Picking up ten years after the end of the fourth book, Forever in Blue, this all-grown-up extension of the series introduces us to the 29-year-old versions of the Septembers. Carmen is living in New York and has scored a recurring role on a crime show; she's engaged to and living with a man whom everyone else finds insufferable. Lena lives alone and teaches art classes; she has almost no friends and is essentially a recluse. Bridget lives with Eric in San Francisco and works various odd jobs; any hint of commitment or stability sends her running away from her life. Tibby and Brian have lived in Australia for two years and she hasn't had a lot of contact with the other three until she sends them plane tickets for a Sisterhood reunion in Santorini, Greece. What the girls discover there and the ways it changes their lives, shakes them out of their routines, changes the Sisterhood in extreme ways.
It's hard to review this one without a few major spoilers, but I intend to do just that because it really is best to go into this book a bit blindly (unlike the way I did it). Sisterhood Everlasting is an emotional book not only because of the characters and events contained within it, but also because, as the jacket flap of the book says, the friendship between these girls "became a touchstone for a generation." That's true, and because of that an unbiased, impersonal review is nearly impossible. I started reading the first of this series in junior high and the intense friendship the girls shared was hard not to get caught up in. Brashares has a way of writing her characters as real, complete people with strengths and weaknesses and mistakes all their own. I always connected most closely to Tibby and Lena and the relationship of the four girls was immensely personal to me. As with all fiction that I read, I related and connected the Sisterhood to my real life and the people I most cared about.
When I found out that Ann Brashares had written a fifth sisterhood book, one meant for the adult instead of YA market/demographic, I couldn't leave it unread. I liked how Forever in Blue ended, but there was no way I could let the continued lives of these girls go on without me. And, I think, this is probably how a lot of readers feel about it.
My thoughts on the book itself are conflicted. I love these characters and I will never not love them, but between the YA series and this new book (which works as a stand-alone though it definitely loses much of its context) something went wrong. Their lives did not end up, at 29, at all the way I would have expected and sadly it felt contrived. None of the girls are married, none of them have children, and the issues they're dealing with at 29 seemed the same as the issues they'd dealt with as teenagers. It was as if much of the progress they'd made individually (and together) since The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was lost or simply erased in order to make way for this new book, and that rubbed me the wrong way. Though it makes some sense for them to be struggling because Sisterhood Everlasting really is about the girls entering adulthood, it was still a bit much. The issues you have at 29, even if you're still growing up, are not the same ones that you would have had at 16 and this book forgot that.
I wanted, and expected, grown-up versions of Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bee. I wanted to know about the lives they'd forged for themselves -- successes and failures and careers and families. What was Bee doing and did she have children? How had Lena found happiness for herself and was she any closer to her sister? Were Tibby and Brian still together? Did Carmen have a daughter, a husband, a family? But no, these girls are stuck somewhere between the past and the present and the future, unmoored and floating. Bridget is, at one point in the story, homeless. She still runs away from what she needs. Lena is reclusive, living alone and guarding herself from happiness for fear of getting hurt. Tibby hasn't spoken to her best friends in years. Only Carmen, whose fiance I didn't hate nearly as much as the girls did, has some of her life together. But even she has distanced herself from her family, her friends, and who she truly is. There were so many moments in this book when I wanted to yell at the self-sabotaging characters, to snap them to reality. To have the lives they deserved and should have had instead of the lives they ended up with.
That said, there were elements of this book that absolutely, positively were amazing. The immense love between the Sisterhood is not always at the forefront, but when it is the emotions, characters, and relationships are arresting. They're beautiful. Ann Brashares' writing is straight-forward and without frills but somehow this makes certain moments and certain emotions hit even harder. This is a tear-jerker of a novel. Even if some (much?) of it feels contrived and the characters don't feel as authentic as I'd like, there are more than a few moments of startling honesty and raw, honest emotion and actions that help to make up for the book's flaws. Additionally, while I've always always haaated the Lena and Kostos relationship, this book goes a long way towards redeeming it in my eyes. Explaining just why would spoil parts of this book, so suffice it to say that I have always, always wanted Lena to be happy.
So did I like this book? Yes. Yes, but I had, as you can tell, some pretty big issues with it. It broke my heart and there's definitely a large part of me that thinks it was an unnecessary addition to the Traveling Pants story and series; I would have preferred to imagine their adult lives the way I think they would have gone. But, since the book was written and published, there was no way I could pass it up. I don't really want to recommend it or not recommend it because for previous readers of the original series the characters and their stories are so personal that reading or not reading Sisterhood Everlasting is really a decision you have to make for yourself.