Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What We're Reading: Lauren meets The Girls from Ames

One day a few weeks ago, a customer came in and asked about The Girls from Ames. Written by Jeffrey Zaslow (who co-wrote The Last Lecture with Randy Pausch), The Girls from Ames chronicles the lifelong friendship of eleven women from Ames, Iowa. The customer was an older woman, from Ames herself, and she was curious to read about a generation of women from her hometown.

I have to admit, I hadn't heard anything about the book before she asked about it, but the cover caught my attention as I pulled it from the shelf for her; I think it was the photo of the Ames girls in the corner. My mother is one of four sisters, and something about that photo reminded me of so many others I'd seen of my mom and her sisters in their teens, lined up in a row and posing for the camera. The girls reminded me of them, youthful and bright with an exciting future ahead, and I found myself wondering where life had taken this row of smiling girls, and whether their friendships had endured. After selling the woman our last copy, I immediately ordered one for myself.

The Girls from Ames introduces us to Karen, Cathy, Marilyn, Kelly, Sheila, Sally, Jenny, Jane, Karla, Angela, and Diana, and tells us the story of their friendship, often in their own words. Two of the girls, born days apart, "met" in infancy; the last to join the group did so in ninth grade when her family relocated to Ames. In addition to the intricacies of how the girls came together, we learn the stories of their families and backgrounds (and the one behind their group moniker the "Shit Sisters"); we follow them through summer jobs and dates in high school, through husbands and children and careers that have left them scattered across the country, through laughter and tears and the death of one of their own.

In addition to the stories that comprise a lifetime of memories for these women, the book is also a rumination on the nature and importance of female friendships. The girls' friendship often speaks for itself, though at many times throughout their story they pause to reflect on the positive influences of their friendship in each of their lives. Zaslow then highlights these experiences with insights into the larger role of friendships between women, citing various studies that have explored connections between female friendships and life expectancy, divorce, and more. He also brings to their story the "outside" perspective of a male writing about women, a fact that does not go unacknowledged.

I couldn't help but fall in love with this book, and to see in the girls from Ames reflections of my own friendships with other women throughout my life. It sounds cheesy, but it made me feel like part of a larger network of women, a sisterhood of sorts--and then it made me want to call my friends from high school and college who I haven't spoken to in a while.

Recommended for: Any woman who's ever had a female friend; any man who's ever wanted to know what the heck is up with women and their friends; anybody who enjoys a good memoir or is looking for a heartfelt read.

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