Like most people, middle school was a weird time for me. I was very introverted and found myself suddenly best friendless when my best friend started dating a kid in our grade who had his own band. After that, I became not so much a loner, as much as a very limited floater. Kids saw me as nice but unapproachably smart. The logic going something like this:
Because she doesn’t speak, she’s never sounded like an idiot.
So she must be really smart.
I was very self-conscious to begin with, but now people thought I was some kind of brain? That only increased the pressure to not make a fool of myself and fly quietly under the radar. Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Flipped, Walk Two Moons, Feed, House of the Scorpion, Uglies… I devoured books all day every day. I loved to read but it also took away the social pressure to try and make friends. Plus, it fit the profile I was assigned which meant that no one bothered me. I floated between a few girls who were as obsessed with Spirited Away as I was and didn’t mind how much or how little I talked, how good I was at Language Arts, or how terrible I was at Algebra.
I started reading Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants because I overheard a girl in my math class saying how much she liked the first book. I can almost remember whipping around in my plastic blue seat. Books! I could talk about books with this girl! We could be friends! And we did, we were. The library only had one copy of each book so we would take turns reading and then we had something to talk about for months. The book we’d just read, the one that was coming out, which character we were most like, how much I loved Kostos, and if our parents would ever fly us out to Greece by ourselves when we were in high school. (They didn’t.)
If you don’t know, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is about four girls: Lena, Tibby, Bridget, and Carmen. They’ve been best friends from birth. Really, from birth! Their moms met in a prenatal aerobics class! They’ve hardly spent a moment apart never mind a whole summer, until their junior year of high school. This summer the friends would be pulled apart by stepfamilies, soccer camps, and a trip to see grandparents in Greece. As fate would have it, Carmen finds a pair of thrift store jeans that fits each one of them. This would be how they stay in touch all summer. The pants would follow each girl on their adventure and be there to witness the joys and sorrows that were in store.
The girls in Sisterhood became my best friends. They were so familiar and alive to me. I found pieces of myself in every one. I was artsy and sarcastic like Tibby, as shy as Lena, emotional as Carmen, and when I felt safe I could be as spirited and charming as Bridget. During such a strange time, I had found a place where I belonged. It felt like these girls were always right where I was or where I was about to be in life. Navigating love, loss, parents, college, and death, it felt like they knew what was going to happen to me and it helped me to know it had all had happened to them too.
I loved these books so much that I began reading them every summer until sometime in high school when had required summer reading books. I can remember a few: Jane Eyre, Rebecca, My Antonia, The Jungle... My oldest friend Mary and I would spend days at her house reading through these books. We’d swim in her pool and take breaks to dramatically read passages from books we found so boring. At the end of summer, we’d watch the movie versions and talk about which was better. We usually felt both versions were confusing and uninspiring. This was the trade I had made those summers: bad books for good friends.
I ended up in a group of funny, complicated, intelligent young women who loved me for all of my weirdness, brains, and emotional outbursts during high school. I had found my sisters. We didn’t have magic pants but I think prep school was just as compelling a bonding agent.
There are a few books that I love, but none other have this true feeling of existing as a part of me like those in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. Every so often, I find myself pulling out these books when I feel farthest from home and my high school friends.
Now is one of those times! I’ve accepted a job in Oregon that features a lot of firsts for me. Like health insurance, a salary, and no end date! I am getting more excited as time goes on (and a little more anxious about finding a place to live) but I can tell you that when I wake up in the middle of the night feeling lonely or stressed out, it’s these books I go for. The girls always felt a little braver when it was their time to wear the pants and rereading these books helps me feel a little braver too.