The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship

The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship

by Jeffrey Zaslow


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781592405329
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/06/2010
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 331,424
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jeffrey Zaslow is a Wall Street Journal columnist and, with Randy Pausch, coauthor of The Last Lecture, the #1 New York Times bestseller now translated into forty-one languages. Zaslow attended Dr. Pausch’s famous lecture and wrote the story that sparked worldwide interest in it. The Girls from Ames also grew out of one of Zaslow’s columns. He lives in suburban Detroit with his wife, Sherry, and daughters Jordan, Alex, and Eden.


West Bloomfield, MI

Date of Birth:

October 6, 1958

Date of Death:

February 10, 2012

Place of Birth:

Philadelphia, PA


B.A., Creative Writing, Carnegie Mellon University, 1980

Table of Contents

Introduction 11

A Guide to the Ames Girls 23

1 The Girls in the Photos 29

2 Marilyn 66

3 Karla 101

4 Sheila 128

5 Kelly 151

6 The Things They Remember 184

7 The Intervention 221

8 FBB and Other Secrets 245

9 Defining Love 255

10 "If Not for You" 267

11 The Bonds of Pop Culture 289

12 Their First Child 311

13 Tears in the Ladies' Room 345

14 Cooperation and Appreciation 368

15 News from Ames 404

16 Through Kelly's Eyes 422

17 Mysteries and Memories 457

18 North of Forty 481

19 The Game 497

20 The Women from Ames 509

Acknowledgments 531

Reading Group Guide


From the coauthor of the million-copy bestseller The Last Lecture comes a moving tribute to female friendships, with the inspiring story of eleven girls and the ten women they became.

Meet the Ames Girls: eleven childhood friends who formed a special bond growing up in Ames, Iowa. As young women, they moved to eight different states, yet managed to maintain an enduring friendship that would carry them through college and careers, marriage and motherhood, dating and divorce, a child’s illness and the mysterious death of one member of their group. Capturing their remarkable story, The Girls from Ames is a testament to the deep bonds of women as they experience life’s joys and challenges — and the power of friendship to triumph over heartbreak and unexpected tragedy.

The girls, now in their forties, have a lifetime of memories in common, some evocative of their generation and some that will resonate with any woman who has ever had a friend. Photograph by photograph, recollection by recollection, occasionally with tears and often with great laughter, their sweeping and moving story is shared by Jeffrey Zaslow, Wall Street Journalcolumnist, as he attempts to define the matchless bonds of female friendship. It demonstrates how close female relationships can shape every aspect of women’s lives – their sense of themselves, their choice of men, their need for validation, their relationships with their mothers, their dreams for their daughters – and reveals how such friendships thrive, rewarding those who have committed to them.

The Girls from Ames is the story of a group of ordinary women who built an extraordinary friendship. With both universal insights and deeply personal moments, it is a book that every woman will relate to and be inspired by.



Jeffrey Zaslow is a Wall Street Journal columnist and, with Randy Pausch, coauthor of The Last Lecture, the #1 New York Times bestseller now translated into forty-one languages. Zaslow attended Dr. Pausch’s famous lecture and wrote the story that sparked worldwide interest in it. The Girls from Ames also grew out of one of Zaslow’s columns. He lives in suburban Detroit with his wife, Sherry, and daughters Jordan, Alex, and Eden.


