Friday, April 1, 2011

Spotlight on the UCF Book Festival: The Girls From Ames - Jeff Zaslow

Today's highlight for the UCF Book Festival is "The Girls From Ames" by Jeff Zaslow. This is a book I reviewed last summer, and I have re-posted my thoughts here.


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


Zibilee said...

I remember reading this review when you posted it back then, and I have to admit that I didn't know that the book would be featured at the festival. I am not sure that I would necessarily relate to this book, as I am not one who stayed in touch with anyone from that time in my life. I just wanted to get away and change myself, you know what I mean? In theory, I think it's nice that all these women stayed close, but I can't imagine having done that in my own life.

Michele said...

I left my one horse town as soon as I could, too. Never looked back. Nor did I keep in touch with anyone ( not quite sure why), but I sometimes wonder if I missed out on something special there.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I remember the review too! And like Heather, I can't imagine it either, although it sounds appealing.

bermudaonion said...

I can't wait to read the full report from the book festival!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

You went to high school in West Lebanon! I have a friend who is a teacher there now. I visited the town and couldn't believe how tiny it was. I don't blame you for running.

Swapna said...

I haven't kept in touch with many of my friends well, and I regret that sometimes. I think I might enjoy this book, despite the fact that it's dissatisfying at times.

Kathleen said...

I felt about the same as you did about this one. It wasn't a GREAT book but it did encourage me to get back in touch with a few old friends so I guess I can say that it inspired me!