BiblioBitch: Sisterhood Everlasting

The text "BiblioBitch" is in capital letters, with "BIBLIO" in purple and "BITCH" in black. To the right, there is an icon of a purple cartoon worm with cats-eye glasses reading a purple book.

*WARNING: Sisterhood Everlasting begins with a major, surprising event, and I discuss it in this review. Other potential spoilers are marked.*

It's always dicey when an author pushes a series past its logical conclusion. I met each YA sequel to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants with skepticism, but all four of Ann Brashares' complex, sentimental tomes won me over, as did her three separate books. After seven respectable novels, one failure should not seem shocking.

But what a failure it is. I found Sisterhood Everlasting abhorrent.

The cover of Sisterhood Everlasting, with a photo of feet standing in water and a reflection of the feet and the white dress apparently above them. The background both above and on the water is a simple bright blue. The title and author are printed in white, and at the bottom, "Four friends, one sisterhood... ten years later." is printed in small yellow letters.

The novel begins with Lena, Carmen, Bridget, and Tibby at age twenty-nine. Lena teaches art at her alma mater in Rhode Island; Carmen is in New York with a supporting role in a major TV show; Bridget is temping and lives with her still-boyfriend, Eric, in San Francisco; Tibby... well, no one knows. Tibby and her still-boyfriend, Brian, moved to Australia two years earlier and have barely been in touch. Then, out of nowhere, the other three receive plane tickets to Greece from Tibby, begging them to come together for a reunion.

Even before tragedy strikes, there is a palpable sense of dread in the text. The point of view jumps back and forth between Bridget, Lena, and Carmen as they wait for Tibby in Greece; it's impossible not to wonder why Tibby's voice is absent, and it doesn't take long to learn the truth. Tibby has drowned in the Greek water. Perhaps worst of all, she has left a note suggesting suicide.

Brashares will receive much hate mail for this development alone, and I understand the sentiment. Killing off a character readers have been loving for ten years will never be a popular move.

Still, could the book have recovered from this seemingly senseless act? Perhaps, but it did not. In addition to her main note, Tibby has left numerous letters to each of her friends (though not her family or partner), each sealed with a "Do not open until" date. Lena begins her letters, which are fixated on setting her up with her manipulative ex, Kostos; Bridget flees her home to work through the trauma alone; Carmen tries to forget it all and plan her upcoming wedding.

When two adult sequels to popular young adult series are released in one year, people are bound to draw comparisons, even when the series are as different as Sweet Valley High and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Brashares' books have always taken themselves seriously in content and writing, as opposed to the pulpy melodrama of the Wakefield twins. Sisterhood Everlasting, though, shares at least one unfortunate trait with Sweet Valley Confidential: Despite the "Ten Years Later" tags (complete with purposeful ellipses), the characters have not matured one bit.

In fact, the members of the sisterhood have dramatically regressed. Lena, who spent the series working through her shyness and timidity, is now terrified of speaking to anyone, be it a stranger or a member of her family. Lest we not understand that at first, nearly every passage from Lena's point of view is about her refusing to connect with people who want to talk. Sensitive, confused Carmen is far removed from her own emotions, especially when someone is treating her badly or vice versa. The reader is meant to believe this is because Carmen is too distracted by her iPhone. Seriously.

And then there's Bridget, the impulsive athlete who has been my favorite character since the beginning. Bridget alone appears to be thriving prior to Tibby's death. After it occurs, her depression is triggered, especially considering her memories of her mother's suicide. Her emotionally volatile state is the only engaging force in the book, until—well, we'll get there.

The only one who appears to have matured between nineteen and twenty-nine is Tibby. Actually, that's less "matured" and more "been replaced by a completely unrelated personality." We never see through her eyes, but I cannot imagine Tibby, the cynical faux-rebel, becoming someone who writes her friends endless chains of flowery, mysterious letters demanding that they change the courses of their lives once she's gone.

In short, this is not a novel to visit if you just miss the Septembers. As for the story... er, what story? One of the most accomplished angles of each of the Traveling Pants books was its inclusion of four complete journeys, one for each main character. In Sisterhood Everlasting, the remaining three characters only react to Tibby's death. What semblance of plot there is could easily have fit into 50 pages. To boot, the eventual denouement around Tibby's backstory manages to be both obvious and nonsensical.

The business of Lena and Kostos is especially insufferable. Tibby and Bridget having stuck with their high school sweethearts is unusual, but a brilliant professor like Lena spending each day missing the guy she dated at fifteen is effing absurd. Traveling Pants has always been a little too preoccupied with hetero love interests, and Sisterhood Everlasting manifests the "women need men to be happy" myth at its most insulting degree.

