Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood - Rebecca Wells

Years ago I rented the film adaptation of the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (with Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd, Maggie Smith and Kiersten Warren) and really loved the story so, when I came across the book in the secondhand bookshop I had to pick it up.

The book tells the story of four women, Vivi, Teensy, Necie and Caro who when they were young girls created the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The girls document their adventures in a scrapbook. Many decades later Vivi's daughter Sidda takes a break from her work and boyfriend because she's stressed and scared to commit. A big reason for her fear is the far from ideal relationship she has with her mother Vivi, which goes from bad to worse after Sidda's words in an interview get twisted. The Sisterhood pulls together and convinces Vivi to send Sidda the scrapbook. While Sidda leaves through the scrapbook, we uncover along with her the many scrapes the girls got into back in their day.

In the book, Rebecca Wells explores the intricate bonds that form between the four young girls. A big part of their lives is shaped by the deep South where they grow up in. Vivi and Teensy both have black servants and nannies and while Vivi's mother has a quite liberal and friendly approach to her staff it becomes painfully apparent what time they're living in when the girls see Teensy's mother treating her maid like a slave. Wells doesn't shy away from some of the more irksome situations that (especially Southern) America finds itself in during a time when things are changing but some of the people in charge might not be willing to go along with it. Her descriptions of the town, houses, dresses and everything else are extremely vivid. When Sidda comes back home to her parents, you can smell the peaches in the air and hear the cicadas chirping.

What makes the story really special is how lovingly she describes the girls and their experiences. You really feel as if you are Sidda uncovering the secret lives of these women you have known since you were little. It is touching yet feels slightly wrong, as if you're reading somebody's diary. Some of the revelations are shocking, some are romantic and sweet, others are hilarious and bit by bit you come to really love the girls as Sidda comes to love and understand her mother better as a person.

I am no longer friends with anybody from my childhood, I don't think I ever had such a close bond to any of my girlfriends but after reading this I really feel as if I get it. I get why these women stayed together through their entire lives, forging bonds so strong no husband could ever come close. At times I felt jealous of their relationships and the seemingly romantic time they lived in, other times I was glad I wasn't in their shoes. I felt for Sidda, I know how hard it is to deal with a difficult mother, but I mostly loved reading about the four wonderful, quirky and interesting girls.

I recommend this book to any girl who wants to immerse herself in a world where girlfriends are the most important thing, whether you have had friends like that yourself or not. The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is one of the best books I've read that explores these relationships. It's never cheesy, it's never like a chick-lit. Also, if you've already seen the movie and loved it, the book is really worth checking out for all the bits that were left out of the script. I feel Divine Secrets is a must-read for any woman who isn't content with the general work on offer for them, but still wants to read a very female story.