A traveling-pants-esque novel for younger girls, 3 WILLOWS has a promising premise. Three girls (Jo, Polly, and Ama) became best friends on a fateful day in third grade when their parents forgot to pick them up from school. For years the girls were incredibly close, but by the end of eighth grade (when the book picks up), the three have drifted apart. Jo's en route to being high school royalty, Ama's well on her way to following in the footsteps of her Princeton-bound older sister, meanwhile Polly seems to be the only one holding on to the friendship both other girls have given up on. Unlike the girls with the magic pants, these three have already drifted apart and this book is much more about them each coming to their own realization over the summer before high school -- who they are, who their friends are, and what's truly important to them.
I had hopes for this book, I admit, because Ann Brashares original series is so good, so inspired. This offshoot, however, seems to lack that spark of magic inherent in the traveling pants series. The characters here, despite their very different stories, roles, and personalities, don't seem all that defined. Jo has the most depth, with the backstory of her dead brother and parents going through a separation, but even with this the three girls' voices mostly tend to blend into one. And though there are a few stand-out relationships (Jo's summer romance has a certain amount of spark, as does Polly's relationship with her mother towards the end of the book), for the most part nothing here really jumps out.
This book does bring back some of our old favorites from the Traveling Pants series (most notably Effie, in a less-than-stellar role for a character I utterly love) and pays homage to the sisterhood in a few ways I wasn't expecting, but it always feels a bit tacked-on. Like a spin-off television show that failed to deliver on its promises.
This dull, overall feeling of meh carries over into the rest of the novel. The book definitely isn't what I'd call "bad" in any way, but it's also not so good. It just sort of is. An enjoyable enough read, especially since it goes quickly, but not a title to put at the top of your list. Young girls (and the rest of us) would be much better of reading (or rereading) the Traveling Pants series.