*SPOILERS coming up. To help you skip them (if you wish to), they're bordered with pictures of happier times.*

All four original covers of the YA series: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, Girls in Pants, and Forever in Blue. The covers are green, purple, orange, and yellow, respectively, and each has a simple picture of a pair of blue jeans on the front.

Bridget's arc, such that it is, quickly becomes too problematic not to discuss here.

As I said, someone as passionate and restless as Bridget spending her entire twenties with a blank slate like Eric is hard to believe. After all, she thought about finding another partner after just one year in the fourth book, Forever in Blue. Perhaps that's why I have an easier time buying that she would run away to find herself than I do most of Everlasting's plot devices. But, lo: After she runs away, she finds out that she's pregnant... because she was too irresponsible to replace her birth control, natch.

Bridget has never wanted children and is still haunted by the ways in which her mother, who was much like her, neglected her. She immediately asks for an abortion, but the nurse tells Bridget she needs to think about it more first. (Hmm, where have we heard that before? Puzzlingly, the nurse is painted as a sympathetic saint instead of the condescending douche-a-roo she is.) Soon afterward, Bridget ends up being asked to babysit.

Oh, goodie. If you think you smell the happily-childfree-woman-does-a-180-after-five-minutes-near-a-kid trope, you're right. Heaven forbid a female character know what's best for herself without intervention. That's not even the worst part, nor is the wasted opportunity to show that beloved characters can get abortions, too. Take a look at the language around Bridget's abrupt turnaround:

Bridget had thought maybe when faced with the daily tribulations of an actual child she would understand it better, what Tibby and [her mother] had done. But she didn't. She understood it less. Every day she spent with [the child she was babysitting] the mystery grew darker.

How could you have done it?

And because she was not completely without shame or self-awareness, Bridget thought of the thing in her uterus, not a thing but a person, a soul, and she felt chastened. Just look what she was willing to do. Had been willing to do.

Wow. Insisting that fetuses are people with souls, saying women who would get abortions are "without shame or self-awareness," and comparing ending a pregnancy to being a parent who commits suicide. The message is not ambiguous, and it doesn't just shatter the illusion that Brashares is feminist-friendly; it makes me nervous about the rest of her beliefs.

For one, my biggest pet peeve about the Traveling Pants series has long since been its total lack of queer characters, despite a huge supporting ensemble. (Brashares' first adult novel, The Last Summer (of You and Me), had an asexual character, but let's just say there were problems there.) This absence only becomes more troubling in the face of a blatant conservative moral.

And so it is that even my Bridget is utterly wrecked in Sisterhood Everlasting.

All four re-release covers of the YA series, each with a photograph of four women at the beach with their faces turned away.

*SPOILERS finished.*

Perhaps Sisterhood Everlasting's "adult" classification will cause Traveling Pants fans to miss it. (Incidentally, why is it adult instead of YA? The characters may be older, but the writing style is identical. I guess the word "fuck" appears a few times.) I, for one, hope to forget this novel as soon as possible.

Comments

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I wish I didn't know about this...

Well, this is upsetting. I loved the Traveling Pants books! I especially liked that they came to accept at the end of (what clearly should have been the final book) that they no longer needed the pants. (Full disclosure: Reading the first book in tenth grade convinced me that I should take a pair of beloved jeans that were basically destroyed and my mother commanded me to stop wearing and have all of my friends sign them. Best. Idea. Ever. Some of my favorite memories are on those pants.)

On a side note, what is UP with those updated covers? They totally destroy a huge part of what made the pants magic: the fact that all four girls had totally different bodies and yet the pants fit each of them perfectly. I'm pretty sure those are all the same girl with some self-tanner and different wigs.

Yes!

I thought the same thing about the covers. I've only ever read the first book, and I did like it. The sequels did not appeal to me (sequels and series seldom do, which I think is more personal preference than anything else), so I never read those.

But I thought the exact same thing about those covers featured at the bottom of the article. I thought the whole POINT of the books (the first one, anyway) was that despite their very different physiques, the pants fit each girl perfectly. These covers show four girls with roughly the same build, which besides being insulting to those girls who do not fit the mold presented by them, undermine the magic of the pants. And if I can't have my magic pants, well, I'm not having any of it.

Hated it!

I'm so glad I found this review because I just got done reading it and HATED it.

***********SPOILERS*****************

I had such problems with both Lena and Bridget's stories. First of all, am I really supposed to believe that a decade has passed since Lena has seen Kostos, but she is still hopelessly in love with him (and that he is with her)? She appears to have severe emotional and social anxiety problems, and spends weeks in solitude, but never seeks professional help. Finally, she and Kostos begin writing letters to one another, she rejects him AGAIN. Why? Obviously just for the plot for them to wait to get together at the end. Makes. No. Sense.

