At age twelve, my entire personality could be summed up like this: 'not as cool as I thought I was'. Luckily for me, some of my friends were even nerdier. Which meant that we defined cool in deeply uncool terms, like who had the largest Sweet Valley collection or whose scrunch-dried perm was biggest. Or, who discovered a new series of teen books first.
In the race to be coolest, the Sisters series by Marilyn Kaye was a double-edge sword for twelve-year-old me. See, I was the first in my group of friends to spot book one, Phoebe, on the shelves of our local bookstore. But I was also lousy at managing my finances, and since the great discovery occured right after I'd splashed out on jellybeans and extra-hold hair mousse, I could only watch mournfully as my infinitely more spoiled BFF snagged a copy there and then.
The first awesome thing I noticed about the Sisters series is that on the back of each title, you got a mini character bio for each of the 'lively Gray girls' who made up the quartet. That's Phoebe, aged 11 who isn't into the whole 'growing up' deal; twelve-year-old Daphne, shy and studious (well, duh! She's the only sister wearing glasses); Cassie, 13, beautiful and therefore a trainee airhead; and fourteen year old Lydia who is like, principled and stuff. What's so awesome about that? Well, since this kind of series about a group of very different friends or sisters inevitably leads to the 'which one are you?' conversation, the Sisters series lets you play that game without even opening the book. Since I was basically a poor judge of character at the time, I at once picked out Cassie as my potential role model. And when I finally read the books, the themes of Cassie's story - about peer pressure and the need to fit in - made it the one I identified with the most.
Except I haven't got a copy of Cassie. I've got a copy of Phoebe. Rereading it this week, I was surprised to find that the youngest Gray sister's story has not only stood the test of time, but I actually like it better now than I did the first time round. Phoebe is the youngest in her family, and on returning from a summer away at camp she's bewildered by her besties' sudden interest in 'dumb stuff' like clothes and boys. I remembered her as a bit boring compared to Cassie and Lydia, but looking back I think this might have been because at twelve I couldn't relate to her concerns about growing up at all. Newsflash: I can sure relate to them now.
Not only that, but Phoebe is also a story about book-banning. Feeling isolated from her friends, our Pheebs starts volunteering at the library. She enjoys reading to the little kids, and the only time her boycrazy buddies swing by is to pick up the latest Betsy Drake book.
Now, these aren't the type of books that Phoebe likes, because they're about girls 'talking about bras and getting their periods'. But when some of the local parents want the books removed from the library because they're trash and they don't want their daughters reading about such matters, Phoebe makes a stand. She organises a peaceful protest, because she is so not down with random parents thinking they can decide what other people's kids are allowed to read.
And neither am I, so I'm thinking that this basically rocks. Also, Phoebe goes one better than the would-be banners and actually reads the Betsy Drake books so that she can form an educated opinion, which ends up helping her to understand where her in-a-hurry-to-grow-up friends are coming from. All in all, Phoebe is the kind of book that values the kind of books I loved as a teen. And I love it for that.
Verdict: this reread way exceeded my expectations. It's cute and it's smart, and it has way more to say than most of the series books I read in high school. This one's a win.