"Girls in Pants” is perky and painless

April 14, 2005, midnight | By June Hu | 15 years, 9 months ago

April means that summer is just a step, skip and a hop away. Whatever your summer travel plans may be for the upcoming vacation, let Ann Brashares' witty "Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood", the third installment in the best-selling teen series "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants", show you some all-out fun in a setting we are all familiar with: our very own Montgomery County.

Brashares starts each book in Bethesda. From there, she takes the readers across the world along with "The Traveling Pants" books' four main characters, teenagers Carmen, Lena, Tibby and Bridget, who travel to different locations and swap a "magical" pair of jeans throughout the summer. The four girls, who have been best friends forever, spent their first summers apart in the first book, which was published in 2001 and is currently being made into a movie scheduled to hit theaters this June. In this book, the girls are set to leave on separate vacations once again. However, this summer is their last before going off to different colleges. "We're headed off to start our real lives," Tibby, the quirky film guru of the Sisterhood, says, "as far as life changes go, it's really, really big."

The fact that this summer is full of changes does not change the divine rule: Girls just want to have fun. And fun is what the girls in "Pants" have on their journeys of love, acceptance, sympathy and self-discovery. Tibby discovers romance for the first time in familiar places. Lena, through drawing portraitures, realizes that there is more to other people, and to herself, than meets the eye. Carmen experiences the truth behind the old adage "Be careful what you wish for because it just might come true." But luckily, she finds someone wonderful to help her embrace life's changes. For Bridget, also known as Bee, a reminder from the past helps to heal her wounds and allows her to move on with life. As new romances bloom, old ones rekindle, relationships evolve and family bonds are stretched and strengthened, the girls discover that love comes in bundles of different shapes and sizes. They learn that people, like time, have more dimensions than you can see and, most importantly, that friendships outlast the great calamities and drastic adjustments.

While the morals are profound, they are also undeniably trite. They are the sappy themes of every teen fiction. There is much redundancy even within the series. Brashares covered many identical issues in her first two books, contributing to a disappointing feeling of déjà vu as readers delved into the third book. For example, when, in "Girls in Pants", Lena has a revelation that familiar people have hidden sides, readers cannot feel as excited for her as they did for Carmen and Tibby, who had the same revelation in book one and book two, "The Second Summer of the Pants." These over-used messages deserve to be banished onto one of those motivational posters in the guidance office. Or they would, had they not been told through such charmingly light-hearted language and those beautifully vivid main characters in a "spoonful of sugar" way to make the often-corny lessons easier to swallow.

Reading about the girls is a real treat, but feeling yourself become the girls is even more exciting. Each of the girls has strengths and faults. It is what makes them endearing and real. You can see a little bit of yourself in each of Brashares' characters. You may resonate the most with spunky Carmen, who has the personality of a "torqued-up cherry red gas-guzzler with a V-8 engine and four-wheel drive." Or you could be more like cautious Lena, "one of those hybrid cars, easy on the environment and easy on the eyes, [with] GPS [and] air bags." Maybe reckless Bridget, "an ocean blue Ferrari minus the brakes," is more you or perhaps you are more like creative Tibby with her "picky transmission" and her death-grip on the past. But no matter which member of the sisterhood most accurately represents you, you can find something to love about each one of them as Brashares ushers you into the midst of their laughter, their tears, their confusion and their epiphanies.

Brashares' buoyant style is similar to her characters in many ways. It is whimsically wacky like Tibby, fashionably feisty like Carmen, fearlessly free-spirited like Bridget and, at times, graceful and insightful like Lena. Continuing in the style of the first two books, "Girls in Pants" slices of the individual tales of each girl into segments and splices the segments together fluidly for an engaging read. The hilariously eccentric quotes prefacing each chapter, excerpts from the likes of Columbus and Victor Hugo to Coldplay and Homer Simpson, never fail to amuse. Brashares' language, like her book, "Girls in Pants," is an uplifting ode to friendship and a delightful draught from the fountain of youth.

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June Hu. June Hu is probably staring at a cloud right now. This Magnet senior (O6!!!) tends to be a little obsessive about nature, as well as about the physiology of people's noses. There is a good and sane reason for that: June is an art freak. … More »

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