The XX Factor

Book of the Week: Ann Brashares’ “Sisterhood Everlasting”

There’s a quality to early summer-maybe it’s just plain old nostalgia-that always makes you feel a bit like an earlier version of yourself. It’s a feeling that I indulged recently by dipping into Sisterhood Everlasting , the new, grown-up entry in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants young adult series , which catches up with the four friends on the cusp of turning 30.

I read the first few Pants books more or less by accident, having borrowed them from my younger sister on a family vacation nearly a decade ago after burning through my own stack. They’re not what you would call literarily ambitious, and I was enough of a snob back then to be a little embarrassed at how quickly I got caught up in Ann Brashares’ simple but engagingly told story. I wasn’t the only one to see the appeal, obviously-the bestselling books eventually became a pair of similarly light, charming movies starring Alexis Bledel and Blake Lively, which work as well for preteen sleepovers as they do for sluglike twentysomething hangovers. Brashares’ characters were more or less agemates of mine when I read the original books; catching up with them after they, too, had aged 10 years felt a little like going to a high school reunion. The four friends (who, in the grand tradition of lady foursomes, from Little Women to Sex and the City , each fit into a neat archetype) have scattered across the globe and found it harder than expected to stay in touch.  They make a plan to meet up in Santorini, where a crucial portion of the first book was set. Once there, however, tragedy hits, and the rest of the book follows the emotional fallout for each of the friends, dispersed once again.

E verlasting has no pretensions to be anything but chick-lit, and while it’s written with a light hand, it doesn’t have the clever bite of, say, The Devil Wears Prada . It also can’t quite shake some of the series’ more adolescent DNA. (For instance, every chapter opens with a quote that summarizes the spirit of the following action, and the Shins are cited more than Shakespeare.) There are also the usual, cartoonish romantic tropes of the genre-a wealthy financier who sweeps an impoverished artist off her feet; the tattooed ranch hand who makes a cameo appearance in a pivotal wild-night-out scene; the bad-news, careerist media executive; the sensitive South American poet. There is the conflation of character development with product placement: the free spirit San Franciscan eats vegan burritos, the uptight New Yorker wears Catherine Malandrino and is addicted to her iPhone, the yuppie dad mass-orders from Pottery Barn. On occasion, the novel shades from sentimental to treacly. But isn’t that sort of what you want to read on the beach?

Despite these flaws, though, Everlasting works for the same reason that Bridesmaids worked beyond its crowd-pleasing dick jokes or that Friends With Money mostly worked despite its own occasional reliance on cliché: The difficulty-and importance-of maintaining adult female friendships through changing circumstances remains  largely unexplored, and worth basing stories around more often.