Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

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“Funny, perceptive, and moving,” raved USA Today of the first  novel in the #1 New York Times bestselling Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series by Ann Brashares, author of The Here and Now.

Some friends just fit together.
 
Once there was a pair of pants. Just an ordinary pair of jeans. But these pants, the Traveling Pants, went on to do great things. This is the story of the four friends—Lena, Tibby, Bridget, and Carmen—who made it possible.
 
 “An outstanding and vivid book that will stay with readers for a long time.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred, Flying Start
 
 “The loving depiction of enduring and solid friendship will ring true to readers.” —The Bulletin, Recommended
 
 “A feel-good novel of substance.” —Kirkus Reviews, Starred
 
“Uplifting.” —Seventeen

Pants = love. Love your pals. Love yourself.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Praise

“Funny, perceptive, and moving.”—USA Today

“A complex book about a solid group of friends, with each one a strong and courageous individual in her own right. They form a true sisterhood of acceptance and support, resulting in a believable and inviting world.”—School Library Journal, Starred

“A feel-good novel of substance. . . . Move over, Ya-Ya Sisters.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“The loving depiction of enduring and solid friendship will ring true to readers, who will appreciate this recognition of one of life’s most important relationships.”—The Bulletin, Recommended

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

"Can you close that suitcase?" Tibby asked Carmen.
"It's making me sick."
Carmen glanced at the structured canvas bag splayed wantonly in the middle of her bed. Suddenly she wished she had all-new underwear. Her best satin pair was sprouting tiny ropes of elastic from the waistband.
"It's making me sick," Lena said. "I haven't started packing. My flight's at seven."
Carmen flopped the top of the suitcase down on the carpeted floor. She was working on removing navy-blue polish from her toenails.
"Lena, could you not say that word anymore?" Tibby asked, wilting a little on the edge of Carmen's bed. "It's making me sick."
"Which word?" Bridget asked. "Packing? Flight? Seven?"
Tibby considered. "All of them."
"Oh, Tibs," Carmen said, grabbing Tibby's foot from where she sat. "It's gonna be okay."
Tibby took her foot back. "It's gonna be okay for you. You're going away. You're going to eat barbecue all the time and light firecrackers and everything.
Tibby had nonsensical ideas about what people did in South Carolina, but Carmen knew not to argue with her.
Lena let out a little hum of sympathy.
Tibby turned on her. "Don't make that pity noise, Lena."
Lena cleared her throat. "I didn't," she said quickly, even though she had.
"Don't wallow," Bridget urged Tibby. "You're wallowing."
"No," Tibby shot back. She held up hands crossed at the wrist in a hex sign to ward off Bridget. "No pep talks. No fair. I only let you do pep talks when you need to feel better."
"I wasn't doing a pep talk," Bridget said defensively, even though she was.
Carmen made her wise eyebrows. "Hey, Tibs? Maybe if you're nasty enough, you won't miss us and we won't miss you."
"Carma!" Tibby shouted, getting to her feet and thrusting a stiff arm at Carmen. "I see through that! You're doing psychological analysis on me. No! No!"
Carmen's cheeks flushed. "I am not," she said quietly.
The three of them sat, scolded into silence.
"God, Tibby, what is anybody allowed to say?" Bridget asked.
Tibby thought about it. "You can say . . ." She glanced around the room. She had tears welling in her eyes, but Carmen knew she didn't want them to show. "You can say . . ." Her eyes lighted on the pair of pants folded on the top of a stack of clothes on Carmen's dresser. "You can say, 'Hey, Tibby, want those pants?"'
Carmen looked baffled. She capped the polish remover, walked over to her dresser, and held up the pants. Tibby usually liked clothes that were ugly or challenging. These were just jeans. "You mean these?" They were creased in three places from inattention.
Tibby nodded sullenly. "Those."
