Sarah Pekkanen’s These Girls

If I could describe Sarah Pekkanen’s These Girls in as few words as possible, it would go like this: reading this book is like having a group of sisters who will always be there to help you through your dark moments.  The term “sisters” doesn’t have to be blood; more often than not your core group is people who do not share your DNA, but rather people who share your heart.  And that is exactly what this story is about, finding friendship.  Finding people who you can open up with, and really delve into yourself – past and present.  People who will stand by you and help you through anything.

These Girls is the story of three women, Cate, Renee and Abby, who share an apartment and come together in friendship when they are in need.  We are first introduced to Cate and Renee who, aside from being roommates, are also coworkers at Gloss magazine in New York City.  In the beginning of the book Cate and Renee are practically strangers.  They barely interact at work and it seems even less so in their personal lives.  Much, much later (towards the end) we learn that they had become roommates by Cate posting an ad in their magazine’s version of an inter-office-online bulletin board.  They live in a small three bedroom apartment with another roommate who is even less visible than they are.  So much so, that I forget her name.  Early on, that roommate moves out and, as a favor to Trey, who is a journalist for a different magazine in the same building, they take Abby in, and she becomes the person that bonds them all together.

The story begins with Cate, who has just gotten a promotion to be the new features editor of the magazine.  She is ecstatic and nervous all at the same time.  It is a huge responsibility after all, and she is qualified to do it, but I feel like she never quite believes that she deserves the position.  Upon her arrival at Gloss a few years earlier, she had to tell them that she hadn’t finished her Bachelor’s degree. She had left college abruptly and fled with her then-roommate to New York City, a few credits shy of graduating.  It was senior year, and Cate had been having an affair with one of her professors.  They only dated for a few weeks, but she really fell for him.  Her falling for him wasn’t the problem though, the problem was that they had been caught by a classmate of hers having sex in his office.  News of this spread among students and staff, she had to visit the guidance counselor, and that professor was fired.  Cate became depressed, skipping classes, paper and exams, and eventually dropping out and heading to New York.  Not a soul knows about this, not even her parents or brother and she’s lied about it to them ever since.

Renee is an assistant editor and wants to get the position of beauty editor, which has just opened up, except she has to compete for it with two other women.  Renee struggles with her weight – which is criticized a lot because she isn’t a size four – taking black market diet pills that could kill her, but they make her drop weight fast and that is all that she cares about.  She recently found out that she has a half-sister who is just a little older than she is.  It turns out that when her parents were first married, her father had an affair.  Supposedly he didn’t know that the woman had gotten pregnant or that she had decided to keep the baby, and Renee has to struggle with whether or not she wants to have a relationship with her half-sister.  If I was in her place, I feel like the person to be mad at is her dad, not her half-sister, although Renee seems to hold anger towards her.  You can’t blame Renee for that, but at the same time, it’s really not her fault.

Trey is a handsome guy who works as a journalist at a rugged-outdoor-guy magazine in the same building as Gloss.  All of the women fawn over him.  He and Renee went out a couple of times, but things didn’t pan out although Renee still has a huge crush on him.  Trey is approached by Cate to do a feature story for Gloss and has a favor to ask of her as well.  His sister Abby has just come to town, she is distraught.  He has to go on a trip for a story and doesn’t want to leave her alone.  Would Cate and Renee mind if Abby stayed with them? 

Abby is a sweet girl who loves children.  She was studying to become a teacher and working part-time as a nanny with a family near her school, living in the basement of their home.  She loves the little girl that she takes care of, and soon comes to love the father as well.  The mother, who works in politics, is barely ever around, and when she is, she is not motherly whatsoever.  Renee slowly feels as if she is taking over that role.  But it is only when she goes home for an impromptu visit with her estranged parents that she puts the pieces of her life together and finds out the dark secret of her past.  Unable to cope, she flees to her brother Trey, and then into Cate and Renee’s world, changing all of their lives forever.

Told in alternating narratives from Cate, Renee and Abby, These Girls touches your heart and takes you back to that time in your life when your past still had a huge hold on you, or if you are still held by it, it helps you to take a step back and address those issues.  You get to know the characters, their hopes and dreams as well as their secrets, and they begin to feel like your own group of friends, always there when you need them.  I personally loved this because I always wished that I had had sisters growing up, or that I had amazing roommates.  I have only brothers and the last roommate that I had was a kepto, but I do have a few close girlfriends that know my deepest secrets and accept me for them (my boyfriend as well).  These Girls is a must read for all women, especially those who are in need of some comfort and to know that they are not alone.

