It’s time. I’ve stalled and stalled, but it’s time to put up my review of The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, the companion novel to Ann Brashare’s The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I have to, because the third novel, Girls in Pants, is coming out, and someone needs to read and review that one, too. The problem isn’t the books, as much as the genre… yeah, I’m talking about Chick Lit.(And NO, I don’t mean the cheerfully low concept slideshowI found on Slate, which is HYSTERICAL, but those chicks are not at all what we’re talking about.)
Go into any bookstore, and you see them: stacks and stacks and stacks of pastel books with skinny models on the covers. It’s wildly popular, and it’s everywhere. This postfeminist’s women’s marketing niche is SO trendy right now that it would be really easy to jump on the passing bandwagon, and ride. It’s now, it’s hip, and it’s a big box into which publishers are scooping all women’s literature, and labeling it. Even YA fiction for girls is being labeled and packaged into neat and attractive junior league stacks of Chick Lit. This publishing phenomenon (because you know it’s not a real writing trend, we’ve been writing about women and women’s issues for years) started in the mid-90’s, and there seems to be no end in sight. (Marketing people everywhere breathe a huge sigh of relief.)
I’m all for breathless and spunky twentysomething heroines, maintaining their professional and love lives by the skins of their teeth, having adventures and rushing all over Paris and Greece. I’m even all for neurotic protagonists, obsessing, as we all do, about our teeth, our weight, our hair, our bums, our guts, and our male friends. But I do wonder about the women who aren’t “chicks,” and about the writers who want to go a little deeper in their writing for women and young girls, who aren’t cut out for this cookie-cutter ‘Chick Lit’ thing. Is there room for any of them? Are we still allowed to write women’s literature if what we write isn’t necessarily trite? Can we imagine characters who are not emotionally stunted, gushing, ‘sassy’ or attractively eccentric? Can we write about real girls and not Barbie clones? I think so. I hope so. An article I discovered in The Utne Reader says it’s time to challenge Chick Lit. Maybe we do need to learn the difference between entertainment reading and a trite storyline. Maybe it’ll be you who changes the so-called ‘Chick Lit’ for the better.
The Second Summer has this magic as well, and thankfully a slightly sturdier plot. Bridget is not the sex-crazed soccer player of the first novel, and is, in fact, overweight, although there is not much time spent with the idea of eating to fill an emptiness, or any of the psychological ramifications of someone gaining so much weight in so short a time. (Of course, this minor flaw in Pretty Girl Land must be allayed by the end of the book — no one would actually want her to –eww!– be really fat, or anything, but for a brief moment she flirts with that Ultimate Disaster.) Brashares allows Bridget to be anonymous as she pursues the truth about her family, and more than any of the other characters, Bridget seemed to lack a ‘need’ for the magical pants to make sense of her life. Tibby, at film school for the summer, fares less well, and waffles between being the character to whom we were introduced, and someone reeking of desperation, and over-eager for popularity. This seems a little thin to me plot-wise, as Tibby has ample opportunities to be bigger than life, as the friend of the gorgeous Lena, and the popular Bridget, at the very least. Her turning away from old friendships is surprising, and gives us less insight into her character than I wanted. It could have made more sense, with just a few more sentences about some internal process. Finally, Lena… remains Lena. Everytime Brashares reminds us of how beautiful Lena is supposed to be, I find my eyes rolling. Yes, yes, beautiful, skinny Lena, all right, enough already. Her emotional trauma over maintaining perfection and finding safety in the ‘perfect’ boyfriend feel tiresome and unbelievable, yet the Pants girls rally around her and mother her up until her flawless complexion is tear free. Puh-lease.
All right, all right. You know you have something to say. Let’s hear it.