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Posts Tagged ‘daughters’

mother daughter book club series heather vogel frederick

I discovered the Mother-Daughter Book Club series by accident, stumbling onto the first book at Books-a-Million in West Texas. I was in the mood for light summer reading, and the cheery pink-covered paperback promised just that: a tale of four middle-school girls and their mothers in Concord, Massachusetts, who form a book club and read Little Women (my childhood favorite!) together.

The daughters are wary of their mothers’ project at first, but they end up loving the book and each other’s company so much that they decide to keep the club going. Five books later, they’re smack in the middle of high school, and with their sixth adventure hitting shelves next month, I decided to visit them in Concord again.

Narrated in turn by the girls (bookish Emma, farm girl Jess, fashionista Megan and tomboy athlete Cassidy), the books give us several perspectives on the authors and books the club reads. The literary musings (and “fun facts” collected by Emma’s mother, who is a librarian) are interwoven with the daily dramas of middle and high school, life in small-town New England with their families, and each girl’s private struggles and dreams.

These girls (even snooty Becca, who joins the club in seventh grade and finally gets to share in the narration in tenth grade) are innocent, perhaps a little naive. There are no drugs or curse words, and very little rebellion, in the books. But their sunny simplicity matches their club’s classic reads, and keeps the focus on the books rather than on any serious teen angst. (After Little Women, they move on to Anne of Green Gables; Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs; Pride and Prejudice; and my beloved Betsy-Tacy series.)

All five daughters have mostly intact families and loving relationships with their mothers, even though (like all teenagers everywhere) they are embarrassed by their parents sometimes. Despite being rather sheltered, they are thoroughly modern, with cell phones and crushes on boys, and a disastrous fashion blog plays an important role in Pies & Prejudice, the fourth book.

I love these books partly because the characters and setting (not New England, but a friendly small town) remind me of my childhood. I grew up with two parents who loved each other (and me) deeply; I fought with my sister sometimes, but she was always one of my best friends; and we could hardly go to the grocery store without running into someone we knew. I navigated the insecurities and drama of adolescence with the help of my parents, a handful of close friends, and my beloved books.

And that is the other reason I love these books: they embody the idea that literature can change your life, or at least infuse it with more joy, more sparkle, more zest for living, more courage.

None of the girls, except Emma (daughter of a librarian, and an aspiring writer) care much for books when the series begins. Jess loves animals and singing and science; Megan designs and sews clothes, and loves to shop; and Cassidy is a hockey nut who’s still grappling with the death of her father and a cross-country move. They don’t expect to enjoy Little Women (or Anne, or Daddy-Long-Legs), but all of them eventually fall in love with the heroines of these classics, realizing that despite differences of time and geography, Jo March and Anne Shirley and Elizabeth Bennet face the same struggles they do.

The book club motif gives the characters plenty of chances to discuss the books, which means they not only gush about the heroes and heroines, but learn to appreciate the minor characters, from Mrs. Rachel Lynde to Mr. Collins, and Betsy Ray’s merry crowd of friends. Similarly, the minor characters in this series are great fun, from the girls’ parents and siblings to their boyfriends, a couple of grandparents, teachers and friends. It’s a pleasure to revisit Concord (even more so since I’ve now been there myself), and spend time with not only the five narrators, but the whole cast of characters.

If you’re in the mood for some frothy, literary fun, I highly recommend these books. The girls are tackling Jane Eyre next, and I can’t wait to visit England – and hang out in Concord – with them.

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I’m starting to miss Gilmore Girls.

It’s been a month since I finished the seventh season of that charming show, which included all sorts of heart-pounding events that gave us clues to Rory’s (and everyone’s) life after college graduation. I’ve been savouring the show episode by episode since September, laughing frequently and welling up at the more tender moments. And the complete set is now on my Amazon wish list – though I know I’ll never spend the money to buy it for myself. (Maybe I’ll buy the seasons one at a time.)

I was a late convert, a skeptic. Several of my girlfriends used to get together to watch new episodes on Tuesday nights, and I only went once and didn’t enjoy it much. I didn’t know the characters, or their stories, and I didn’t much care. I didn’t like the idea of hanging out just to watch a TV show together. And I thought the Gilmores were impossibly, unrealistically witty, and they talked too fast.

Well. I stand by those two assertions – no mere mortal is that witty all the time, and they do talk incredibly fast – all the characters, not just Rory and Lorelai. But now those things are endearing instead of irritating, and Stars Hollow is one of my favourite fictional places to visit.

Why do I love it so much? There are numerous reasons, not all of which I can quite explain. For one, I so enjoyed watching the relationship between Rory and Lorelai unfold, deepen and change. Rory is much more like me – bookish, serious and quietly ambitious – and she’s my age – but by the end of the show I identified much more with Lorelai. She’s so much more honest and raw with her emotions, and she’s hilarious, and I wanted so badly for her to settle down with Luke for good, and also to make her peace with both her parents and her past.

I adored the small-town charm of Stars Hollow, and the zany, colorful cast of supporting characters. Miss Patty and Babette, with their inappropriate jokes and loud voices, made me laugh; Lane was a fantastic best friend and her relationship with her mom was an intriguing counterpoint to Rory’s relationship with Lorelai. I hated Michel and Paris at first but eventually grew to love them, and I adored Sookie from the start. I loved Gypsy and Andrew and Jackson and Kirk and the other, smaller characters; Taylor irritated me, but he was part of the fabric of Stars Hollow. And, of course, I adore Luke Danes. Behind that solid, gruff exterior is a great sense of humor and such a steadfast heart. He was always perfect for Lorelai, even when he was “just” her coffee man.

Richard and Emily Gilmore, Rory’s grandparents and Lorelai’s parents, also surprised me. There are few TV shows that feature such complex and interesting older characters. My mouth dropped open in shock at so many things Emily said, but after a while I began to understand and even sympathize with her, sometimes. I saw echoes of my relationship with my parents in the connections between all three generations of Gilmores: the misunderstandings, the laughter, the fights and the making up. And the love.

I loved the way Gilmore provided a fresh take on so many issues that, seemingly, have been done to death. Teenage romance, jealousy and friendship; academic competition; parenting and being parented; even, at times, drinking and sex and open rebellion. (Jess Mariano, anyone?) There are more, but this isn’t really an issues-driven show. It’s a character-driven show, and the main reason I love it is because its two main characters are my friends.

I often remarked to Jeremiah this winter that Gilmore felt more like a book to me than a TV show. There were so many words, for one, and for another, the show is all about story. It didn’t need flashy special effects or exotic locations or even earth-shattering events to make it real and funny and completely compelling. It was simply the stories of all these people, intertwined, who care deeply about one another, trying to live in a way that matters and that makes them happy.

Months after first watching some of them, lines and scenes from episodes linger in my head. I half believe that somewhere, Sookie is chopping vegetables in the Dragonfly Inn’s kitchen, and Miss Patty is encouraging her latest class of dancers to “be leaves” or float like butterflies, and Lane is tending to her babies and Luke is pouring Lorelai a bowl-like mug of coffee. I’d love to hop a plane to Hartford and drive to Luke’s from there, and meet Lorelai for breakfast – coffee for her, tea for me, and some of Luke’s famous pancakes.

I’m sad that there isn’t any more Gilmore to watch, in a sense – I’ve watched every episode, and most of the bonus features, too. But I’m glad they live on in my heart and mind, and glad that I can rent the seasons or buy them, and they’ll be there for me to watch again.

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