  • At the end of his Introduction, author Jeffrey Zaslow repeats a question posed to him: “Could a man ever really understand women’s friendships?” How would you answer that question? Do you think Zaslow succeeded in his attempt to portray and explain the Ames girls’ long-lasting bonds?
  • Also in the Introduction, Zaslow explains the basis of the Wall Street Journal column that gave birth to this book, saying, “The column focused on why women, more than men, have great urges to hold tightly onto old friends.” Do you agree that women stay closer to friends than men do? Why or why not?
  • “E-mail has been a great gift to the Ames girls’ friendship, as it has to many other women’s friendships in recent years,” (page 76). Talk about how technology has changed friendships in the past decade or so. Are you in more regular or better touch with friends because of e-mail, texting, Facebook, Twitter, or IM? Have you formed new relationships—or, reignited dormant ones—as a result of social networking sites?
  • Did you identify with one or more of the Ames girls, either in adolescence or adulthood? If so, what did you have in common with them?
  • “Male friendships are often born on the athletic fields,” (page 54). What do you believe comprises male friendships? Do they form through activities like sports, or through something different? Do you know men who are part of a group much like the Ames girls’? If so, how does the male group differ from the female?
  • Which of the Ames women do you think strayed farthest from her Midwestern upbringing, or defied the expectations of someone raised in her hometown?
  • Cathy tries to explain the attachment between the women as one borne out of shared roots: “We root each other to the core of who we are, rather than what defines us as adults—by careers or spouses or kids. There’s a young girl in each of us who is still full of life,” (page 96). Do you think it’s common for people who were close childhood friends to maintain that bond in adulthood?
  • “Researchers worry about this current generation of girls. Studies suggest that the average girl today is likely to grow up to be a lifelong dieter, to have a distorted body image, and to be emotionally scarred by cliques,” (page 114). How has adolescence changed from when you were young to what a teenager experiences today? Do you share the concern that the new generation of girls faces a tougher time than young women of bygone eras? What societal or cultural factors might account for this shift?
  • In Chapter 10, Marilyn’s sister explains to her: “Men who’ve confided only in a spouse or a girlfriend can feel lost after a breakup or divorce, because they lose their only confidant. But for a woman with close female friends, the end of a romantic relationship is more bearable because they haven’t lost their entire support system,” (page 146). What do you think of this supposition? Can you think of examples in your own life that prove this statement to be true, or that dispute it?
  • Talk about the mysterious death of Sheila, and years later the cancer that claimed the life of Karla’s young daughter. How did the Ames girls come together in each case? What are the ways in which having such a tight-knit network of friends helps people through crises like these? A broader question: When friends supplant family, is that a good or bad thing?
  • Do you believe the closeness the girls experienced in childhood was in part a result of growing up in a small town like Ames, Iowa? Would they have been as tight a group of friends if they came of age in a big city, like New York or Chicago or Los Angeles? How much of a factor was Ames in the women’s relationships?
  • Do you have a collection of friends similar to the Ames girls? Who is in your circle? What does this group and its bonds mean to you?

