Let’s call them the original Gossip Girls. In Cristina García’s first young adult novel, three wealthy and adventurous ninth-grade girls from different worlds converge upon a Swiss boarding school for a summer of discovery. Vivien Wahl is the Miami-reared daughter of a Jewish Cuban exile father. Shirin Firouz is from Tehran, the treasured girl and math genius in a family of older brothers. Ingrid Baum is a bad girl queen bee from Canada, the daughter of German immigrants.
The book begins in 1971, which means World War II has touched the parents of all these girls directly; Vivien’s Papi filled her with stories of what the Germans had done to him 30 years earlier. The Shah is still in Iran, and the second wave of feminism is in its early phases. Politics are mostly a backdrop but provide a vivid landscape.
As the girls go through the paces of an elite summer boarding school — horses to ride, water ballet routines to learn and soufflés to coax to heights of perfection — they begin to compose lives that break convention at every turn. It’s fun to see how first loves, elaborate pranks and truant behavior give birth to the grown-up versions of the characters who appear at the novel’s end…
Click here to read the rest of the review from the New York Times.
In this standout coming-of-age novel beginning in 1971, García (I Wanna Be Your Shoebox) hones the voices of three characters from vastly different backgrounds who forge transformative friendships over three summers in an exclusive Swiss school. As the rebellious, sexually adventurous, and acerbic 15-year-old Ingrid observes, “Whoever thought that Switzerland was the epicenter of neutrality never spent time in a fancy girls’ boarding school there.” Together, Ingrid; studious Shirin, from a well-born Iranian family; and Cuban-born Vivien navigate romantic entanglements, test boundaries, uncover budding passions (Vivien is a burgeoning chef, while Ingrid discovers a talent for photography), and help each other through crises. The girls’ personal awakenings feel organic, and the narrative handles mature themes well, including abortion, family connections to Nazis, and sexual awakenings. García’s boarding school setting feels vibrantly alive, an international home away from home that readers should find as magical as do the protagonists. The structure—in three books, each with an epilogue—feels a bit neatly packaged, but the power of sisterhood and female friendships shine. Ages 12–up. (July)
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Friendships are often forged in uncomfortable environs, when individuals who wouldn’t ordinarily meet are forced to interact. Such is the case in “Dreams of Significant Girls,” a young-adult novel that unfolds in a Swiss boarding school and makes roommates of three girls from radically different backgrounds.
Without the advantage of money, it’s unlikely that Shirin (the daughter of an Iranian prince) would have met Ingrid (a Canadian juvenile delinquent) or Vivien (a Cuban American whose parents’ marriage was on the rocks). Yet fate threw the young teens together in the same cramped room to endure a friendship ritual that, as one character noted, inevitably involved discussions about their fathers’ work, the locations of their familyies’ second and third homes and what cars they’d be getting as birthday presents once they’d reached legal driving age in their home countries.
Click here to read the rest of the article from the Los Angeles Times
Brought together each summer at a boarding school in Switzerland, three girls learn a lot more than just French and European culture. Shirin, an Iranian princess; Ingrid, a German-Canadian eccentric; and Vivien, a Cuban-Jewish New Yorker culinary phenom, are thrown into each other’s lives when they become roommates. This is a story of 3 paths slowly beginning to cross and merge as they spend the year apart, but the summers together. Through navigating the social-cultural shoals of the school, developing their adolescence, and learning the confusing and conflicting legacies of their families’ past, Shirin, Ingrid, and Vivien form an unbreakable bond.
Like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, this story takes readers on a journey into the lives of very different girls and the bonds that keep them friends.