The latest 'Girls in Pants' is an excellent fit

This may go down as the summer of the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." First there was the popular movie based on the first novel by Ann Brashares. Now, readers - from adolescents to adults - are devouring the newest "Pants" book on subway trains and on the beach.

What's all the excitement about?

"Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood" provides the answer.

One hint: The secret isn't just the special bluejeans shared by the four teens who've been friends since they were babies. Yes, that thrift- store find does make each of the girls look good - despite their differing sizes. And yes, the pants, used during summer months only, keep the foursome close when life takes them in different directions.

In "Girls" the friends believe that they need the pants more than ever, to cement their bond before they head to college in the fall, and to help them deal with some complicated situations before then.

Carmen accepts a job that's a bit of a challenge. She also learns that her mother, recently married, is expecting a baby.

Lena has been admitted to art school, but her father refuses to pay her tuition. He wants his daughter to study something more respectable and useful.

Tibby, who will be a filmmaking student, wants her friendship with Brian to stay the way it is. But he, a former geek who has suddenly become handsome, wants to be her boyfriend.

And Bridget, brokenhearted two years earlier when Eric dumped her, becomes a camp counselor, only to realize that she and Eric will be working together.

The first chapter is a bit sluggish, but from then on the story is sheer pleasure. The intertwining plots move easily, seamlessly, and each character is fully rendered and believable. (That isn't always the case in teen fiction.)

Brashares has the wonderful ability to understand her characters deeply, as if she isn't just imagining them but remembering every detail of their lives. She captures nuances beautifully, so that even minor characters are distinctive and memorable.

As the story progresses, the reader begins to suspect that the teens don't really need the "magical" pants. The magic in this series comes not from the jeans but from the characters and the author.

Elizabeth Lund is on the Monitor's staff.

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