Thursday, March 19, 2009

3 Willows by Anne Brashares

3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows by Anne Brashares is a break-away sequel to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books by the same author. I say it is a sequel because, as the title indicates, there is a connection between this and the previous sisterhood. However, it breaks away as well, no longer following the stories of the four girls in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but rather picking up on the "next generation" of young girls who are about to start going to the same high school from which the original sisterhood graduated. And the Traveling Pants Sisterhood is legendary to the three protagonists in 3 Willows. In fact the three girls feel a sadness that they could not create the kind of bond that the older girls had managed. The friendship Ama, Jo, and Polly found in third grade is falling apart and the story begins with the three girls preparing to spend three very separate summer vacations. Unlike the Traveling Pants books, there won't be letters to their friends, no pants to send to keep them all connected. The theme of this book is whether or not Ama, Jo, and Polly really want to maintain the relationship or whether they have outgrown one another. I confess, I only read the first book of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, none of the sequels, and I thought it was cute, entirely predictable, while climactically disappointing. I approached 3 Willows with a hope that the author had matured in her writing and found a way to tell her story without falling into cliché. I was a little surprised, therefore, when I saw in the first two chapters how she used an affectation to tell the reader what the individual girls were thinking and feeling by going into a first person stream-of-consciousness narrative. Thankfully, she drops this after the first couple of chapters and doesn't use it again. Unfortunately, in allowing it at all, the editor failed. A contract of style is created at the beginning which is not carried through and only a less experienced reader would not find this disingenuous. But that is my only complaint. This first book is superior to the other. I don't know if it is because I prefer these three girls to the previous sisterhood's four (where I only liked one of the four). My appreciation may be evidence of the author's growth, as apparent in the stronger character development, although it very well may be more subjective. I simply like these three characters more. Whatever the reason, the fact that Ama, Jo, and Polly are more interesting makes their story stronger. Also, and this is perhaps more significant, this time the author didn't do something predictable and cliché to try to make the reader feel something. The climax in 3 Willows is less pathetic, in the true meaning of the word, and more poignant, inspiring genuine tears rather than annoyance. This is very much indicative that the author is maturing and trusting herself as a writer. She no longer manipulates through situation but allows the reader to care enough about the three girls that whatever sympathy is experienced, whatever tears may come, is pulled from a genuine place of compassion for these three girls and not a contrivance meant to force a response. I definitely liked this book more than the first sisterhood book and would like to know more about what happens with the girls as they grow through high school and whether or not they find the long-lasting bond that the traveling pants girls apparently do.