Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Girls From Ames - 40 Years of Friendship & Counting - BOOK REVIEW

The Perfect Title for Moms & High School or College Daughters to Read and Discuss

by Janis Brett Elspas

Reviewer’s Note: For inspiration and for all photographs in this post (except for the book cover at left), I felt it was essential to visit Ames, Iowa myself -- where the story of The Girls From Ames began -- during our family road trip from California this summer.  

When it comes to having the opportunity to review books that are best sellers like The Girls from Ames - A Story of Women & a Forty-Year Friendship my curiosity was piqued from the project's start.  Not only was the aforementioned title named to People magazine's Top 10 Books of the Year, it also made the New York Times Bestseller List (the latter honor, for both the original hard cover first published in 2009 and for the updated paperback just released in Spring 2010),

Why, the question beckons, is a title about childhood girlfriends from Iowa -- still just as connected today even though they are now well into their mid-40s -- being so well-received? After all, those of us who are women ourselves, were once girls too and most of us also have maintained at least a few close ties with groups of friends from our own childhoods over the years as we've aged.   

So, what is it that makes this particular book such a stand-out?

After reading just the introduction and first few chapters it was easy to see why.   On the surface, The Girls from Ames possesses all the hallmarks of an intriguing novel.   For one, it has interesting, multi-dimensional characters – each of whom is both perfect and flawed – girls and women which appear real to us and which we can find ways to relate to.  Truly, the girls I'm talking about here: Karla, Kelly, Marilyn, Jane, Jenny, Karen, Cathy, Angela, Sally, Diana, and Sheila, are involved players in a fascinating story line. 
The book's plot ranges from triumphant to tragic, trivial to deeply meaningful, animated with all the peaks and valleys of youth, romance, high school, marriage, divorce, aging, life and death intertwined. And that's not even to mention all the times when the girls' friendships went through their own ups and downs. With all that drama and depth, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this book is not a made-up tale.  It is non-fiction and that is precisely the reason it hits home for women like me.

In all fairness though, the outstanding quality of the manuscript cannot be wholly attributed to the book's engaging real life characters.   In reality, I think the teller of their story -- Jeffrey Zaslow who also co-authored the #1 best seller The Last Lecture --  is what really launches The Girls from Ames high into the literary stratosphere.  After all, without Zaslow's masterful use of words and his amazing abilities to research the complexities of past and present relationships in this book, on top of his humility and inquisitiveness as a man about the secrets and wonders of female friendships, I doubt that I or many other women, would feel the least bit interested to read a true story about a seemingly popular group of Baby Boomers and all the things they experienced together as youngsters and as adults, up to the present day.

Lastly, you may still be wondering, how did my visit to Ames, Iowa this summer influence this review?  Actually, I really didn't know what to expect before I arrived there.  All I knew was that I had to visit this place myself -- for some inexplicable reason -- before I could complete this book analysis.  Driving into town in late July, I discovered the Main Street of the Ames that closely resembled the one I had just finished reading about.  

The girls' former hometown has grown significantly.  In 1960, according to the U.S. Census, Ames was home to about 27,000 residents.  By 2008 the population had more than doubled to more than 56,000.  No longer a small town and more like a small city, it has understandably been touched somewhat by the modern advances seen elsewhere in the U.S.  Yet to the eyes of visitors to this community which was built around the Iowa State University and a patchwork quilt of corn fields, it appears to be far from succumbing to the urban ills that big city dwellers like me have to live with every day.  

As Main Street in downtown Ames came into view and then surrounded my kids and I, we immediately saw and felt the strength of the quintessential American small town.  Namely, a sense of community that even in this day and age seems ideal for fostering healthy and long-lasting relationships especially among friends not unlike those in The Girls From Ames.  

In all honesty, I guess I have to conclude that a yearning for nostalgia and my own small town roots played an equally active role in my analysis and appreciation of this book.

The Girls From Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow, $16, is published by Gotham Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)

FTC Disclosure: MommyBlogExpert received a copy of The Girls From Ames for this book review but did not receive any payment or other compensation associated with this post.  In addition, for research purposes MommyBlogExpert traveled by car to Ames, Iowa at her own family's expense.  She further discloses that she grew up in a small town where everyone knew each other, but now lives in a major metropolitan area with her hubbie and kids.  See complete FTC Disclosure information that appears at the bottom of MommyBlogExpert's main page and at the bottom of every individual post on this blog, including this one.

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