Sunday, May 11, 2008

Crimes of the Sarahs

This is one of those books that turned out to be completely different from what I thought it would be. I knew this was about a group of suburban girls who commit crimes, so I assumed it would be a dark tale of girls gone wrong, cheerleaders knocking over conveneince stores or holding up banks. Although the teen girls in this book do commit crimes, theirs are of the petty (and overly elaborate) kind, carried off more for the joy of the planning than the importance of the items actually stolen. To my surprise this novel was not dark at all but really very funny.

Now juniors in high school, the Sarahs have been a clique since the 6th grade. All four girls are named Sarah--one has had to change her name legally to fit in--and are led by the blonde, self-confident (but not as confident as the others think) Sarah A. The clique is dysfucntional to say the least. Among other rules, Sarah A. has demanded that they all take a Purity Vow. This is about to change as they enter "The Guy Phase." The Sarahs can't seem to do anything normally, but they are mostly unaware of how weird they are. And since they seem so perfect--beautiful, high achievers in school, community volunteers, unattainable and pure--few people suspect how dysfunctional they truly are. Much of the hilarity of the novel comes from the narrator, Sarah T., who certainly isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and whose status in the group is thrown into question. To prove her worth to the group Sarah T. steals one of those donation jars from a local convenience store and fails to take the security camera into consideration. Thus her bright yellow volkswagon is caught on film. But Sarah T. is much more worried about potentially not being a Sarah anymore than about being caught. (Sarah T. has always had anxiety about the crimes--one of the funniest parts of the book is her habit of wetting her pants in times of stress.) As the other Sarahs move away from Sarah T. she is forced to confront the possibility of a life without a group. Who is she? What does she really want? What is important to her?

The book could have been a real downer, but the humor saved it. This is a fun but also thoughtful book about the bonds of friendship, the psychology that goes into being a follower rather than a leader, and ultimately the importance of thinking for oneself. Not every reader is going to get the humor. It's more subtle than all readers will understand. Sarah T. certainly isn't perfect and though by book's end she's made some big changes she hasn't transformed into a completely independent thinker. I liked that her change was done in "baby steps." I also liked that Sarah A. doesn't undergo a miraculous transformation either. The book felt realistic and satisfying in its conclusion.

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