"You really want them?" Carmen didn't feel like mentioning that she was planning to throw them away. Bigger points if they mattered.
"Uh-huh."
Tibby was demanding a little display of unconditional love. Then again, it was her right. Three of them were flying off on big adventures the next day, and Tibby was launching her career at Wallman's in scenic Bethesda for five cents over minimum wage.
"Fine," Carmen said benevolently, handing them over.
Tibby absently hugged the pants, slightly deflated at getting her way so fast.
Lena studied them. "Are those the pants you got at the secondhand place next to Yes!?"
"Yes!" Carmen shouted back.
Tibby unfolded them. "They're great."
The pants suddenly looked different to Carmen. Now that somebody cared about them, they looked a little nicer.
"Don't you think you should try them on?" Lena asked practically. "If they fit Carmen, they aren't going to fit you."
Carmen and Tibby both glared at Lena, not sure who should take more offense.
"What?" Bridget said, hopping to Lena's aid. "You guys have completely different builds. Is that not obvious?"
"Fine," Tibby said, glad to be huffy again.
Tibby pulled off her dilapidated brown cargo pants, revealing lavender cotton underwear. She turned her back to her friends for the sake of drama as she pulled on the pants. She zipped, buttoned, and turned around. "Ta-da!"
Lena studied her. "Wow."
"Tibs, you're such a babe," Bridget proclaimed.
Tibby tried not to let her smile get loose. She went over to the mirror and turned to the side. "You think they're good?"
"Are those really my pants?" Carmen asked.
Tibby had narrow hips and long legs for her small frame. The pants fell below her waist, hugging her hips intimately. They revealed a white strip of flat stomach, a nice inny belly button.
"You look like a girl," Bridget added.
Tibby didn't quarrel. She knew as well as anyone that she looked skinny and shapeless in the oversized pants she usually wore.
The pants bagged a little at her feet, but that worked for Tibby.
Suddenly Tibby looked unsure. "I don't know. Maybe somebody else should try them." Slowly she unbuttoned and unzipped.
"Tibby, you are crazy," Carmen said. "Those pants are in love with you. They want you for your body and your mind." She couldn't help seeing the pants in a completely new way.
Tibby threw them at Lena. "Here. You go."
"Why? They're meant to be yours, " Lena argued.
Tibby shrugged. "Just try them."
Carmen could see Lena glancing at the pants with a certain amount of interest. "Why not? Lena, try 'em."
Lena looked at the pants warily. She shed her own khakis and pulled them on. She made sure they were buttoned and sitting straight on her hips before she glanced in the mirror.
Bridget considered.
"Lenny, you make me sick," Tibby offered.
"Jesus, Lena," Carmen said. Sorry, Jesus, she added to herself reflexively.
"They're nice pants," Lena said reverently, almost whispering.
They were used to Lena, but Carmen knew that to the rest of the world she was fairly stunning. She had Mediterranean skin that tanned well, straight, shiny dark hair, and wide eyes roughly the color of celery. Her face was so lovely, so delicately structured, it kind of gave Carmen a stomachache. Carmen once confessed her worry to Tibby that some movie director was going to spot Lena and take her away, and Tibby admitted she had worried the exact same thing. Particularly beautiful people were like particularly funny-looking people, though. Once you knew them you mostly forgot about it.
The pants clung to Lena's waist and followed the line of her hips. They held close to the shape of her thighs and fell exactly to the tops of her feet. When she took two steps forward, they appeared to hug each of her muscles as they shifted and moved. Carmen gazed in wonder at how different was their effect from Lena's bland uniform of J. Crew khakis.
"Very sexy," Bridget said.
Lena snatched another peek at the mirror. She always held herself in a slightly awkward way, with her neck pushed forward, when she looked in a mirror. She winced. "I think maybe they're too tight," she said.
"Are you joking?" Tibby barked. "They are beautiful. They look a million times better than those lame-o pants you usually wear."
Lena turned to Tibby. "Was that a compliment somewhere in there?"