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The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 168 reviews.
dclement04 More than 1 year ago
This book truly exceeded my expectations. I was not sure what I was going to get out of reading this book. Jeffrey produced such a wonderful insight into these womens lives. This book made me laugh, cry, contemplate things I am doing in my life and appreciate the things that I already have in my life. I am also looking forward to things that are in the future for me and the Ames girls gave me hope. Thank you for a wonderful experience.
Mother-Daughter-Book-Club More than 1 year ago
The Girls from Ames follows the 40-year friendship of 11 women from Ames, Iowa. Though they are now living in places all over the country, these women have continued to nurture the friendship they built in their school days. They have been available to support each other during the high points of their lives as well as when they faced personal crises. While I was not always interested in the details of these women's lives-after all how many of us can say that what we liked in high school would be fascinating for others to read about-I was struck by the value their friendship has brought them in so many ways. The topics of friendship, family, personal response to tragedy and having a place to call home are prominent throughout The Girls from Ames. Stories are told about the girls and women as individuals, and to illustrate the role they each play as a member of the group. When I started reading the story, I worked hard to keep track of each woman and her circumstances, but I soon came to feel that each person's importance is more as a representation of the kind of person she is than as an individual in this specific group. Often, things they said or did reminded me of people I know in my own life. In the end I felt The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow provides a way for us to reflect on and talk about the value of long-time friendship in our lives. I believe it should prompt discussions within a mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 16 and up about their own relationships.
pattik55 More than 1 year ago
Loved the book, but definitely disliked the ebook version. Wish I'd had the print version. Could barely decipher all the photos included and had a lot of trouble toggling back to pages to see photos when necessary to check who was who during the story.
MSHills More than 1 year ago
I've had the great blessing of getting away for a few days every year for the past 18 years with 7 of the best girl friends anyone can ask for. We just had our annual reunion a month ago at one of the girls beautiful new home on Green Turtle Cay. One of the other girls bought each one of us this book because it made her think of us. We started trying to figure out which one of us was which woman in the book (who are approximately our age by the way, but we didn't become friends until college). I'm still reading it, others have finished and commented and we all are enjoying. Thanks Stacey!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this was a good book to provoke discussion at book group, mostly about our experiences and how they mirrored those of the girls from ames. with so many girls, it was hard to keep track of who was who, but i just kept reading. i was disappointed that there was no real resolution on what happened to sheila and found that sally forgiving the intervention a little unbelievable, but it's a true story.
MWiruth More than 1 year ago
I read about this book in a magazine. It was in their "summer reading" section, so I went and picked it up. I thought it was wonderful. (and it's non-fiction!) You get connected to the girls and their life stories. The pictures the author includes are great- you get to see what the girls really look like back then and today. I just think this is an important book for a girlfriend and her friends to read. The story of friendship that lasts throughout the years, sticking through it no matter what. It has some sad parts, but totally worth the tears to read it. I plan on buying copies for my closest girlfriends too. Great book. Definitely recommend it.
slsMO More than 1 year ago
Read this for a book club and can think of many other ways I could have more productively spent my time. Glad the Girls from Ames have each other but didn't find much of value in the book other than "life can be hard; it is good to have friends." Not exactly an earthshattering concept. Lacked depth. If you are looking for an easy read and enjoy reading about others' quite normal lives, go for it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not get through the first half and returned the book to the store.
GrandLedgeGal More than 1 year ago
I saw this book reviewed in a magazine and new I needed to pick it I did at 5 pm and read it straight through until I was done. I could relate on so many levels, I am 47 and grew up in Grand Ledge, Michigan-small town farm town. I also have close friends from my youth, one living near me in California where I have live for 20 plus years. I know those people in that book, the ups, downs marriage-kids-divorce and death. I reccomend it to woman of any age but of course those close to middle age because it is so easy to relate. It made me want to send an e-mail,pick up the phone and call my friends. It also was great to share the stories with my daughter who is 18,at College and dealing with the same issues women deal with,other women and the men in their lives. I can't wait to pass it on to someone I love. I wish the women well and thank them for sharing their memories good and bad.
knittingmomof3 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
From my blog...The Girls From Ames by Jeffery Zaslow is an in-depth and intriguing look at the social and behavioral traits that brought these particular eleven girls together as friends, maintained their friendships spanning decades, states, marriages, divorces, and even death. While they were a unit, each girl had at least one defined role. To fully understand the Ames girls, Zaslow takes an in-depth look at the beginning of each girl's family life and how their families impacted their personalities. Of the eleven, only ten remain; although the women say when they get together, Sheila is with them in spirit. The girls are different enough to make their group interesting, and they credit their willingness to talk and listen to each other for their long friendship and admit in their 20s and 30s they had a difficult time connecting, which holds true with the science behind friendships. According to the study in this novel, women have the most difficult time maintaining friendships between the ages of 25-40, after which friendship suddenly rates higher. The Ames girls discuss their children, especially their daughters. Current research indicates today's girls will be life-long dieters, have distorted body images, and be scarred by cliques. The Girls From Ames is an intriguing sociological look inside a group of women who forged deep bonds as young children, forged their friendship by junior high and maintained and strengthened their friendships through time and distance, marriages, births, and divorces. I found this book to be an intriguing look at the social science of friendships, being of the same age group, I do not think I would have been friends with many of these girls, however, I did find it interesting that the McCormick's had a summer house on the same lake my family did, and briefly pondered whether I ever met any of them. All in all it is an intriguing sociological study on friendship and I would recommend The Girls From Ames to anyone interested in the social sciences of women and friendship.
