3 Willows is written for a younger audience than the Traveling Pants books; it’s aimed more towards middle schoolers. The characters have just graduated from eighth grade and are trying to figure out who they are and who they will become. Polly is the daughter of a single mother who spends all day in her art studio. Polly is desperate for a past, since she has never known her father. She latches onto the idea of becoming a model because someone casually mentioned that her grandmother had been a model. Ama is a scholar, an over-achiever, someone who loves knowledge for the sake of achievement, rather than learning. Her older sister has set the standards high, having entered college at the age of 16. Ama has gotten into a prestigious summer program – except she’s assigned to the one that involves hiking and camping in Wyoming. So incredibly far outside her comfort zone. Jo is working as a busgirl in a restaurant by her family’s beach house. She is trying to get in with the “in-crowd”, especially since these will be the girls to know come the fall in high school, but she finds herself in way over her head.
I enjoyed this book, but not as much as the Traveling Pants books. I didn’t really get a sense of the friendship and connection between the girls before they were off on their separate ways and drifting apart. Without that foundation, the book lacks something. I loved Ama’s story as she struggled to adjust to a world with hiking boots and tents and without her beloved hair products. Jo’s story also caught me, because who hasn’t desperately tried to fit in with those the world has deemed “popular”? Polly’s story. . .I don’t know. I just never really got a grasp of who Polly was. She didn’t seem three-dimensional enough. Her personality traits kept changing. I did enjoy the casual entwinings of this book and the Traveling Pants series. They take place in the same town, and the Traveling Pants girls are somewhat of a legend to the middle schoolers. Lena even drops in for a cameo appearance at Jo’s restaurant. It’s nice to get even a small glimpse of them again.
The book ends as you would expect (no spoilers here): the girls all pull together and become the friends they need each other to be. It was a satisfying, but not especially profound, read. Just the perfect thing for a long train ride to Chicago. Everyone needs to be reminded just how important their friends are.