Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women & a Forty Year Friendship - Jeffrey Zaslow


When I graduated from high school, I ran like hell. Call it a rebellious "I need to broaden my horizons beyond this one-horse town" kinda thing, but I thought I knew it all in my ignorant youth. In the 25 years since my graduation, I've always gone back to visit my parents but never stayed in touch with my friends. Until recently. I think with age, we begin to turn inwards, and appreciate our own history and the paths we have taken that have made who we are today.

There were about a dozen of us that formed a morphing and versatile group of friends. We were in sports together, we traded boyfriends, we patted each other's backs when we had our hearts broken. But when we left Seeger High School, we all went in different directions. Some married and had children right away, some never left Warren County, some went out of state and never came back, some went a little bit crazy. Only when Facebook came in the picture did a group of us become reaquainted, and realized that the differences we felt when we were 18 didn't matter anymore. Four of us found in each other common ground, a safe haven of women who understood each other's frailties and knew each other's skeletons, and loved each other anyway. For this reason, I was drawn to the story of The Girls From Ames.

This is a powerful story of a group of 11 girls, many of whom were friends from their youngest years, growing up in Ames, Iowa. They were a tight clique who often dressed alike and inspired a few enemies who envied their relationships. In pictures, the girls were always squished together, appearing to be one mass of arms and legs, whether they were 15 or 40.

Through the author, a Wall Street Journal columnist, we are provided in-depth backgrounds on four of the women, and various personality traits and escapades of the other seven, along with pictures of them as children, graduating seniors, and as adults. The girls share their memories...the cornfield keg parties, the boyfriends, the influence of pop culture (particularly the 80's), their high school jobs. Their group wasn't always perfect. They could be mean, even to each other, but they managed to to forgive and stay close.

But instead of running away, like I did, these girls stayed in touch over the years, with reunions of their own on a regular basis. They were there for each other when they each got married (once is still single), when one died in a tragic accident, when they had children, when they lost children, when two of them got cancer, when one of them divorced. It is an undeniable support system of women who know each other before they became mothers and wives. This is a feeling that I understand now more than ever, and that I treasure.

I can't say the book is outstandingly written, nor is it satisfyingly complete. There are some girls in the group for which we are given very little information, and I'm assuming this has something to do with their need for privacy. So the information can feel one-sided at times. Nevertheless, the story is heartening and presented many parallels to my life that made their stories mine. It also just reinforces the power, beauty and the near-religious experience of a girlfriend, and that you need it in your life like air and water.


4 out of 5 stars

22 comments:

Melody said...

Thanks for sharing, Sandy!
I love books that make me reminisce about something from my past.

caite said...

I can't say I am a reminiscer (hmmm..I doubt that is a word)
I will admit after 9-11, I did contact the alumni group from my high school, but except for the most superficial contact, I have little desire to keep in touch,
But that might just be me.
Not thinking this is a book for me..

but nice review!

farmlanebooks said...

I have kept in touch with a few people from school. I love the way you see a person develop through life. Unfortunately we have all moved away from each other, but we still try to meet up once a year. The fact I met my husband at school also means we have twice the incentive to meet up with old school friends! I'm not sure the book is for me, but I do encourage people to keep in touch with old friends - it is wonderful to have a group of people to reminisce with!

Kim Frazier said...

Chalk it up to sentimentality or more likely hormones but this blog brought tears to my eyes! I can't wait to read this one. I did not realize just how many similarities it has to our rebonding! I left our little highschool wanting to be anonymous and just blend in. Now I am grateful for those that knew me then and are getting to know me again!

Molly said...

Truthfully....I enjoyed reading your personal memories more than I think I would like reading the book. Why don't you write one: The Girls from Seeger High :)

bermudaonion said...

I love the concept of this book, but have heard that the writing is not all that great. I moved around as a child, and my parents have moved since, so I don't really have a "home" to return to. Having said that, I have kept in contact with 2 very good friends from my childhood and know they would be here in a second if I need them.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

Great review sandy! You have a fabulous gift, the way tat you can bring the personal to your posts and comments in such a great way. I love reading both!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Totally agree with Nicole!

This book sounds like it would make a great movie too!

Zibilee said...

I also chose to run after high school, and haven't really made many connections from my past as of yet. It's kind of nerve-wracking for me at times. I have thought about reaching out, but I tend to sometimes think the past should stay in the past. I am also worried about if my overtures would be well received. It's been a long time since high school, and I am not sure just how my friends have changed. Since I am listed only under my married name on the internet, it's probably hard for them to find me as well. Just a lot to think about and consider. I am always encouraged to hear stories like yours though, it gives me a little more hope about it all!
All that being said, I am not really sure if I would like this book. It sounds like The Necklace. Have you read that one?

Staci said...

Even though I didn't enjoy this book, I liked how your personal experience shaped this read for you!

C.B. James said...

I've little to no desire to look back at high school. There are people I've lost touch with that I would like to reunite with from later in life. I've stayed away from Facebook out of fear that it will suck up all of my free time, but a group of Yalies want me to join. I'll be signing up and creating my own page probably later today or tomorrow.

Who knows what will happen then.

Kathleen said...

AMEN! This book (while far from perfectly written) made me get in touch with one or two friends that I had fallen out of touch with. It is hard to beat hanging out with that person who knew you when you were a silly teenage girl!

ds said...

I'm with Molly. This doesn't sound like the book for me, but your adventures...most interesting, indeed!

There are 4 of us from high school who can pick up at any time and have years of separation vanish. Otherwise...

Catherine Ensley said...

What you shared about yourself was more interesting than the story and, from what you said about the quality of the writing, your post was much better written. Very nice!

Alyce said...

I enjoyed reading about your experiences. The group of friends I was with broke apart that first year of college. We all got together twice (in the first few years after college) and then most went their separate ways. A couple of them have moved back to our hometown and they do things together now. I would love to renew those friendships someday, but most of them are still distant acquaintances.

The Bumbles said...

Thank you for such a personalized review. I can totally see how this book's subject matter drew you in and made a strong connection for you. I have a small group of my best buddies from high school that I see or touch base with once a year or so. Not always all together but in one collection or another. We don't try to be each other's best friends anymore because we are all spread out and have face to face BFF's now in this level of our lives. But there is never any awkward reunion - it is as if all those years and miles melt away instantly. I love them dearly and they love me too. That is special and I feel lucky to have them.

Darlene said...

I'm glad you connected with this book in that you could see yourself reconnecting with your friends which I think is so awesome by the way. I didn't like it as much as you did. I felt that it was almost too impersonal to me - I would have liked more depth to the characters I guess.

The Empress said...

Nice to meet you. Came over from Trisha's, and I look forward to keep up with your blog, too.

Iliana said...

I keep hearing really good things about this book. I have to say it's not at the top of my list probably though because I feel like I have this -- I'm still best friends with my high school girlfriends. We have gone on trips together, we email or talk regularly and now that we all live in different cities we still see each other at least once a year. Hey, maybe I should write our own story - haha... And, I like Molly's suggestion. You should write your own story of how you reconnected with friends!

Jenners said...

I'm a lot like you ... I wasn't great a keeping in touch. But you're right ... when you get older, you begin to look backwards a bit more and think about the people who were there when you were becoming you.

I've seen this book around and it does sound like an interesting idea.

Alice Teh said...

Facebook rocks! I reacquainted with a lot of friends from school and former workplaces too through Facebook. You always have a way of making your book reviews stand out and personalized. I love that.

Melissa M said...

High school just doesn't have much appeal to me. There is literaly one person in my whole school I keep in touch with. While I can understand the appeal of reminising, I think there are better choices for my limited reading time.