LiteraryLinda on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I really enjoyed this book and could relate well to it as my daughter is of the age of the girls from Ames. Though a male author, Zaslow did a wonderful job bringing these girls to life. I want my 40-something daughter to read it. The pictures really added to the story. I referred to them often.
tbsomeday on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A friend (of course) sent me this book after she read and LOVED it. She's going through a hard time in her life right and this book really brought her comfort and reminders that your old friends truly are always there for you. It's not a book I would have picked out for myself but I'm glad she shared it with me.I found this sort of a strange topic for a book as there wasn't really a story or even truly a point. It was rather kind of just sharing memories and lives with a group of friends. There has been some criticism about how the author wrote this and initially I too thought it was rather scattered...but then when you think about it, how would someone write about 11 different people, their families and memories over the past 40 years? Pretty difficult task and I give the author a lot of credit for getting the job done.Like I said, when I started the book I was thinking it was all a little disconnected...and it's a fairly good sized book so I was questioning if I really needed to read the whole thing after all....but, I pushed through because my friend sent it to me and I'm really glad I did. Once I got past the first several chapters everything settled in. I laughed, I cried, I was reminded of how lucky I also am to have old friends. This book was honest and touching and I think women like it because it brings them comfort. Safe and familiar-most of us can relate to several characters at different points in their lives. It also left me wanting to get all my friends together to tell them how much they mean to me. It was life changing in that I feel such a renewed sense of love for "my girls" as well as such joy that I've been lucky enough to have some good friends stick with me through the years. Women who see me for who I am, who know me when sometimes I don't know myself. So, if you are looking for something different, something genuine and down home to remind you of how great your friends really are--despite their faults, your faults, disagreements, changes in life and miles that separate I think you'll really like this one.And....some of the proceeds from the sale go to a girl's scholarship you can feel good about spending the money.
Carolee888 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
So how could I like this book when I grew up outside of a clique in junior high? I could easily understand the pain of rejection and the meanness of the rejecters as in the chapter titled¿ Intervention¿. To me this book is a window into what was happening inside a closed circle of girls. This group of girls met in kindergarten and before the same as the group I knew in junior high. They developed ties that were like invisible glue that sealed them together and cut others off. Even though I was angry at the first fourth of the book, especially when they had a meeting to tell one of the girls that she did not fit in, I stuck with it and did learn from the book. When grief struck the group they bore it together. They learned from each other on how to deal with life¿s worst events. When cancer struck the daughter of one of them, it was as though she was everyone¿s daughter, when breast cancer struck one of them and later another, they developed rituals to bring the relief of laughter to give them respite from the horrible situation. They learned to deal with overpowering emotions with courage and ingenuity. The author emphasizes the differences between men and women when it comes to friendships. Women share feelings, family problems, inadequacies but men stick to topics outside of their personal selves, to sports, car and tangible objects. This may be a handicap that men have to deal with. The sharing and caring that exists in women¿s groups does not seem thrive in men¿s groups. That to me was not new or surprising. What was more interesting to me was that the group of 11 women grew emotionally and became more nurturing to each other and to other people. They learned to be a positive force in life and to be more accepting of others. They learned to be more forgiving, accepting of differences and even how to love their own children more. To me, that is reason to read this book. I recommend this book to all those who been those who have been in cliques and those who were always left out. Don¿t get discouraged by the references to studies about the differences between men and women. Keep on reading until you find the gold of friendships and their endurance.
amcreech on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Also being a girl from Iowa, this book brought back great memories of my childhood. This book made me reflect on my childhood friends and how I wished I had stayed in contact with them the way the women of Ames have. I really enjoyed reading this great story of an amazing friendship and I think I will get in touch with my childhood friends and see if we can get together to talk about the old days.
CatieN on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I enjoyed this book about a friendship that has lasted 40 years with a group of 10 girls from Ames, Iowa. They were born in 1963, and the book chronicles their lives from grade school to present. It really is a snapshot of how America has changed in those 40 years also. Made me think about my friends and how important they are to me. Very good read.
