Family secrets may shape us all, but it’s the rich, complicated layers of friendship that can save us.
Cate, Renee, and Abby have come to New York for very different reasons, and in a bustling city of millions, they are linked together through circumstance and chance.
Cate has just been named the features editor of Gloss, a high-end lifestyle magazine. It’s a professional coup, but her new job comes with more complications than Cate ever anticipated.
Her roommate Renee will do anything to nab the plum job of beauty editor at Gloss. But snide comments about Renee’s weight send her into an emotional tailspin. Soon she is taking black market diet pills—despite the racing heartbeat and trembling hands that signal she’s heading for real danger.
Then there’s Abby, whom they take in as a third roommate. Once a joyful graduate student working as a nanny part time, she abruptly fled a seemingly happy life in the D.C. suburbs. No one knows what shattered Abby—or why she left everything she once loved behind.
Pekkanen’s most compelling, true-to-life novel yet tells the story of three very different women as they navigate the complications of careers and love—and find the lifeline they need in each other.
|Publisher:||Washington Square Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.38(w) x 8.08(h) x 0.87(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
When my husband, Michael, died for the first time, I was walking across a freshly waxed marble floor in three-inch Stuart Weitzman heels, balancing a tray of cupcakes in my shaking hands.
Shaking because I’d overdosed on sugar—someone had to heroically step up and taste-test the cupcakes, after all—and not because I was worried about slipping and dropping the tray, even though these weren’t your run-of-the-mill Betty Crockers. These were molten chocolate and cayenne-pepper masterpieces, and each one was topped with a name scripted in edible gold leaf.
Decadent cupcakes as place cards for the round tables encircling the ballroom—it was the kind of touch that kept me in brisk business as a party planner. Tonight, we’d raise half a million for the Washington, D.C., opera Company. Maybe more, if the waiters kept topping off those wine and champagne glasses like I’d instructed them.
I carefully set down the tray, then spun around to see the fretful face of the assistant florist who’d called my name.
“The caterer wants to lower our centerpieces,” he wailed, agony practically oozing from his pores. I didn’t blame him. His boss, the head florist—a gruff little woman with more than a hint of a mustache—secretly scared me, too.
“No one touches the flowers,” I said, trying to sound as tough as Clint Eastwood would, should he ever become ensconced in a brawl over the proper length of calla lilies.
My cell phone rang and I reached for it, absently glancing at the caller ID. It was my husband, Michael. He’d texted me earlier to announce he was going on a business trip and would miss the birthday dinner my best friend was throwing for me later in the month. If Michael had a long-term mistress, it might be easier to compete, but his company gyrated and beckoned in his mind more enticingly than any strategically oiled Victoria’s secret model. I’d long ago resigned myself to the fact that work had replaced me as Michael’s true love. I ignored the call and dropped the phone back into my pocket.
Later, of course, I’d realize it wasn’t Michael phoning but his personal assistant, Kate. By then, my husband had stood up from the head of the table in his company’s boardroom, opened his mouth to speak, and crashed to the carpeted floor. All in the same amount of time it took me to walk across a ballroom floor just a few miles away.
The assistant florist raced off and was instantly replaced by a white-haired, grandfatherly looking security guard from the little Jewelry Box.
“Miss?” he said politely.
I silently thanked my oxygen facials and caramel highlights for his decision not to call me ma’am. I was about to turn thirty-five, which meant I wouldn’t be able to hide from the liver-spotted hands of ma’am-dom forever, but I’d valiantly dodge their bony grasp for as long as possible.
“Where would you like these?” the guard asked, indicating the dozen or so rectangular boxes he was carrying on a tray draped in black velvet. The boxes were wrapped in a shade of silver that exactly matched the gun nestled against his ample hip.
“On the display table just inside the front door, please,” I instructed him. “People need to see them as soon as they walk in.” people would bid tens of thousands of dollars to win a surprise bauble, if only to show everyone else that they could. The guard was probably a retired policeman, trying to earn money to supplement his pension, and I knew he’d been ordered to keep those boxes in his sight all night long.
“Can I get you anything? Maybe some coffee?” I offered.
“Better not,” he said with a wry smile. The poor guy probably wasn’t drinking anything because the jewelry store wouldn’t even let him take a bathroom break. I made a mental note to pack up a few dinners for him to bring home.
My BlackBerry vibrated just as I began placing the cupcakes around the head table and mentally debating the sticky problem of the video game guru who looked and acted like a thirteen-year-old overdue for his next dose of Ritalin. I’d sandwich him between a female U.S. senator and a co-owner of the Washington Blazes professional basketball team, I decided. They were both tall; they could talk over the techie’s head.
