January 9, 2006

On the pants journey

Young Adult Reading. What do those three words spark in my mind? I envision crusty paperbacks of some superficial series, which involve some kind of mystery that Encyclopedia Brown would sneer at and a drawn-out sisterly relationship that is not even realistic for the age group.

So what am I currently reading? The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. Sounds hypocritical, eh? Not so much, as I was fortunate to find. I picked up the books after a stellar review by a library patron. What did I have to lose--ten minutes? I could take the risk.

I guess you could call me literary prejudiced. I read lots of children's literature. Sometimes I help with Story Hour at the library. I am an avid Avi, Porter fan, wild Maurice Sendak and profound Chris Van Allsburg fan, but the Young Adult Reading section I subconsciously shut off from my reading selections.

When literature hit the teens and I did as well, I tended to shy away from it. I guess I've been too conditioned by the girls in cropped tops returning Babysitters' Club books and the angst that immediately hits the reader on the first page. I give a book ten pages; if it doesn't deliver some kind of hook, it hits the shelf again. There are too many good books out there for me to waste my time on confusing flashbacks, overzealous attempts to be trendy and point-of-view that doesn't have character--just narration.

The Pants books by Ann Brashares, however, is the antithesis of all things bad in teen lit. I hit the first ten pages...then fifty in a flash. It has wit and querkiness and distinct characters that Brashares effortlessly jumps into and out of throughout the books.

Though the initial series explanation of the pants origins is a bit Babysitters' Club-esque, the hook is there in the rules of the traveling pants. I especially enjoy Rule #5. ;-)

The pants also have a claim to magic, but the magic, as the reader learns, is in the interpretations of the girls--not in actual floating hairbrushes or anything.

It is "chicklit" to be sure, but there is an edge to it. From young love and lust to parents remarrying and the experience of travel and heartache and sadness, there is a resilience in these young women that I like to think is in me. I guess that is why I feel so connected.

Everything goes wrong, as it should, but it all comes together again--not without some scars--just like life. Though some of the resolutions are predictable, the characters and their reactions to trials are what keep me going, pressing on through the huge typeface pages. (I swear, publishers must think teens need big print for the feeling that they accomplished something.) Tibby, Bridget, Carmen, Lena and their families react realistically--not ideally, but that's life, right? Even if they don't react in the best ways, the reader garners a message from the experience, and particularly if the character "screws up".

Another great aspect of the Pants books, is the quotes prior to the chapter. They sometimes focus the chapter, and others, seem to just offer wisdom from multiple sources like Walt Whitman, Jack Handey, Groucho Marx, and the novels' characters, to further the story's action.

One of my favorites is by Michael Pritchard: "Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed."

I feel reminiscent, but still connected to the teen experience. So much growth and perspective to amass in such a short time. But, as I've learned, and as I sometimes want to say to the book, it doesn't end. The lessons get more difficult, but the rewards are just as sweet.

Brashares intimately illustrates, without flounces, growing up female (I daresay in an exclusively American? backdrop).

Bridget Vreeland, for example, a girl that lost her mother and since, lives a bit on the edge, retreats in the second novel by altering her appearance:

"But as she looked longer in this mirror, Bridget saw something different. She saw protection. she had a blanket of fat on her body. She had a coat of pigment on her hair. She had the cover of a lie if she wanted it. She didn't look like Bee Vreeland. Who said she had to be her?"

I'm mid-second book: The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, and I'm still loving it. I am hesitating about the recent movie, but I'm afraid my lovely book images will be dashed by cinema ineptitude. Maybe I'll just wait.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at January 9, 2006 6:40 PM | TrackBack
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