"Seriously, you have to have them," Tibby said. "They're like . . . transforming."
Lena fiddled with the waistband. She was never comfortable talking about the way she looked.
"You are always beautiful," Carmen added. "But Tibby's right . . .you look . . . just . . . different."
Lena slid the pants off her hips. "Bee has to try them."
"I do?"
"You do," Lena confirmed.
"She's too tall for them," Tibby said.
"Just try," Lena said.
"I don't need any more jeans," Bridget said. "I have, like, nine pairs."
"What, are you scared of them?" Carmen taunted. Stupid dares like that always worked on Bridget.
Bridget grabbed them from Lena. She took off her dark indigo jeans, kicked them into a pile on the floor, and pulled on the pants. At first she tried to pull the pants way up on her waist, so they would be too short, but as soon as she let go, the pants settled gracefully on her hips.
"Doo-doo-doo-doo," Carmen sang, hitting the notes of the Twilight Zone theme.
Bridget turned around to look at her backside. "What?"
"They're not short; they're perfect," Lena said.
Tibby cocked her head, studying Bridget carefully. "You look almost . . . small, Bee. Not your usual Amazon."
"The insult parade marches on," Lena said, laughing.
Bridget was tall, with broad shoulders and long legs and big hands. It was easy to think she was a big person, but she was surprisingly narrow through her hips and waist.
"She's right," Carmen said. "The pants fit better than your usual ones."
Bridget switched her butt in front of the mirror. "These do look good," she said. "Wow. I think I may love them."
"You've got a great little butt," Carmen pointed out.
Tibby laughed. "That from the queen of butts." She got a troublemaking look in her eyes. "Hey. You know how we find out if these pants are truly magical?"
"How?" Carmen asked.
Tibby jiggled her foot in the air. "You try them on. I know they're yours and all, but I'm just saying, scientifically speaking, that it is impossible for these pants to fit you too."
Carmen chewed the inside of her cheek. "Are you casting aspersions on my butt?"
"Oh, Carma. You know I envy it. I just don't think these pants are going to fit over it," Tibby explained reasonably.
Bridget and Lena nodded.
Suddenly Carmen was afraid that the pants that hugged each of her friends' bodies with loving grace would not fit over her upper thighs. She wasn't really chubby, but she had inherited her backside directly from the Puerto Rican half of the family. It was very nicely shaped, and most days she felt proud of it, but here with these pants and her three little-assed friends, she didn't feel like standing out like the big fatso.
"Nah. I don't want them," Carmen said, standing up and getting ready to try to change the subject. Six eyes remained fixed on the pants.
"Yes," Bridget said. "You have to."
"Please, Carmen?" Lena asked.
She saw too much anticipation on her friends' faces to drop it without a fight. "Fine. Don't expect them to fit or anything. I'm sure they won't."
"Carmen, they're your pants," Bridget pointed out.
"Yeah, smarty, but I never tried them on before." Carmen said it with enough force to ward off further questions. She pulled off her black flares and pulled on the jeans. They didn't stop at her thighs. They went right up over her hips without complaint. She fastened them. "So?" She wasn't ready to venture a look in the mirror yet.
Nobody said anything.
"What?" Carmen felt cursed. "What? Are they that bad? She found the courage to meet Tibby's eye. "What?"
"I . . . I just . . ." Tibby trailed off.
"Oh my," Lena said quietly.
Carmen winced and looked away. "I'll just take them off, and we'll pretend this never happened," she said, her cheeks flushing.
Bridget found words. "Carmen, that's not it at all! Look at yourself! You are a thing of beauty. You are a vision. You are a supermodel."
Carmen put her hand on her hip and made a sour face. "That I doubt."
"Seriously, look at yourself," Lena ordered. "These are magic pants."
Carmen looked at herself. First from far away, then from up close. From the front and then the back.
The CD they'd been listening to ended, but nobody seemed to notice. The phone was ringing distantly, but nobody got up to get it. The normally busy street was silent.
Carmen finally let out her breath. "These are magic pants.

