BOOK REPORT for 3 Willows by Ann Brashares
BFF Charm: Maybe
Swoonworthy Scale: 3
Talky Talk: Are You There, Pants? It's Me, Margaret
Bonus Factor: Camp!
relationship Status: That Kid I Was BFFs With In 4th Grade Who Looked Me Up On Facebook Last Night and I'm All Excited So I Friend Her, But Then It Turns Out Hasn't Changed At All, But Not Really In A Good Way So I Just Might Have Later Quietly Deleted Her
Jo, Polly and Ama were BFFs in elementary school, but now that 8th grade is drawing to a close, they've drifted far apart. Jo's in with the popular kids, Ama's busy cramming for the SAT (hello?!? Ama, you're FOURTEEN!) and Polly's the only one still hanging on to the shreds of their friendship. Each girl heads off somewhere for the summer -- Jo to her family's beach house to work as a bus girl at a beachside restaurant, Ama to smart-kid wilderness camp and Polly sort of aimlessy hangs around until she finds out something about her absentee father's mother that sets her on a very unlikely path. Sound kind of like Books 3 and 4 of the Traveling Pants books? Um, that's because this is sort of a wannabe Traveling Pants -- by the SAME AUTHOR. There are even cameos by some of the Pants kids, since these 3 girls live in the same town and are about to go to the high school the Pantsers graduated from. So, any bets on whether they're able to reconnect and save their shipwrecked friendship by the end?
BFF Charm: Maybe
Y'all, I LOVED the Pants books, especially the first two. I sobbed at the end of Books 1 and 2, much to the horror of my husband, who refused to go see "that damn Pants movie" when the 2nd one came out because of the sobbing (actually, he probably would have gone with me if I'd asked really nicely and bribed him with extra Sour Patch Kids, but that's not as good of a story). I wanted to be BFFs with those girls. But these kids, while nice, just didn't do it for me. Maybe it's because they're younger (although they're only a year younger than the girls in the first Pants book), but I think it's mainly because they're trying too hard to be Lena, Tibby, Bee and Carmen. I might actually be BFFs with Polly (who's kind of the Carmen in this book -- single mom, the one who tries to keep everyone together, doesn't think she's as awesome as her friends) and most likely Jo (definitely the Bridget -- blonde soccer player, gets in over her head with older kids/boys, family tragedy no one talks about that screws up her relationship with her dad). but Ama DRIVES ME UP THE WALL, even at the end. Dude, she's nothing like Lena, even though she's ALSO the child of immigrants (Ghana, not Greece, and Ama was actually born there) and supermodel beautiful, an overachiever and quiet and shy. I mean, I was a smart kid, I knew lots of smart kids, I wanted to get into a good college, but DAMN, girl. Give the grades a REST for once, quit whining about your hair products and TALK to the cute boy who's obvs. interested in you! I mean, all the kids are NICE to her on this outward bound-ish thing, and she's still an uptight, whinypants. Whew.
Swoonworthy Scale: 3
Bee (oops, I mean Jo) has a racy encounter with a random stranger boy on a bus (hello!), but that's about as cray as this book gets. The sparks and important relationship are supposed to be among the girls who are drifting apart, DUH. Y'all, I read this article once about how the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants sets girls up for a Disney princess complex about their friendships -- they'll start to expect this magical sisterhood where no matter where they go and what they do, they'll always have each other, just like Disney movies set girls up for unrealistic expectations of men (which is dumb, since I was never interested in any of the lame-o guys in Disney movies. Except maybe Aladdin. Ahem). And I totally don't agree, but it IS funny how in the Willows book (see? Did you forget I was actually reviewing a DIFFERENT book from the Pants books?) the girls in Bethesda all want to be like the Sisterhood, and they're like movie stars, and there are always little groups of tweenie girls trying to share a pair of pants or a shirt or something. Anyway, these girls share 3 willow trees they planted together after their first year as friends, and that's actually a bit cooler than the pants. And their relationship is the big one in the book, so there are no sparks, since this isn't Annie On My Mind.
Talky Talk: Are You There Pants? It's Me, Margaret
Like Brashares' other stuff, the writing style is very traditional YA-for-girls, very Judy Blume, so I liked it. I like the realism, even when the characters and plot are all a bit of a stretch. I did read the whole book in about 4 hours, so it wasn't bad -- it was just too much like Ann Brashares knew she had a good thing going with the Pants and didn't want to try something new. She even does the letters/e-mails among the girls and the memory narration bits from the Pants books. And that's too bad, cos I think she has great imagination, sets up tension and conflict really well and writes wonderfully (except when she stretches her metaphors a little too thin). I'd love to see her try something different cos I think it'd be great.
Bonus Factor: Camp!
Ama goes off to wilderness camp, and Polly ends up trying a camp of a totally different kind. They're both learning, growing experiences (natch), and I was all kinds of jealous. I would have LOVED to go to wilderness camp, and probably would not have been very nice to Ama when we were 14 (I had too much disdain for girls obsessed with hair products than I should have with the hair I actually sported), so it's probably a good thing I didn't go. but rappelling! Hiking! Camping! Peeing in the woods! (ok, even I could do without that last bit.)
Ugh, this is always the hardest part. Especially when I really think the girls should be played by total unknowns. Unknowns who look like 14-yo versions of ...
Iman as Ama
Sophia Loren as Polly
Kate Hudson as Jo
So, got that Hollywood talent scouts? Time to hit the small-town midwestern malls and find these girls!
Relationship Status: That Kid I Was BFFs With In 4th Grade Who Looked Me Up On Facebook Last Night And I'm All Excited So I Friend Her, But Then It Turns Out Hasn't Changed At All, But Not Really In A Good Way So I Just Might Have Later Quietly Deleted Her
This book was just too much like the Pants books -- and too much like a knockoff by a different author -- for me to really love. I'd rather just read the Pants books. And I'd REALLY rather Brashares turn her talents to trying something new instead of becoming a bit of a hack. Cos this book was a stretch, and didn't have the magic the Pants had. If you're looking for something to snag at the library to fill up a few hours, and you're feeling nostalgic for the Sisterhood, go for it. It's not a waste of time, but it's not going to be your new favorite book either.