3 Willows by Ann Brashares

When I received an ARC of  3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows I was thrilled, as I am a huge fan of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Somehow, I had managed to avoid finding out that Brashares was even writing a new novel for middle grade readers! Needless to say, when I received the ARC at a publisher’s preview back in November I was very excited. But I held off on reading it until I finished all of my Cybils reading.  Today I sat down to read 3 Willows and absolutely loved it!  Fans of Brashare’s Traveling Pants series will love this new story, as will new readers.

Set in the same town as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, readers meet three new friends- Polly, Ama, and Jo- about to enter high school.  Unlike the sisterhood, these girls are slowly drifting apart.  Middle school pressures like popularity and cliques have changed the girls and their friendships over the years, despite being best friends since 3rd grade.  

Ama is all about school.  Her parents are immigrants from Ghana and education is highly valued in her house.  Like her sister before her,  she’s applied to spend the summer at a camp that will give her high school credit. She’s hoping to be in the research program at Andover or possibly at a Johns Hopkins summer course, but instead finds herself signed up for the outdoor wilderness adventure. Ama is not the outdoorsy type and can’t imagine herself spending the summer hiking and sleeping in a tent.  But when she realizes that she can’t get out of the course without dropping the program, she resigns herself to her fate.  Adding the prestigious program to her transcript will greatly help her get into an Ivy League school just like the program aided her sister.  

Jo is spending the summer at her family beach house and working as a bus girl at a local tourist trap seafood restaurant (a job she got thanks to her popular friend, Bryn). She’s planning to get an “in” with the older girls from the popular crowd who also work at the restaurant.  This way she will start high school as a popular freshman who has upper-class friends. But a summer romance with a hot boy threatens to change all of that.  Plus, Jo is forced to face the changes that are happening in her family and the issues that are starting to come to the surface after years of simmering down below.  

Polly is stuck at home babysitting- both her mother and the kids down the street.   But when her ancient uncle, or maybe great-uncle, tells her that her grandmother was a model Polly is determined to become a model, too. She throws herself into the world of modeling, even beginning to lose dangerous amounts of weight in order to look more like one.  But while she is focused on her new passion, she doesn’t see her mother beginning to slip away from her.  And while Polly is watching out for her friends despite the distance between them now, she learns that sometimes friendships change and people aren’t always the way they used to be.

I absolutely loved this novel!  It’s great for middle grade readers who are struggling with changing friendships and the pressures of middle school.  In the Sisterhood books, the girls were held together at times by the magic of the pants.  While I love the Sisterhood, 3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows seems more realistic and less idealistic- these girls have to work to preserve their friendship.  But they learn that true friends are always there for you, even if you do drift apart.

I also loved the theme of the willow trees throughout the book.  It isn’t overbearing but the connection to nature is really gorgeous.  (Full disclosure here- I also adore the quotes that Brashares uses between chapters in the Sisterhood books!).  The willows were originally cuttings planted by the three best friends in third grade, and like the trees the girls have grown up and are spreading their roots and branches.  And on a completely superficial note, the doodlings of the willow branches on the tops of the pages throughout the book are a great addition and very pleasing to the eye.

Fans of the Sisterhood books will love these new friends who know the story of the Sisterhood and are in awe of the four original girls, now graduates of the high school they will soon attend.  And the cameos made by the original sisterhood will bring a smile to fans’ faces.  But new fans will also love this book, as it stands alone from the Sisterhood series.  You don’t need to have read the original four books to read the Willows story, as the sisterhood is only mentioned a few times and explained briefly.  

Brashares has outdone herself here and I am looking forward to reading more books about the 3 Willows.  Be sure to pick this one up when it is released on January 13th!  I already plan to pass it on to a few of my girls when we head back to school on Monday.