From the Hardcover edition.

Reader's Guide

1. The novel opens and closes with a first-person narrative by Carmen. Why do you think the author selected this character to frame the story? If you could change it, would you select another character, and if so, what would he or she say? Or do you think Carmen’s is the best viewpoint to begin and end the novel?

2. “For some reason our lives were marked by summers. . . . Summer was the time when our lives joined completely, when we all had our birthdays, when really important things happened” (p. 5). What is the significance of the Sisterhood’s first summer apart? Why is it so important that the four friends have individual adventures? Do you think they would have remained close if the Pants had not been a part of their lives?

3. Of the four girls, whom are you the most like? The most different from?

4. Epigraphs (short quotations) from a variety of sources—song lyrics, remarks by real-life personalities, fictitious sayings by the novel’s characters—are used to separate sections of the book. Which one is your favorite and why?

5. Carmen’s discovery of a new blond stepfamily comes as quite a shock. How could her father have better handled this news? Would it have made a difference to Carmen?

6. In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey sees what the world would have been like had he not been born. Author Ann Brashares has said that the character of Bailey was inspired by this film. How would Tibby’s life have been different if she had not met Bailey?

7. Lena is described as quite beautiful. How do you think this affects her friendships? Have you ever been friends with someone who is noticeably more or less attractive than you are? How did it make you feel?

8. Bridget feels powerful as she pursues Eric, but her actions leave her fragile and uncertain. Do you think that by the end of the story, Bridget is able to take back some of her power? Why or why not? What role do you think Bridget’s friends will play in her recovery?

9. In the novel, the Pants take on a life of their own. Each of the girls in turn feels loved and comforted by them, as if the Pants were a creature or a person. Do you believe that the Pants are really looking out for the girls? Or is what the girls sense a manifestation of their own emotions? Or is it some combination of the two?

10. Each of the girls is very different from her friends and has widely ranging talents: Lena is a painter, Tibby is a filmmaker, Bridget is an athlete. But their talents don’t define them so much as send them off in different directions. Carmen is more of an enigma; what would you say her talents are and where do they take her in the novel?

11. If you were given the Pants, what rule governing their use would be the hardest for you to keep? Rule 10 is “Remember: Pants = love. Love your pals. Love yourself” (p. 25). How is this rule observed by each member of the Sisterhood in the story? How is it broken?

12. In the epilogue (p. 293), Carmen says, “What happened in front of my friends felt real. What happened to me by myself felt partly dreamed, partly imagined, definitely shifted and warped by my own fears and wants.” Have you ever felt that way? How does it feel to see yourself reflected in other people?

13. The novel’s settings are varied—Baja California, Greece, South Carolina, and Maryland. By the end of the book, each of the girls has had a revelation that has a lot to do with where she has been. If you could spend a summer in one of these places, which would you choose? If you could spend a summer anywhere in the world, where would you go? Would you want your friends with you or would you rather travel solo?

14. What does Carmen mean when she says that she, Lena, Tibby, and Bridget are the real Septembers (p. 7)? What is it about their friendship that convinces Carmen they won’t drift apart the way their mothers did? Fast-forward ten years . . . do you think the Sisterhood will still be inseparable? What are the bonds that will help their friendship endure? Will the Pants still fit them? If not, will it matter?

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Q & A

Q: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, your debut novel, received many awards, much critical praise, and adoration from readers of all ages. What are your thoughts on its success and why do you think it
resonated so strongly with readers?

A: Its success has been a wonderful surprise each step of the way. From the outset I tried to keep my expectations very low. I know how hard it is to get a book published, let alone have it succeed. I’ve read many excellent books that did not succeed commercially. Here I give credit to the publisher, Random House, and to the booksellers. They supported the book wholeheartedly. To the extent that it has resonated with readers, I am grateful for it. I sense that they have responded, more than anything else, to the unconditional love and loyalty that the Sisterhood represents.

