April 29, 2005

The Pants No Longer Fit

No need to duck, TadMack! On Wednesday, I "rewarded" myself after an intense job interview with the purchase of Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares. Let's just say that the girls have outgrown their jeans.

I was initially attracted to the first two Pants books because of the over-used-yet-never-tired theme of girl friendship. As someone who has a solid group of four women friends (friendships lasting over ten years), I connected to Pants on a deeper level that probably is more than the books deserve. I agree with TadMack's lament that Chick Lit is a double-edged sword. Why do books that focus on girl power only succeed in enforcing stereotypes?

I found some magic in the first two books. While the writing overall was uneven at best, there were certain moments that spoke true to me (In Sisterhood, Lena flies to Baja to comfort and confront Bridget. While the idea of a 15-year-old girl changing her flight from Greece to Baja without any parental concern is laughable, the moment when Lena finds Bridget huddled under the covers spoke true volumes to me. How many times did I live that moment--when only your best girlfriend can say and do the right thing and get you out of bed, making you realize that life isn't going to end and that you were melodramatic? Or in The Second Summer of the Sisterhood when Carmen introduces Lena to her friend/step-brother Paul and has one of those moments when you see the future because you know the two people standing in front of you so well. I've had those moments of clarity.) I enjoyed the Sisterhood and Second Summer like one enjoys Snickers bars after a five-mile run. So bad they're good.

This is not true with the rushed, forced tone of Girls in Pants. Character development takes a back seat to un-necessary, cutesy scenes of hand-holding, crossing legs to trip each other (yeah, amusing to whom?), plunging into the surf together, eating too much junk food, and lots of i's dotted with hearts. Like her first two books, Brashares relies on stereotypes to emote. There is heavy emphasis on this being the last summer for the Septembers; even the stoic Tibby cries at the thought of their separation. Normally the indication of a last summer in teen-land means something grand and life-altering. The greatest disappointment with Girls in Pants is that nothing changes. Oh, sure, Carmen's mom is pregnant. Tibby realizes she loves Brian. Bridget sees Eric again after two years. But Lena is still Lena--big feet and beautiful face. Bridget still has her glorious hair. Carmen still throws gigantic tantrums that no one notices. Tibby still mopes in her bedroom wearing cute tank tops and plaid jammies. The girls are no wiser than the first book. We are lead to believe at the end of the second book that they learned something their mothers didn't: you're stronger together than apart. But that doesn't necessarily make you smarter.

Brashares seems to favor fast moments over carefully crafted scenes that allow the reader to savor the magic. The best example is Tibby's story. Brashares establishes a potentially wondrous moment between Tibby and Brian, only to deflate the plot trajectory with nonsensical Tibby reactions that are supposedly obstacles to her relationship with Brian. I think I read this before. Oh yeah, I did. In Sisterhood and Second Summer.

I'm not going to throw anything at anyone who voices her opinion about the Pants book. But I may throw the actual book across the room, which is what I normally do when I'm disappointed.

3 comments:

tanita s. davis said...

Tight Pants, Eh? Or way too loose?I still plan on reading the newest installment, but I am already a little disappointed; Tibby was my favorite character, and even in the 2nd book I wasn't "feeling her" anymore. Poop. As Dorothy Parker says, ""This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly.
It should be thrown with great force." Stay tuned for flying paperbacks.

a. fortis said...

I'll definitely be reading the third summer, but I have a feeling I'll be agreeing with MeiMei, since I have similar opinions on the first two books.

I can't help thinking about the commercial I saw for the upcoming Pants movie, which kind of made me cringe. But then again, it IS the perfect sort of book to be made into a movie, isn't it? Friendships triumphing over all, lots of laughing and crying at the same time, and characters that aren't a stretch to the imagination and that readers wish they could be like. I'm not sure if these are good or bad things, but Hollywood seems to like them.

tanita s. davis said...

Pants: The Movie
Yeah, I'm seeing that apparently the whole Carmen-is-in-Hysterics-Again thing is playing really well with the whole semi-culturally literate crowd. Haven't seen the movie yet (I'm thinking I'll see Lava Girl in 3-D first) but saw a film clip of the Carmen character waving her hands and fast-talking (yet again) about her butt, and how no one thought to include it in their considerations of how her bride's maid dress was going to fit. Eh. They mention that girl's tush so often it should've been given its own name.

I really, really, have issues with a large butt or wider hips being a substitution for actual discussion of cultural differences or racial sensitivity / insensitivity. Of course, a lot of people would also disagree with me and say that I was expecting too much from a YA book: I think not.

Carmen's continual pique is tired -- yet another sterotyped depiction of the Flaming Latina -- the hot blooded, tempestuous strumpet; talking fast, blowing up faster, oozing sensuality. Ugh. The Pants are giving me a wedgie.