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 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.
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.
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