bookstar on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I wasn't sure what to expect from a book based on real friends, but I found myself fascinated by the concept of so many women being great friends for so long. The story pulled me in, but I found it lacking. I cried with all the sadness that filled most of the latter part of the book, but also found it hard to relate to any of the woman. Maybe there weren't enough details, or maybe there were too many women, but overall I finished the last page feeling disappointed. I wasn't interested in reading more, or learning more and yet I still feel as if these woman have an amazing friendship. Maybe such a friendship that can not be fully understood from the outside.
Berly on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I had high hopes for this book. Jeffrey Zaslow co-authored The Last Lecture, which I loved! Alas. This book is the story of an amazing life-long friendships between a group of 11 women. I would love to meet these women, or perhaps see their relationships explored in a movie, but as a book, it just didn't cut it. I wasn't drawn into their lives and I didn't even finish the book. So sad.
mellybean36 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I really enjoyed this book. With that said, I didn't really understand the point of it. Is Zaslow trying to tell a story about 11 girls and the 10 women they became, or is he trying to demonstrate the important role of friendship in women's lives? I wasn't sure if this was just a collection of anecdotes about these women's lives, together and apart, or if it was a sociological study of sorts about what holds women's relationships together and why they matter so much. The style of the book also contributed to my uncertainty - it's kind of written like a memoir or a group of stories, but in a more factual, straight to the point way. At times, I felt like I was reading a textbook. However, I'm glad I read this book. It made me laugh, cry (hard, several times), and most importantly, think about my own relationships with the women in my life. I guess I'm just not sure what makes this book different from any other book about friends.
GAYLEGREY on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Follows 11 girls thru 60's, 40 years of friendship. Very interesting, covered the gamult. Not all sunshine and roses, but still friends.
OpheliaAwakens on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I lived in Ames for 2 years as a grad student, so I mostly liked this book because of the references to places and events I knew about. This book was definitely sadder than I expected it to be. It seems appropriate based on the fact that Zaslow also worked with Randy Pausch on his book. If you were a fan of The Last Lecture, I don't recommend this book. If you are from Iowa or even elsewhere in the Midwest or also had a large group of friends growing up, this book might be for you.
drausche on LibraryThing 10 months ago
okay but not great. too much info/background on the gals. i listened on cd and not the greatest voice to listen to either - rather boring voice so this might have affected my overall thoughts about the bk
bibliophileofalls on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Overly long tale of some girlfriends and their lives and interactions. Mildly interesting in parts. Something to read if you are obsessively interested in what happens to a high school clique after high school.
kiwifortyniner on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This was a book different from any I have read before. It is written by columnist Jeffrey Zaslov, with the assistance of Randy Pausch , coauthor of the last lecture. It grew out of one of his columns and is the story of eleven women and their lasting friendshp over a period of forty years. It was an interesting read. However I felt at times that it lacked a continuous narrative and I wanted to get away from the "stats" and find out more about their lives. The parts where it did concentrate on one character and tell in depth what was happening were the best eg Sally and her relationship with the group, and Karla's story. These parts were very moving. I found myself with a finger on the photo pages too as I read of individual girls as I wanted to see the face of the girl I was reading about. At times too I did find it hard to keep track of them all unless something important had happenend in their lives But I admire the way they have kept in contact over such a long period of time, and how they have and will continue to be there for each other through the good times and the bad. I found my self checking on the Internet to see how those who were sick at the end of the book were doing.
rosalita on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I really wanted to love this book. It's about a group of women who grew up together in a small Midwestern city in the 1960s and 1970s, and the ways in which their friendships have endured and changed through the years. In other words, it's about me — well, not me but my generation, the women who surrounded me throughout my own coming-of-age in a small Midwestern city.Here's the thing, though: What I said about it not being about me? That's all too true. The girls from Ames are a group of 11 girls/women who were pretty popular, pretty wild, and pretty clannish about letting outsiders into the golden circle. They even turn on their own occasionally, as when a subset of the girls gets together one night in high school to carefully enumerate to one of the others all the ways in which she is simply not smart enough, pretty enough, or cool enough to be part of their group without making some drastic changes. It read like a scene out of a horror novel to me, which made it all the more dumbfounding to learn that the girl who was the center of all that vitriol still hangs out with all of them! Nothing about staying friends with people who treated you so cruelly makes sense to me.I enjoyed the nostalgia of the pop-culture touchstones sprinkled throughout the The Girls from Ames. But to be honest, I kind of hated the girls from Ames themselves. And after reading about what they were like in high school and beyond, I'm pretty sure they would have hated me, too.
eyesb on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I had high expectations for this book but was disappointed at the plodding narrative, which hopped around without any clear direction or purpose. The story purports to be about the enduring ties of female friendship and tells the tale of 11 women whose relationships have endured for more than 40 years. However, the women appear to be shallow and uninspiring, and the parts of the book that review their lives during high school portray them as cliquish and exclusive. There are even sections of the story that talk about other girls in the school as "nerdier" or "desperate for friends," which is what you expect from teenagers but not from adults who are going back to tell their stories from a more mature vantage point. Very disappointing.