Summary (with spoilers): The subtitle of The Girls From Ames pretty much sums up what this book is all about: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship. Jeffrey Zaslow got the idea for this book from a Wall Street Journal column that he wrote. In the column, he talked about the importance of friendship among women, and received lots of emails and letters from women regarding their own friendships. He decided to attempt a more comprehensive portrait of enduring friendship, and chose to write about a group of 11 girls from Ames, IA, who have been friends for 40 years.
The book starts off by talking about how the girls met. Some of them were mere babies when their parents put them together in the church nursery during Sunday worship. Others met in elementary school or junior high. The final member didn’t enter the fold until high school. In total, there were 11 girls in the clique — and 10 remain friends today. The other died in her early twenties.
The girls from Ames are Marilyn, Karla, Sheila (now deceased), Kelly, Jane, Diana, Cathy, Sally, Karen, Jenny, and Angela. Zaslow tries to give each of the women a fair amount of coverage, but some are featured more prominently than others. Marilyn, for instance, is memorable because of the way she came into the world. After her parents lost their young son in a devastating car accident, her father tried for years to get his vasectomy reversed (uncommon in those days) so they could have another child. Marilyn was the result. Sally was another of the girls that stood out. She was always a bit of a fringe player, even back in high school. Then, thanks to a mean-spirited “intervention”, a bunch of the other girls essentially kicked her out of the group for being too much of a square. They eventually made up, of course, but that anecdote was striking for its cruelty.
Zaslow portrays both the ups and downs, the highs and lows of the friendship. So we hear about the good (the weddings, the babies, the jobs, the promotions) and the bad (divorces, loneliness, miscarriages, abortions, the death of a child or parents). Through it all, the women remain the closest of friends, even though they are now separated from each other by thousands of miles and various career and family demands. They keep in constant contact via email and telephone, meet for a reunion at least once a year, and are there to support each other no matter what happens.
- I thought this friendship was pretty amazing. It’s hard enough for two or three people to remain friends through all of life’s twists and turns, but for 10 women to stick together like this? That’s definitely a rarity.
- It was great that so many of the girls documented their friendship in the form of scrapbooks and photos. They had so many pictures, notes, letters, and later, emails and footage from digital camcorders that it seemed relatively easy to reconstruct their friendship from the earlier days. All this documentation must have played a part in Zaslow’s decision to profile the girls.
- I liked how the women came off as regular people. They weren’t sad sacks of the type that you’d see on Jerry Springer, nor were they wonder women who have high-powered careers and a million dollars in the bank. Some have careers, some are stay-at-home moms. Some are married, some are not. Some have children, some do not. It’s a good mix, and makes it much easier to identify with them.
- I think Zaslow did a good job of presenting the girls/women in a positive, yet flawed light. Obviously these girls were pretty clique-y when they were in high school, and Zaslow doesn’t shy away from talking about what other students thought of them. And even though they didn’t let other people into their clique, I didn’t get the impression that the girls were outright bitchy. Again, there seemed to be good balance here.
- The story of Karla’s daughter Christie was absolutely heart-wrenching.
- There were just so many “characters” involved that it was impossible to keep track of them all. I read this book on my Kindle, so it’s not like I could flip back to the index to remind myself which name went with which face. As a result, it took a long time to get invested in what the women were going through (though it did eventually happen).
Overall, The Girls From Ames was a surprisingly good read. It wasn’t chock-full of drama or romance or action, but that’s because it was based on real-life and didn’t follow a Hollywood executive’s idea of what makes for a compelling story. The women come off as ordinary, while their enduring friendship comes off as extraordinary. I give it 4 stars out of 5.