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Several years ago, a work colleague mentioned to Ann Brashares that she and some girlfriends had once shared a pair of pants during a summer.
Brashares, then an editor at a New York publishing house, immediately thought that the story would make a great book. So Brashares, a mother of three young children who had never written a novel, sat down and wrote The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
Published in 2001, the book was a huge hit with teenage girls, who loved the way Brashares used a pair of pants to represent the intense, unbreakable bond of friendship shared by four teens named Carmen, Lena, Bridget, and Tibby.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants quickly climbed up the bestsellers' list and made Brashares an overnight literary sensation. Since then, Brashares, who has a philosophy degree from Barnard College in New York, has published two sequels, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, which was released in 2003, and the just-published Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood.
Now, the series, which has sold more than 2 million copies, is getting an extra dose of attention with the release of a new movie based on the first book.
"I think teen girls really like these books because the four protagonists are a genuinely diverse bunch of true friends," says Sophie Brookover, the senior children's and teen librarian at the Camden (N.J.) County Library.
"The issues each of the girls faces - romantic love, blended families, sibling rivalries, death of loved ones, and so on - are true to life, and the characters handle them in realistic ways.
"Plus, with four protagonists, there's something to appeal to every reader in each of the titles," Ms. Brookover adds.
But there's one audience that doesn't seem drawn to the books - boys. "I have not seen a single boy even pick up one of these books," Ms. Brookover says. "The books are uber-girly."
Kathie Fitch, a librarian at Rachel Carson Middle School in Herndon, Va., and a member of the Young Adult Library Services Association's "Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers" committee, says students like the books "because they don't always end the way you want it to end, but they always end so you are positive about it."
The "sisterhood" of the four protagonists of the books begins before birth, when their mothers meet during a class for pregnant women. The girls (plus Bridget's twin brother Perry) are born within a short time of each other, and their mothers form an instant support group.
The mothers' friendship dims as their children grow older, but the bond between the girls strengthens.
As the first book opens, the girls are 15 and about to spend their first summer apart. As they get ready to say good-bye, the girls decide to try on a pair of thrift store jeans that Carmen had bought one day and then forgotten. Magically, the jeans somehow not only fit each of their very different bodies, but also accentuate just the right physical attributes for each girl.
The girls then decide to create the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," complete with a set of 10 rules, including "You must never wash the Pants" and "You must never let a boy take off the Pants (although you may take them off yourself in his presence." The rules end with: "Remember: Pants = love. Love your pals. Love yourself."
Ms. Brashares is at work on a fourth book in the series. The book is the last she has planned in the series, although she readily admits that may change.
Meanwhile, she's grateful that her Sisterhood books have resonated so clearly with teen readers. "I sense that they have responded, more than anything else, to the unconditional love and loyalty the Sisterhood represents," Brashares says.
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