“I think the hardest things to talk about are also the most important things to talk about.”
~Abby Watkins, via Sarah Pekkanen in These Girls
It’s no secret that I adore Sarah Pekkanen’s novels. She has a very real, very relatable, very resonant writing style, and along with it comes a plethora of characters you literally can’t help but love. In her new book, THESE GIRLS, we’re once again treated to a cast who makes us wonder, makes us reflect, makes us feel. It’s been a few days since I finished reading and yet I still find myself thinking about the characters – imagining what their lives will go on to be, considering how their journeys tie in to so many of our own, feeling hopeful and invigorated by the lessons they’ve taught. And – I’ve said this before – isn’t that the mark of an amazing book? When it resounds so far beyond the last page and stays with us awhile? Lingers in our minds and memories?
Because these characters, these girls – Cate, Renee, and Abby – absolutely linger. Their stories, both individual and together, linger. Their friendship lingers. And it inspires, too. It reminds us of the people we’re lucky to have in our own lives, the friends who truly become the family we choose. That’s what Cate, Renee, and Abby are to each other. In a way, they’re thrown together by chance. Cate and Renee both work for Gloss magazine, Cate as the newly-appointed features editor and Renee as an associate editor campaigning for a promotion, and share an apartment on the Upper West Side. When their other roommate moves out, Abby – reeling with pain after she flees her job, her life, her whole world down in Maryland – moves in. Abby’s wounds are open and raw, cutting deep into her soul. It’s obvious to anyone who meets her, and though Renee and Cate are battling some scars of their own, they welcome Abby into the fold with open arms.
It’s a delicate balance at first. Each woman has personal demons she’s trying valiantly to keep buried inside. Cate secretly wonders if she’s good enough for such a prestigious career – and if the dark spots of her past will come to light, ruining her chance at the future. Renee secretly wonders whether appearances are reality – and if changing how she looks on the outside will impact how she feels on the inside. Abby secretly wonders how her life could have taken such a downward spiral – and if she’ll ever be able to climb back up. At first, they’re hesitant to share these struggles. Even as they try to help one another, they build walls around their own hearts and their own insecurities. Both the beautiful thing about friendship is that it grows. It nurtures. It opens us up to possibilities and relationships we never expected. Slowly, but steadily and surely, the women open up. We learn that Cate never graduated college, that Renee has a half-sister she never knew about until nearly three decades after the fact, that Abby fell in love – and fell hard – with her married boss. We learn who each woman was, who each woman is, and, perhaps most importantly, who each woman wants to become. Add to that a flirtatious editor-in-chief, a dangerous diet pill, a charmingly sweet baby, and a man who has ties to all three friends, and you have an equation for intrigue and insatiable reading.
Watching friendship grow for Cate, Renee, and Abby, watching them help each other, watching them forge bonds that will forever be tied tight, is a treat. As each of them blossoms, we can feel ourselves doing the same. One of the things I love most about this book is that it reminds me of all the people I’m so blessed to know, the friends who have come into my life for a reason and changed it for the better. These are the people I can tell anything to – because, as Abby realizes, sometimes the hardest things to talk about are also the most important ones. Sometimes we need an ear to listen and a hand to hold. Like these characters, we all have our struggles. But keeping them buried inside? It only gives them power. When we talk them through, we understand that there’s always hope and always goodness. And, as Sarah so insightfully and eloquently shows, goodness is found in the people we hold most dear. These girls she writes about? They’re you, they’re me, they’re us. And that is why this novel’s a must-read.