Ann Brashares, who wrote four insanely popular books about the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (two of which were made into equally popular movies), has countless fans. I imagine she also receives a lot of fan mail, and I'd wager that a great deal of it asks the questions "But what happened to Carmen, Lena, Tibby and Bridget next? Did they fall in love, get married, have children? Most importantly, did they stay friends forever?" These kinds of questions gain urgency as fans --- those who were young teens when THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS was first published in 2001 --- are now approaching their mid-20s themselves.
"Did they stay friends forever?" Fans will have to wonder no more, and Brashares's literary response will satisfy readers longing for "just one more" story about their favorite fictional friends.
Now, in SISTERHOOD EVERLASTING, Brashares answers those burning questions with a bittersweet novel that may have some readers wishing the Sisterhood could have stayed teens forever and others reveling in this new chapter, likely with a rapidly depleted box of tissues at their side. The book, which is sensibly being marketed to adults, opens with the four lifelong friends on the verge of turning 30. Although they're all in relationships, none of them are married. And even though they're still friends, nothing matches the special kind of connection they shared in their adolescence.
Especially worrying is Tibby, who up and left the country without a warning, relocating to Australia with her long-time boyfriend Brian without even giving Carmen, Bridget and Lena a chance to give her a proper sendoff. Since then, she's been uncharacteristically silent, leaving Carmen (a glamorous television star), Lena (a moderately successful artist) and Bridget (the free spirit of the bunch) to wonder what's going on with their increasingly distant friend.
So when Tibby sends each of them an invitation to meet at Lena's family's home in Greece, the old Sisterhood jumps at the chance for a reunion. But then tragedy strikes, and those who survive are left reeling, asking themselves how well they really know each other --- and how they can possibly move forward without one of their own.
SISTERHOOD EVERLASTING likely will be read almost exclusively by those countless fans who first encountered these four fast friends in the YA series. That's just as well, since the novel, although certainly poignant in its own right, would lose significant emotional intensity for those who don't feel (at least a little) like they've grown up alongside Carmen and company. Unlike the previous books for young people, SISTERHOOD EVERLASTING jumps from character to character in brief vignettes rather than longer, developed stories. The result is perhaps a more integrated narrative, but also one that can seem choppy and disjointed.
The characters' emotional responses to tragic loss seem, at times, somewhat out of joint with what might be expected as realistic responses to grief. That said, the impact of their grief on each of their lives --- lives that had seemed so settled but are apparently anything but --- rings true, and anyone who has read the first four books and can get through the last chapter of SISTERHOOD EVERLASTING with dry eyes is a more stoic soul than me. "Did they stay friends forever?" Fans will have to wonder no more, and Brashares's literary response will satisfy readers longing for "just one more" story about their favorite fictional friends.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 27, 2011