The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

I know that for many summer vacation is already over and the kids are starting back to school.  Some of us though, have one final week left of vacation and I’m planning on clinging to it by reading one of the best YA series set during summer vacation – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  Check out the info, and if you have a teen who’d rather stick her head in the sand than sharpen pencils and pack her backpack, here’s a way to give her one final escape.

Great for: Teens, provided parents are comfortable with the content.  There are four main characters: Tibby, Lena, Carmen and Bee.  They tend to be “types” but this means that there is something for almost any reader to connect to, be it divorce, negotiating a parent’s remarriage, sibling relationships, athleticism, being an artist, feeling left out or left behind and of course, negotiating teen love and lust.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – This is a coming of age novel about four female friends.  It contains several references to the size of their breasts.  The girls appear in their underwear several times throughout.  They try on clothes and admire each other’s butts and sometimes they tell each other that they’re sexy.

One of their rules is that you can’t let a boy take off the pants, but you can remove them yourself in the presence of a boy.  There are statements about boys viewing them sexually, such as “boys got you to trust them, then went in for the grope,” and references to boys talking to your breasts.

All four girls start out as virgins.  There is one character who has sex during the book, but it is not explicitly stated, what is stated is that she went farther than she was ready for, and this has a lot of repercussions for her emotionally.  There is discussion of wanting sex.  There is a fair amount of kissing between the girls and their love interests.  Two characters of the opposite sex see each other naked accidentally, an overreaction by the girl makes her family believe the boy involved is a rapist.

A recurring element that may be of concern to some is that there is often an age gap between the girls and their love interests.  A 14 year old kisses a 17 year old, a 15 year old kisses an 18 year old and a 15 year old lies and says she is 16 while pursuing a 19 year old.  In real life this happens.  Girls are attracted to, and date older boys.  They get involved in sexual relationships with older boys.  But it is something worth talking about, especially since in one case, the relationship evolves between a girl and her coach.  Girls need to talk to adults about the emotional ramifications of these experiences, as well as the legal implications.  Regardless of what you feel, the law is meant to protect, and several of the situations above would be at best questionable from a legal standpoint, and in the case of the 15 and 19 year old, statutory rape.  I don’t think Brashares is wrong to write about it, it’s a very real part of life, but I do think it’s something that girls should talk about with an adult they trust.  Also of interest, and possibly because the sex occurs off screen, there is no discussion of contraception or protection from STDs.

Profanity – “Jesus” used twice, “assed, “for God’s sake,” “asshole” used twice, “goddammit”, “I swear to God,” “oh God,” “hell”
Death, Violence and Gore – The girls say the penalty for breaking the rules of the pants is a severe spanking.  A character breaks a window in anger.  A guinea pig dies.  A secondary character dies.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – One underage main character has a glass of wine.  Several underage characters (who are not main characters) drink, from camp coaches at a bar, to teens at a party.  Although no characters smoke or do drugs, there are a few drug references:  “If you painted your house those colors, they’d call you a drug addict” and something makes Lena feel as though she is tripping.
Frightening or Intense Things – A secondary character suffers from leukemia.  This is a major part of the storyline and quite sad.

There is much past loss referred to throughout the story.  One character has lost his parents and brother in a car crash.  Another has a father who is in treatment for alcoholism.  Yet another lost her mother at a young age. We are led to believe her death is somehow related to depression or mental illness but there are not many details given.

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