Review Blog

May 05 2010

The summer that changed everything by Ann Brashares

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Corgi Books, 2009.
(Age: 11+) Set in America, this is the story of three girls and an eventful summer that sees their close friendship weakened in the face of changing circumstances. This is a real mixed bag. Ann Brashares concentrates on the anxieties and preoccupations facing teenage girls, but the trio of plots are variable in quality. Polly's story is the most successful and Brashares explores the fear of growing up and the need to cling to old habits and to retain control, in Polly's case by verging on anorexia. Jo's and Ama's stories are less striking. Jo is the typical all American girl, fixated on hair, clothes and boys, and her rather flat and predictable storyline reflects this. However, it is Ama's story that really rankles: here is a straight 'A' student who has never failed anything, but now fears she will fail her dreaded outdoor adventure camp. Deprived of her favourite hair products, she is trekking through the wilds of Wyoming, carrying a forty pound pack and enduring blistered and bleeding feet, with no apparent medical intervention. This is unlikely enough, but to cap it all the rest of the team pack up camp one morning and leave without even noticing Ama's absence, a totally unbelievable storyline which would simply never happen. Of course it is vital to the plot and Brashares makes it work on one level, but suspension of disbelief is essential if you're planning to read this!
There are very few 'issues' that Brashares doesn't touch on and I can't help thinking that she wrote with a tick list beside her. Dealing with grief? Check. Unrequited love? Check. Facing up to your fears? Check. An alcoholic mother? Check. The dangers of dieting? Check. However, in spite of the uneven writing and shaky storylines, the construction of the book does work. Each character takes turns to tell their story and this brings a sense of immediacy and helps the reader to sympathise with the girls. Brashares also pulls things together in a stirring finish as all three girls face a crisis that makes them realise the importance of their friendship. It's not going to win any prizes, but this is a safe read for teenage girls who appreciate a bit of angst and a happy ending.
Claire Larson

Editor's comment: This was also published as Three Willows.
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