A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book from the author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants ultimately delivers positive messages about doing what's right, making good choices, taking chances, and accepting oneself. Along the way, the three young teen protagonists deaI with a borderline eating disorder, an alcoholic parent, a fickle cute boy, and the tribulations of fitting in with the popular crowd. There are crushes, dates, and kisses, but no sex. The book name-drops characters from the author's Traveling Pants books and may appeal most to fans of the series.
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What's the story?
First things first: There are no magical pants in Brashares' newest novel, despite 3 WILLOWS' tagline: "The sisterhood grows." Like many girls, three old friends -- Ama, Jo, and Polly -- wanted to emulate the famed Sisterhood, still a neighborhood legend after the girls have moved away to college. "It's the best reason I can give for a lot of terrible-fitting jeans in our middle school," Ama notes. Instead, the motif that ties these friends together is their planting of three willow trees in elementary school. Now, during their last summer before high school, the girls must figure out if they will grow together or grow apart as they each face their own challenges. Jo gets a job -- and a new boyfriend -- while her parents go through a divorce; outdoors-hating Ama must hike and rock climb when she ends up at a summer wilderness camp; and sweet Polly decides to become a model, despite her short stature and buck teeth. Are their bonds strong enough for high school -- or is their friendship something that belongs in the past?
Is it any good?
Brashares' strength is creating believable characters imbued with true-to-life faults. The 3 WILLOWS teens are not all beautiful, rich, and confident, and teens will find them honest and relatable. The author's insights into relationships with friends and family will also garner a nod of agreement from many teens. When Polly's mom tries to make her feel better for being "weird," Polly confesses that she doesn't want to be "interesting." "Maybe it was okay when you were grown up and in control of it, but being interesting in high school was no fun at all." Jo feigns indifference to her father's announcement about her parents' divorce, only to get angry at her father's relief. "Maybe she was a jerk to act like she didn't care, but he was a jerk to buy it."
The book starts a little slow, and some of the lessons are predictable. However, teens who enjoy books about friendship will find these new "sisters" worth knowing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Polly's choice to start dieting and her obsession with models. Imagining herself as a model pictured in magazines distributed all over the world, she believes "you could see so much more of the world when you were flat than when you were full ... I'd like to be two-dimensional, she thought. That was what models got to be." What do teens think about the idea of being reduced to a two-dimensional picture? How does Polly's attitude change over the course of the book? Parents may want to check out Common Sense Media's tips for talking to girls about body image.
Fans of the Sisterhood may want to talk about the similarities and differences here. Were you drawn to this book because it was written by the same author? Do you think kids would read it even if it was written by someone else? Do you think it's fair that published authors have an easier time selling books than first-time writers?