Q: A list of main characters in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants could include the Pants. They’re not just a symbol of the strong bond between the four girls, but they also take on a life of their own, becoming a caretaker in some scenes or even a benevolent higher power. What inspired you to write about such a magical pair of jeans? Was it based on a real-life experience?

A: I love the idea of taking a bunch of big, abstract concepts—love, honesty, power, magic—and stuffing them all into a mundane, concrete, everyday object. The Pants are that object. I’ve always loved the idea of enchanted clothing. I like to imagine that clothes can hold transformational power, and that somehow they can hold memories and emotions in their fibers.

The Pants were, in part, inspired by a real story—that of a friend and colleague named Jodi Anderson, who did actually share a pair of jeans with her close friends.

Q: How did you become a writer? What do you love most about writing? What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
A: I still feel self-conscious when I call myself a writer—I haven’t been one for very long. I came to it very slowly and with utmost caution. My career has been spent around books, but for ten years I was too frightened to actually try to write one. I edited them, I wrote outlines for them, I worked closely with authors, I even rewrote big sections of other people’s books on occasion. I always long to master a thing before I feel safe enough to try it. Which is totally illogical, of course.

The part of writing I love most is when I achieve a feeling of deep involvement with a character. It never happens right away. I have to spend a lot of time with a character before I feel that union. I know it has happened when I stop telling my character what to do and she starts telling me. It’s kind of like the Velveteen Rabbit moment when a beloved fiction becomes real.

I also feel self-conscious about giving advice, being rather new to this. But here goes. First, don’t think you can’t be a writer because you haven’t known you were destined to be a writer from the beginning of your life. Writers can become writers at different stages. And yes, some do start early. Second, write about characters you know how to love. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have flaws; they absolutely must. It’s their struggle that makes us truly love them. But be sympathetic. Your readers won’t connect if you don’t.

Q: Your novel is both humorous and poignant. You deal honestly with death, divorce, sex—what sorts of issues would you like to write about in the future?

A: I don’t really think of myself as writing about issues. The stories naturally include issues, but they don’t usually start with them. I like to go after big emotions, and tragedies are often the way to get them. Only I’m not so much interested in racy, headline-grabbing tragedies. I’m more interested in the kinds that happen to people every day.

Q: Which girl would you have identified the most with in high school? Which character do you identify with the most now?

A: In high school I think I would have identified most with a combination of Tibby and Lena—the cautious ones. Now . . . hmmm . . . I think I still identify with the Tibby/Lena combo. I guess I haven’t made all that much progress.

Q: Before the girls set off on their separate adventures, Carmen says “magic comes in many forms” (p. 20). Do you believe in magic? If you could own a piece of magical clothing, what would it be and why?

A: I believe in a subtle kind of magic, I guess. I tend to imbue objects with intentions and abilities—not earthshaking, but modest ones. My son had this pair of pajamas that kept him safe and snug for hundreds and hundreds of nights. With all the washing and folding and putting them on and taking them off, I spent a lot of time with those pajamas. When at last they were reduced to rags and I had to throw them out, I took a few minutes to thank them and kiss them goodbye. That’s a bit strange, I guess.

Which brings me to the magical piece of clothing I would wish to own. I think it would be a garment I could trust to keep the people I love safe. Kind of like fire-retardant fabric, only more powerful and less itchy. But I confess that’s the mother in me talking. As a writer, I’ve designed a fabric that challenges as often as it protects.

Q: One of the prevailing themes of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is the importance of friendship. Did you realize when you were writing the book that it was going to be about friendship, or did this theme develop as you explored the characters during the writing process?