And Bridget...ugh. Also my favorite character from the original books. I agree that it seems odd that she is still with Eric, who has absolutely no personality except that he will do anything Bridget wants him to do. She ends up leaving him to "find herself" or whatever, for FIVE MONTHS, and he takes her back, no questions asked. And the anti-choice sentiment was so over the top, it made me want to quit reading. Bridget ends up deciding her life would be complete as a stay at home mom... Free spired, wild Bridget will be content sitting at home with a kid all day? I don't think so.

Another strange thing is that Brashares introduces us to two single fathers (Tibby's ex-partner Brian and a man Carmen meets on a train), and tells us that the kids are incomplete without mothers. Ridiculous. This whole book feels like it should have been published in the 1950s.

Abortion

I was glad to find that there was someone else who agreed with me about this utter fail. I had just finished all 4 previous books in a big build up to reading this final one and boy was I let down. As someone who works in abortion care I was appalled by the plan parenthood scene. Firstly- it's called a nuva ring, NOT a cervical ring! Furthermore, if you leave the nuva ring in for too long you start to get a period and Bridget would know that her birth control method wasn't working anymore. (Apparently Brashares knowledge about birth control is as messed up as her opinions on abortion). Secondly- no sane nurse would go giving out her personal cell phone number to a random patient who just came off the street. That part was so far fetched for me it made me want to just throw the book away. Lastly- I completely agree that the nurse isn't a saint but a huge BITCH. Yes, Bridget is brash to expect a termination at her birth control visit but the nurse should at least set her up with an appointment to terminate. She is the nurse I always feel bad for my patients for having. Also what is with all the rhetoric about telling her partner and she has to tell him if she loves him, etc. I couldn't take it. 1- who says she loves him, especially since she just ran away from him 2-Who says she has to tell anyone?! It's her decision. Also all of that rhetoric about it being a decision of dread or whatever she calls it is so untrue, sometimes abortion is an easy decision for a woman. Why as a society do we want women to mourn their reproductive choices? Does making women feel like they should be sad about abortion make society feel better?

What about Huntingon's?!

I've loved reading all of your responses to this book. I kind of tend to just take books as they are and not really question anything, which is kind of lame of me, so I'm glad to hear some perspective!

Anyway, after I finished reading the book, I looked into Huntington's disease a bit. My understanding (from a brief web search) is that the disease is hereditary. If one of your parents has the gene, you have a fifty-fifty chance of getting the gene, and if you get the gene, you WILL develop the disease at some point in your life. This has pretty strong implications that weren't discussed in the novel, unless I forgot... baby Bailey has a chance of getting it (unless she was tested, I don't remember) and that means one of Bailey's parents must develop it at some point...

The disease just seems a bit randomly chosen and not well-researched to me...

Hmmm... so, like one of the

Hmmm... so, like one of the commenters above, I read all 4 books within a short time and was equally excited to learn that there was a fifth book about the girls 10 years into the future. Long story short, I did not like the book. Infact, I did not like it soo much that I just skimmed through it after learning that the author had killed Tibby. Naturally (for me anyway) i googled some reviews to see if anyone agreed with me which is how I fell upon this site and I have to admit, your views baffled me. We all agree that the book sucked but I guess for entirely different reasons. See, your views are based hugely on the fact that there are anti-feminist notions in the book. I truly didn't even notice-I just didn't like the story for reasons we both agree on - the characters hadn't grown much and the plot wasn't all that engaging (Lena and Kostos, again... Bee and Carmen were just blah)...

...So we both think the book sucked, how come I just don't see the anti-feminism in it the way you guys do? Before I go on, I should point out that I am from an African country where the feminist movement is young. Here we call them female rights activist and we give much power to them because they fight for equality. I'm begining to think that the feminist groups in the west (I'm assuming that's where your from) have taken on a whole new meaning...