Sarah Pekkanen’s Skipping a Beat

Have you ever reread the last few chapters of a book mere hours after having finished it because the flood of emotions that it left you with was so great that you needed to experience them again because you just weren’t ready to let go?  That is exactly what I did the last week after I finished Sarah Pekkanen’s Skipping a Beat…and I cried both times.  I have to be honest, no matter how much a book affects me – and they do, I’m not one to shy away from laughing, smiling or crying whilst in the depths of one – it’s not often that I do this, in fact, it’s a rare occurrence.  So rare, that I cannot remember the last time I did it, although I do remember the first.

I’m not sure what grade I was in, but I know that I was pretty young.  For an English class, we had to read Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows.  Now, I thought it was one of those books that everyone has to read as a child, but I asked Billy about it last week and he hadn’t even heard of it.  It’s about a young boy named Billy (coincidence) who lives in the Ozarks.  He desperately wanted Redbone Coonhounds (dogs to hunt coons with him), but his parents were too poor to buy them for him.  One day, Billy sees an ad in the paper and resigns to earn the money himself.  It takes him two years, but he finally gets two of them, brother and sister pups which he names Old Dan and Little Ann.  Billy trains the pups to hunt and they go on hunting adventures together, until one day when they trap a mountain lion in a tree.  The mountain lion goes to attack Billy, but Old Dan saves him, though it results in his death.  A few days later, Little Ann, heartbroken, wanders to the mound where Old Dan is buried and dies as well.  I remember being so upset about this that I immediately started rereading the book from the beginning just up until Billy gets the dogs, so that they would be alive again.  I’m sure this may sound funny to some people, Melissa laughed at me when I told her about this, but to me it was very sad, and rereading part of it was absolutely necessary.

Skipping a Beat is about a husband and wife trying to re-find the love that they lost.  Julia and Michael seem to have the perfect life.  Julia owns a successful event-planning company and Michael is the president and founder of Drinkup – an enhanced water beverage that he concocted in the tiny kitchen of their first apartment – which is now worth billions.  They live in a mansion on the outskirts of DC, with his and her bathrooms, attend parties and give to charities.  But something is missing, something they haven’t had for a long time.  In high school, they were known as Mike and Julie, having started dating in their junior year and moved to DC together after they graduated.  They were so much in love and inseparable – they could talk for hours and never tire.  Michael had big dreams of ensuring that they would never be poor again, and succeeded, but is there such a thing as too much?

The novel opens up with Julia setting up an event and Michael having a heart attack.  He dies for just over four minutes, but it is in those little minutes that he makes the decision to change his/their life/lives.  Knowing that Julia couldn’t possibly understand, he asks her to give him three weeks, and she reluctantly agrees.  Throughout that time, Julia is mostly unaccepting and cold to Michael, and takes solace in the company of Isabelle, her best and only friend.  It is only towards the end of these three weeks (and the novel) that she finally lets Michael in.  But unfortunately, it’s too late.  In a chapter that broke my heart, Michael dies and a few chapters later my heart broke again when Julia finds out that he knew three weeks was all that he had left.  But then came the end and I dried my tears and smiled.  Of course, my eyes were blinded with tears once more when I set back to reread the final chapters, but it needed to be done.  Skipping a Beat has nothing in common with Where the Red Fern Grows, except my reaction towards it.  It moved me so much that I needed to read it again, needed to feel the same rollercoaster of emotions – had I read Where the Red Fern Grows now, I probably would have reread the end instead of the beginning.

Pekkanen’s characters are so real and alive, leaping off the pages and engraining themselves into your brain; you love and dislike her characters at the same time – just like in real life.  When they face despair, you cry, and when they find that silver lining, you smile.  Skipping a Beat tugs at your heart.  It shows you that you can find love again once it is lost, but you have to be willing to make the effort because it won’t be easy.  Love, once lost, is hard to regain, but not impossible.  At the core of this novel, that is the message that Pekkanen is sending.  Don’t put things off.  Carpe Diem!  But also, pick up a copy of this book and read it…it really is amazing.