A: The book started with the Pants, and as such, it was always about what was communal and transitional. Which I guess is to say that the book started out being about friendship. What surprised me, in writing it, was how much the individual stories took over. An abstract idea like friendship, inspiring though it may be, is not as compelling as characters coming to life—not to me, at least.

Q: If you could meet only one of the Sisterhood for coffee, who would it be and why? What would you talk about?

A: I think I would choose to meet Bridget. Not because I love her the most (I do love her, but it feels wrong to play favorites) but because she is the one I worry about the most. She has enormous gifts, but she also has some pretty big deficits. Because she hasn’t got a mother, I think I feel more maternal toward her.

That’s not to say that coffee with her would be all serious. Bee’s got buzz even without any caffeine.

Q: An important part of the book is the characters’ self-discovery, but just as important is the characters’ discovery that there is more to other people than what you see on the outside. Carmen realizes there’s more to her dad’s new family than “being blond together.” Tibby realizes there’s much more to those starring in her “suckumentary” than she could ever hope to understand. Lena discovers that Kostos is far from being a stalker. Bridget is the only one of the four who doesn’t make an important discovery about another person. Her experience with Eric only accentuates how little she knows about him as well as how little she understands the mental and emotional consequences of their intimacy. Her journey seems to be the most introspective, and although at the end she’s comforted by the Pants and her friends, she is left very confused. Why did you choose to make Bridget’s story more introspective than the others?

A: Bridget is the character who knows herself least. While the other three characters often look inward, Bee looks out. So, being the taskmaster I am, I sent the other three out, out, out of their (sometimes) selfish and insular worlds, and I sent Bridget in. Her journey toward knowledge had to start with self-knowledge. I wanted to give her an experience that would shake her up. Bee thinks she can be blithe about her intimacy with Eric, but she simply can’t. She is forced to suffer the wounds in the center of herself. And those don’t heal quickly or easily.

Q: Do you have a sisterhood of your own?

A: Not quite like the one I write about. I have very close friends from different times in my life. I have close friends from childhood and high school. I have two close friends from college. I have a play group with other mothers whom I love (including my sister-in-law and my cousin). I would say I have overlapping sisterhoods.

Q: The four friends learn about themselves as individuals by being on their own. They’re forced to be stronger than when they were together. What do you think this means in regard to friendship?

A: Carmen notes that the four girls of the Sisterhood sometimes feel like four parts of one person. Being on her own forces each of the girls to become a whole person, to develop the parts of herself that get less use. Friends are the ultimate support, but they can also insulate you from the world and even stunt your growth. The friendship in this novel proves its power by giving support while spurring the girls toward independence.

Q: Was it difficult to structure the novel by alternating among four unique points of view?

A: It wasn’t really difficult, because I wrote the main part of each girl’s story separately. Toward the end I felt like a movie editor splicing all of my scenes together. When I was done I honestly couldn’t tell if it was a book or a big pile of nonsense. I had one clear operating rule: When in doubt, don’t reorient, don’t recap, don’t rehash. Just throw the reader right into the middle. Chances are she’ll stay with you. My faith in the reader has probably been my best gamble.

Q: Readers certainly will approach the companion books to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants with their own hopes and expectations. How does that affect your writing?

A: I can’t help being affected by that. It’s a great honor to have people care about your book and your characters. You don’t want to disappoint them. It affected me to the point of total paralysis at the outset of writing both the second and third books. But after a while I have to figure it’s my job to write books. It’s my job to figure out what happens to these girls, and if I do my honest best . . . well, what else can I do? Readers so far have been pretty forgiving. And, anyway, once I get started writing, I stop questioning myself and pay attention to the important people—my characters.

Q: What can you tell us about Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood?

A: I can tell you that it takes place right after the girls’ high school graduation and tells the story of their last summer before they split up for college. I can also tell you that Tibby falls in love for the first time and that Bridget once again encounters Eric Richman, the soccer coach. But I’d better be quiet now, before I give too much away. . . .

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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