Lena, Bridget, Carmen and Tibby are back for one last summer — and it’s a hot, confusing and rollicking one at that. Separated once more by distance and, really, their own new dilemmas, these four best friends from Maryland begin to rely so heavily on their beloved Traveling Pants — a pair of jeans that mysteriously fits each of the girls’ unique figures like a glove — to keep their friendships alive. Of course, this turns out to be a mistake. Like all relationships that aren’t given attention and love, even the unbreakable bonds of the sisterhood begin to fray.
Ann Brashares’s Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood is the final book in the Sisterhood series, and I think it finished with a very satisfying conclusion. The jeans shared by all four girls were once the bond to unify them as they would often spend their summers apart — at camps, visiting family — and then reunite in the fall, just in time to resume classes at their high school in Bethesda. But as young women often do, they all grew up — high school graduation gave way to college courses and dorm rooms, and the continuity they once shared in living close together their entire lives was broken.
Lena stays in Providence, Rhode Island to continue painting classes — and meets a fellow classmate who teaches her quite a bit about what it is to let go; Bee signs up for a dig in Turkey, where she spends all day in the dirt — and thinks about who really misses us when we’re gone; Carmen and her bossy, arrogant “friend” Julia attend a theater camp, where Carmen realizes true friends aren’t the ones bringing you scones that may or may not be laced with a laxative or something!; and Tibby fights her own demons in New York City, holding on to Brian while simultaneously letting him go.
I’ll admit that I actually skipped the third book in this series — after reading one and two in high school, I almost forgot about them. I love this series but not quite in the way I do, say, Cabot’s The Princess Diaries. For me, I think it’s the point of view — while a character like Cabot’s Mia speaks in first-person and we spend all day rolling around in her head, Brashares’s characters are divulged to us in bits and pieces through the third-person omniscient perspective, with the exception of when Bee talks just at the very beginning and end of the novel. Don’t get me wrong, Brashares does an excellent job of letting us in to each of the friends’ heads completely while still keeping some parts of their selves hidden, but I think I don’t emotionally connect with them the same way. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t love their story.
I relate most to Lena, I think. Her family is Greek and, for many summers, she spent a great deal of time there with her grandparents and sister. And that is where she met Kostos, her first love and son of a feuding Greek family in Greece in the first book (hello, Romeo & Juliet!). In earlier books their romance unraveled, quite understandably, as Kostos married a Greek woman with whom he had a child. Broken-hearted, Lena devotes all of her energy to remembering not to remember him (with limited success, of course). Her friends caution her that when she finally forgets about him, that’s when he’ll choose to reappear in her life. Lena throws herself completely into her painting in America, meeting fellow artist Leo and spending some time posing for him. She’s forced to shed her inhibitions, embrace the moment and, she hopes, leave Kostos in the past. Of course, tiny little matters like your first grand love don’t really disappear . . . and I was dying a little inside when that grand love reemerges, all great loves seem to do.
Each of the girls realizes something serious about themselves this summer — usually a lesson in loving yourself, and letting someone else love you, too. Each of the unique plotlines fitted together nicely but still remained separate, and I loved how linked they all were to each other — even if just in their similar thoughts. Bee was already confident enough to fill up an entire room with her self-assured attitude, each of the other girls looked to her for guidance and inspiration, though she was halfway around the world. Carmen needed to see her friends as the individual, rock-solid circle of love that they were to become confident enough to perform a difficult task. And both Tibby and Carmen had to learn that when you leave something — or someone — behind, you can’t expect them to freeze like a statute, waiting through summers and falls and winters for you to return.
Really, this book is about friendship — which everyone knows. It’s about friends as family and, slowly, family as friends. The Traveling Pants were the bond that kept the girls close to one another when they were far away, and the Pants will never lose their magic — but it’s later up to the four friends to decide how to stay together with or without the jeans. And they do — of course they do. The final chapters of the book were like a really great song for me — they lifted me up, made me feel jubilant and alive, and then safely deposited me back on earth when it was all over. That final scene is stellar.
4 out of 5!