine stand-alone title that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to fans of the Pants books or girls who like stories about friendships."
Jen Robinson's Book Page: "It's the kind of book that entices you to read one more chapter, and then one more, until the book is suddenly finished"
Through a Glass, Darkly: "One of the reasons I like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants so much is that it seems so mystical, this group of four girls who have been friends for so long. And one of the reasons I enjoyed 3 Willows was that I know a thing or two about friendships drifting apart, and I liked the ways these girls reconnected."