Dreams of Significant Girls

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Dreams of Significant Girls Book Poster Image
Rich girls come of age in powerful book with mature themes.

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 3 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

European landmarks and classic works of art make prominent appearances in the book, and there are allusions to the oil crisis, Nixon's impeachment, and other political events that provide historical context. There's even an exploration of what constitutes art. All three girls have family ties to the Nazi era that continue to affect them. Their ethnic backgrounds -- German, Iranian, and Cuban (by way of Poland) -- heavily influence them and their fates.

Positive Messages

Through all the turbulence, the importance of the girls' friendship shines through. The message is less that good friends will help you through anything and more that teens should allow themselves patience and time to grow up. As the girls grow older, they make life-changing discoveries about themselves, their friends, and their parents. They crave control over their lives but learn that no one has complete control over her destiny. Patience and time bring perspective and an opportunity to grow in ways impossible to predict.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In any given summer, the girls make some terrible choices: burglary, a violent attack, unprotected sex, going AWOL, stealing pills, etc. But while the characters often behave in iffy ways, they usually engage fully with the consequences. The same goes for the adults, who are distracted by affairs and their own past dramas. There are no glowing heroes here, rather a lot of very human people doing the best they can -- and learning along the way.

Violence

One teen is aggressively groped by a stranger at a dance. The girls get into a few fights. Ingrid impulsively tries to drown a fellow student and the water ballet instructor. The Nazi era is recent history: One girl's father had been a Nazi and is haunted by what he had done; another girl's father escaped from the Warsaw ghetto.

Sex

Frank descriptions (and demonstrations) of oral sex, a first orgasm while riding a horse, masturbation, sexually presumptuous and emotionally callous boys, references to bondage, a back-alley abortion, a girl's reputation sliding from sexual mentor to slut, a parent who has an affair, a peripheral character who comes out as gay, and more. At one point, the friends seek revenge against an art dealer by encouraging Ingrid to sue him for corrupting a minor -- but she decides the claim is unfair because she had initiated the sexual relationship with him. The sexual content isn't gratuitous; how the girls build up to sexual experiences and deal with the aftermath is an essential part of the story. But the girls begin their explorations as young teens between the ages of 14 and 17.

Language

One girl is particularly vulgar, and curse words are used liberally. The coarse language includes "bitch," "slut," "goddamn," "s--t," and many variations on "f--k."

Consumerism

These are very wealthy girls, and materialism is part of the scenery: Expensive cars are part of the character description for some boys; one girl's family not only pays for all three to attend camp one summer and lavishly adorns their room, but also shells out to have Arabian stallions shipped to Switzerland for their exclusive use; and the girls seem to take for granted the options, opportunities, and expectations afforded by their family backgrounds.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Ingrid is presented as a routine drinker at the age of 15. She shares wine, liquor, and cigarettes with her friends (who usually accept them) and gets drunk in a bar. She also refers to getting drunk with her younger sister. Shirin steals pills and accidentally overdoses.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this 1970s-set novel offers a lot to chew on, but it's best for mature readers. Starting in their mid-teens, the privileged girls at the center of the story meet at a Swiss summer camp and discover sex, learn to deal with very complex relationships, and experiment with ways to assert their independence and power. There are several brief but vivid descriptions of sexual activity, and the casual drinking and sexual activity are portrayed as normal behavior for these girls, who range in age from 14 to 17 over the course of the book. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Teen, 13 years old Written byLocket December 3, 2011

Awesome :D

I loved this book and i read it about 3 times already and i would love to read it another time and i would definitely recommend this book :) The book is also wr... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bySmileSomeoneLovesYou September 28, 2013

Awesome

I remember reading this book and loving it. It's awesome. I recommend it for high schoolers only though.

What's the story?

In the early 1970s, three wealthy girls from very different backgrounds have trouble getting along when they first land at a Swiss summer boarding camp. Cuban-American Vivien is compassionate and kind; coarse Ingrid, whose family left Germany, is a foul-mouthed loose cannon; and Shirin is the studious, regal daughter of a prominent Iranian family. Before the end of that summer, they find connections that bind them together for two more summers and into adulthood as they cope with early loves, disappointments, family turmoil, and the changing world around them.

Is it any good?

Beneath the trappings of wealth, Garcia's fascinating characters are alternately disappointing, inspiring, frustrating, appealing -- and always wholly realistic. Each of the three girls tells her story in her own distinct voice. Rather than fracturing the narrative, this approach underscores that while each protagonist has a unique perspective and experiences, their coming-of-age struggles are universal: They're teen girls discovering the complexity in themselves, their relationships, and the larger world. At times, the mature content is unnecessary, but mostly it serves the narrative.

The setting -- a French boarding school in Switzerland catering to the wealthy -- sets the stage for some laughably over-the-top situations. It's a testament to the strength of Cristina García's writing that even within this setting, her characters resonate so deeply. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the portrayal of wealthy teens in novels. Why do so many stories focus on such privileged teens? How might this story be different if the girls weren't rich and were at, say, a more typical American sleepaway camp in the woods? Can you relate to these girls?

  • In this book, girls as young as 15 are focused on losing their virginity and having more sexual experiences. Do you think this portrayal is realistic or exaggerated? Families can read our article Too Sexy, Too Soon for advice on talking with teens about this topic.

Book details

For kids who love coming-of-age stuff

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