The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship
As I became immersed in The Girls from Ames, I started to view it as a collective memoir of eleven women who have been friends since they were young girls in Ames, Iowa. While I expected to find the book a worthwhile read, I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I could relate to in this book. I found the story of these women both touching and humorous as I read it, prompting a reflection on my own female friendships over the years. The older I get, the less I take my friendships for granted, and I felt somewhat envious that these women, who were all born in the early 1960s, had maintained such a strong bond of friendship throughout marriage (sometimes more than one), children, cross-country moves, joy, heartache, and tragedy.
What takes this book beyond the memoir genre is that Zaslow has approached the topic of female friendship with the zeal of a journalist and sociologist, and the heart of a father of three daughters. In addition to telling the story of the way the friendships evolved over decades, he provides added context in the form of research that has been done on the struggles women face at different stages in their life (i.e., teen and college years, young mothers, mothers of teenagers, divorce, midlife changes, and stages of grief) and how female friendship can be an antidote to the trials and tribulations we all encounter as we progress through life. Some of the women reflect on their own "mean girl" tendencies as teenagers now that they see their teenage daughters dealing with mean girls and other complexities young girls face in today’s world.
At the end of chapter one, Jenny, whose father was an insurance executive who pored over actuarial tables and statistics on a daily basis, recalls how he warned her as she was about to leave for the University of South Carolina not to be surprised if her friendships didn’t survive the passage of time: “My guess is in fifteen years, one of you will be estranged from the group. Two of you will be divorced. One of you will still be single, one of you may be dead. You have to expect that. Because that’s how life works.” Zaslow writes that Jenny and her father still remember that conversation “where they were sitting, how her dad’s words hung in the air in the darkness, and how she sat there thinking he had to be wrong.”
I understand why The Girls from Ames has become a national bestseller and inspired women to form reading groups to discuss the book with their friends. Female friendship has the potential to be powerful, healing, and transformative. Zaslow has captured that sentiment in this book.