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In the tradition of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and its successors and movie adaptations, Ann Brashares' 3 Willows follows the summer adventures of 3 fourteen-year-old girls from the Washington DC area. Best friends Ama, Jo, and Polly have known each other for years and have just finished middle school. They will be starting high school in the fall, and they are spending their summer apart. Ama was born in Ghana but has lived in the USA most of her life, and regards herself as an American. She excels in her studies and always gets top grades, and has high hopes for her summer experience. She is horrified when she is assigned to a Wild Adventures camping/hiking/climbing summer camp -- she needs her books and her hair products. Things get even worse when she realizes that she will be assigned a grade for her performance and she is sure she will fail. Jo's parents are separating, and she has never really been close to her surgeon father, so she is not upset about it. She gets a job waitressing at the shore, and she meets a boy who turns out to already have a girlfriend. Polly is the most immature of the three girls, although she lives with her artist mother who has no time for her. Polly gets it into her head that she wants to become a model, despite it being obvious to everyone else that she is not well-suited to such a career. She decides to attend a camp for girls who want to become models, but when she gets there, she discovers that she is by far the oldest girl there. She starts dieting to lose weight, and starts to cause those around her to worry that she might be damaging her health. The friendship between the three girls becomes strained because they are not able to talk to each other on a regular basis and they are having quite different experiences. Each girl struggles with problems and comes to realize something important about herself. At the end of the summer of course they reunite and appreciate each other's company again. The book is full of worthy themes: Ama's immigrant perspective from her African roots, and her learning to love the outdoors; Jo's strained relationship with her father and her judgmental attitude towards him changes after the separation and she comes to understand him better, and she also learns about passion and romance but does not let them take over her life; and Polly struggles with her body image and her inaccessible mother, growing more mature and coming to understand the problems that made her mother so remote. Yet Brashares' book rises above a morality tale due to its strong characterization of the girls and the crisp evocative prose. The performance by Kimberly Farr in the unabridged audiobook is very appealing, making the listener keen to find out what happens to the girls.
© 2009 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.
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