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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review : The Girls From Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow

I was recently given the opportunity to review The Girls From Ames, the best selling non-fiction book by Jeffrey Zaslow which chronicles the lives of eleven childhood friends and their amazing 40 year friendship.

From the Penguin Group Website:

"Meet the Ames Girls: eleven childhood friends who formed a special bond growing up in Ames, Iowa. As young women, they moved to eight different states, yet managed to maintain an enduring friendship that would carry them through college and careers, marriage and motherhood, dating and divorce, a child’s illness and the mysterious death of one member of their group. Capturing their remarkable story, The Girls from Ames is a testament to the deep bonds of women as they experience life’s joys and challenges -- and the power of friendship to triumph over heartbreak and unexpected tragedy."

My experience reading The Girls From Ames could be somewhat described as the equivalent of overhearing some eye-widening gossip while watching a reality show-Lifetime special hybrid. Actually, it turns out that Lifetime Television is adapting the book into a movie, no shock there. To be succinct, The Girls From Ames is an entertaining read but not a particularly educational one, though the book could be categorized as "self help" in a sense. Interspersed throughout the pages are statistical and scientific data supporting the idea that strong friendships make us happier and healthier. The ultimate take home message being that friendships are extremely important to women, both emotionally and physically. While this theme has been rehashed many times in television, film and books, The Girls From Ames provides us with a unique window to a real life example of how these ideas hold true... a case study in the form of a story.

It turns out that the story reads something like a women driven version of "The Wonder Years". While the Wonder Years gave people a fictional, emotionally driven look into the world of suburban teens living the late 60s/early 70s, The Girls From Ames gives a non-fictional, emotionally driven account of rural teen life in the late 70s/early 80s. The accounts in The Girls From Ames are split about evenly between the 70s and the present. The "flashback" sections focus mainly on the social interactions of teenagers: the cliques, the rivalries, the partying, parents, pettiness... all the stuff we loved and all the stuff we wish we could forget. The "present" sections focus on the tragedies and triumphs of life and love: relationships, family, death, illness. However, in both the past and present we find a recurring theme- situations that might have torn weaker friendships apart have actually worked to strengthen the bonds between the girls and their friendship.

The Girls From Ames will resonate most strongly with women in their 40s who have experienced the times, situations (parenting, marriage, etc.) and places (growing up in the Midwest) that the Ames girls have. However, readers who don't happen to fit that demographic will find that the book still causes them to stop and think deeply about their friends, their family, the present and the future.

**I was sent a copy of The Girls From Ames courtesy of Penguin Group for review purposes and allowed to post my thoughts at my discretion. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this post. All opinions expressed here are mine.**


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