Family secrets, friendship and the sparkle and grit of the magazine world converge in These Girls, Sarah Pekkanen’s latest novel detailing the pains, triumphs and difficulties of family and friendship.
Newly appointed as features editor at Gloss, Cate knows she has her work cut out for her — and realizes purely deserving a position isn’t enough to keep the office gossips’ tongues silent. Her roommate Renee, a talented writer, has her own troubles at Gloss . . . and with her weight. At a (gasp!) size 12, her curves spark hateful comments when she’s up for a promotion. Throw in Abby, the damaged sister of star writer Trey Watkins, and you have a perfect storm of turmoil in one Manhattan apartment.
When each woman’s family troubles begin to take precedence over their day-to-day dramas, Cate struggles to bolster her divorced mother’s spirits; Renee deals with the sudden appearance of a half-sibling; and Abby must come to terms which what prompted her to flee Maryland. Through it all, the women learn it’s their bond — to each other — that will help them through life’s pressures.
In a relatively short time, Sarah Pekkanen has developed quite a reputation for her smart, sassy and realistic examinations of women’s friendships. Though this is my first experience with her work, I can tell she’s earned it: These Girls is equal parts heartbreaking, surprising and moving. Just as I felt the story was veering into comfortable, well-worn territory, Pekkanen’s plot curved in a new direction. I loved not knowing what I was going to get — and that the obvious tropes didn’t apply.
Not to, you know, beat a dead horse, but I really related to Renee in her pursuit to slim down. It’s funny the way weight can manifest itself in various parts of your life, and I thought her struggles — and what she ultimately sees as a “solution” — were well-drawn. The constant pushing of sweets in a workplace is something I can certainly understand . . . even when I’m the cupcake-pusher. I can’t imagine the tremendous pressure on those expected to look, think and dress a certain way just to maintain a certain “reputation” in their industry.
What really worked in These Girls was the scope of the interwoven plots. We’re not dealing with a trio of single girls taking on Manhattan; these women are smart, challenged and struggling to maintain their professional and personal roles. Cate, Renee and Abby’s individual family problems were detailed enough to invest me in the story, but not complicated enough to get frustrating. Though there were no easy solutions, this isn’t one over-the-top drama after another. Abby’s personal issues with her former job left me feeling a little cold towards her, especially as I felt she’d brought them on herself, but Pekkanen did a great job of creating sympathetic heroines I couldn’t actively dislike.
And Trey? He’s yummy. He’s savvy and paternal and suave and a total Chris Pine in my mind. I think Pekkanen’s overall moral — chicks over, um . . . guys — is a sound one, and I liked that we didn’t have a trio of otherwise intelligent women scratching each other’s eyes out over a man. I mean, really. We’re a little more evolved than that, right? I like my books to not be completely stereotypical and demeaning.
For fans of women’s fiction, novels centering on friendship and those looking for a good hook (each character’s back story is revealed over time, wrapping up only at the end), Pekkanen definitely knows what she’s doing. These Girls is a strong, well-paced book that dropped me off far from where I’d started. And I dug it.
4 out of 5!