Let me explain my confusion;
1. I didn't much like the love connection between Lena and Kostos because it was just old. Not to say that a girl can't be in love with a guy for that long, it can happen, but really, what was it that was keeping them apart? I also didn't like Bee's relationship as well, mostly because the author just didn't sell it to me in this book (she did in the third book though). I however, get a feeling that you didn't like the relationships because they were somehow anti-feminist? How is that? Is it anti-feminist to love a man passionately and want to marry him? I don't think its fair to label a girl weak if she decides to go that route.
2. A woman is a complicated creature. For every one of us who have no problem utilising the choice to abort, there is a woman who truly believes that 'the fetus' is a baby and has a deep and growing connection to it. Bee happens to be the latter. Are you saying that its anti-feminist to rejoice in the fact that you decided to not have an abortion? If I can be happy that i had one, why can't I be happy that I decided not too? Maybe your right in that the wording the author used might have caused a reader who has procured an abortion to feel shame or to mourn. All I'm saying is that denying me all the emotions a woman feels towards that highly sensitive issue of abortion is robbing me of my rights on some level. If feminists fight for the right of a woman to proclaim that she doesn't want the kid, they should be just as supportive of a woman who proclaims that she's glad she had that kid. Both are valid positions that women can go through in their life. I'm pregnant right now and I'm quite attached to the little one growing within me but you have raised an issue rarely faced in my country - if I rejoice in the fact that I am having a baby, I'm I indirectly condemning the woman who chose to abort? I'm I raising uncomfortable issues as to whether the fetus is human or alive or whatever? Is it possible that we have fought so hard to make sure that women have the choice to abort that we now don't know what to do with the women who chose not to abort and are validly quite attached to the child? Even in my confusion, its clear to me why its a paradox to support both positions yet I insist that both are positions felt by women and the whole point is to protect all women rather than making me feel inferior because of what I feel about my pregnancy.
3. One of the commenters also found it ridiculous that Bee would enjoy a life of being a mother. Again, isn't this thinking a bit fixed? I believe the whole point of feminism is to allow women a choice. Isn't such a position just removing me from one box cultivated by a masculine society that women must stay at home and shifting me to another box where woman who actually want to stay home are labelled as old fashioned and hailing from the 1950's? Is a feministic society at risk of making life just as rigid for me as a masculine one? Why can't I just 'be'?

As I sign off, I need the readers and the writers of this blog to understand that I am truly confused by this brand of feminism and I really do want some sort of explanation.

oh, and sorry for just

oh, and sorry for just bundling up the reviews and the comments made above into one big mass in my head...it will make reading MY comment a lot more confusing. still, i would appreciate a reply from anyone who can make sense of it.

I am so angry she killed off

I am so angry she killed off Tibby I refuse to read anymore. I did flip through a bit because I knew somehow it couldn't be true. And I agree, after ten years I thought they would sound a bit more adult, and odd two out of four were with high school loves, but I ignored all that eager for their reunion, as if it were my own reunion with these girls I've grown to love. Now it will never happen. I was actually convinced Tibby was pregnant and wanted her closest friends in her life for that, and the reason you didnt hear her voice was to not spoil the surprise. AND suicide! Why invite all your loving friends on holiday to morn your death. Im just going to pretend this book never happened, just like I do with the last episode of Roseanne.

I think the word, "feminist,"

I think the word, "feminist," is used as a brief comparison.. the way I interpreted this review is this: The author hasn't changed the characters as much as they should have since their high school days. At some point you realize, "That guy's a jerk, I can do better. I deserve better."
The reviewer explains this as feminism, while I would describe it as a missing epiphany.
The abortion part, she's not bad-mouthing the women who chose to be housewives and avoid abortions, it just doesn't fit Bridget. Though if she had really changed her mind, I think her epiphany could have been better written. Of course, she had to spend time with some kid she's babysitting to, "change her mind." To me, that's not good enough. Personally, I was somewhat like Bee, never wanted kids, liked to spontaneous and all that but recently kids have been an idea that's starting to grow on me. However, I did NOT babysit some kid to realize I might want to be a mother one day. How can she just decide all of a sudden she wants to keep the baby when all she did was spend time with someone else's kid. She never had the thought, "what kind of parent would I be?" Then again, she is supposed to be spontaneous..
In my opinion, the girls pretty much needed an epiphany that never showed up like it did on book 4 when they realized they didn't need the pants. It's hard to believe that during 10 years they couldn't have that, "aha!" moment.
I haven't actually read this book but I did read the last 4. I've read spoilers from this, and I am also angry about Tibby's suicide!
Anyway, that is my shpiel.
By the way, this is a feminist website so.. you'll see a lot of different views on things. Everyone has opinions and different ways of thinking.

feminism vs. characterizations

I think the feminism comparison is used because the book appears anti feminist. Its not that there is a problem with a girl choosing to embrace motherhood, its that it was Bee. Part of the magic of the sisterhood was that the girls were very different, so I would expect certain characters to choose abortion and other to feel that wasn't right for them. Bee has always been reckless and driven to freedom, in book 1 she sleeps on the beach to avoid feeling closed in, her personality has always been reckless and parallels between her mother and her are very present. She gas very high highs and very low lows. So its not in line with her character to be so easily swayed by a stranger nurse and a few encounters with a kid. Brashares also disappointingly ties the girls to the same guys for 15 years, it doesn't make any sense, and she fails in this way. Coming of age means heart break and maturing means learning to stand on your own two feet.

I don't mind major character death in series if it is done well. It could have worked if the plot had been the girls gave grown apart and all but forgotten the sisterhoid, and the death of one of their own really tests there decisions as women. There was no personal growth and that was a let down. Grief can be so powerful and it fell flat.