At that moment, a dozen executives were leaping up from their leather chairs to cluster around Michael’s limp body. they were all shouting at each other to call 911—this crowd was used to giving orders, not taking them—and demanding that someone perform CPR.
As I stood in the middle of the ballroom, smoothing out a crease on a white linen napkin and inhaling the sweet scent of lilies, the worst news I could possibly imagine was being delivered by a baby-faced representative from the D.C. opera Company.
“Melanie has a sore throat,” he announced somberly.
I sank into a chair with a sigh and wiggled my tired feet out of my shoes. Perfect. Melanie was the star soprano who was scheduled to sing a selection from Orfeo ed Euridice tonight. If those overflowing wineglasses didn’t get checkbooks whipped out of pockets, Melanie’s soaring, lyrical voice definitely would. I desperately needed Melanie tonight.
“Where is she?” I demanded.
“In a room at the mayflower hotel,” the opera rep said.
“Oh, crap! Who booked her a room?”
“Um . . . me,” he said. “Is that a prob—”
“Get her a suite,” I interrupted. “The biggest one they have.”
“Why?” he asked, his snub nose wrinkling in confusion. “How will that help her get better?”
“What was your name again?” I asked.
Figures; put a four-leaf clover in his lapel and he could’ve been the poster boy for Welcome to Ireland!
“And Patrick, how long have you been working for the opera company?” I asked gently.
“Three weeks,” he admitted.
“Just trust me on this.” Melanie required drama the way the rest of us needed water. If I hydrated her with a big scene now, Melanie might miraculously rally and forgo a big scene tonight.
“Send over a warm-mist humidifier,” I continued as pat-rick whipped out a notebook and scribbled away, diligent as a cub reporter chasing his big break. “No, two! Get her lozenges, chamomile tea with honey, whatever you can think of. Buy out CVs. if Melanie wants a lymphatic massage, have the hotel concierge arrange it immediately. Here—” I pulled out my BlackBerry and scrolled down to the name of my private doctor.
“Call Dr. Rushman. If he can’t make it over there, have him send someone who can.”
Dr. Rushman would make it, I was sure. He’d drop whatever he was doing if he knew I needed him. He was the personal physician for the Washington Blazes basketball team.
My husband, Michael, was another one of the team’s co-owners.
“Got it,” Patrick said. He glanced down at my feet, turned bright red, and scampered away. Must’ve been my toe cleavage; it tends to have that effect on men.
I finished placing the final cupcake before checking my messages. By the time I read the frantic e-mails from Kate, who was trying to find out if Michael had any recently diagnosed illnesses like epilepsy or diabetes that we’d been keeping secret, it was already over.
While Armani-clad executives clustered around my husband, Bob the mail-room guy took one look at the scene and sped down the hallway, white envelopes scattering like confetti behind him. He sprinted to the receptionist’s desk and found the portable defibrillator my husband’s company had purchased just six months earlier. Then he raced back, ripped open Michael’s shirt, put his ear to Michael’s chest to confirm that my husband’s heart had stopped beating, and applied the sticky patches to Michael’s chest. “Analyzing . . . ,” said the machine’s electronic voice. “Shock advisable.”
The Italian opera Orfeo ed Euridice is a love story. In it, Euridice dies and her grieving husband travels to the underworld to try to bring her back to life. Melanie the soprano was scheduled to sing the heartbreaking aria that comes as Euridice is suspended between the twin worlds of Death and life.
Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me that Euridice’s aria was playing in my head as Bob the mail-room guy bent over my husband’s body, shocking Michael’s heart until it finally began beating again. Because sometimes, it seems to me as if all of the big moments in my life can be traced back to the gorgeous, timeworn stories of opera.
Four minutes and eight seconds. That’s how long my husband, Michael Dunhill, was dead.
Four minutes and eight seconds. That’s how long it took for my husband to become a complete stranger to me.
What People are Saying About This
Sarah Pekkanen's latest celebrates the healing power of female friendship for three very different young women sharing a NYC apartment. At turns bittersweet, laugh-out-loud funny, and painfully real, you'll wish you could move in with these girls. (Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Lone Wolf and Sing You Home)
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for These Girls includes discussion questions. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Discuss the role of work in each girl’s life. To what extent do they find a sense of identity in their jobs? How do they define success or failure in their work lives, and how does either affect the way they think about themselves?
2. Each character in These Girls seems to be facing both an internal and an external struggle. Can you identify these? Are these struggles resolved by the novel’s conclusion?
3. Did you initially empathize with Abby or Joanna? Did your feelings toward Joanna change as the novel progressed? Does the fact that Abby has an affair with a married man make her less of a sympathetic character to you? Why or why not?
4. Describe the ways that each girl interacts with and connects to other people. How are their relationship styles similar, and how are they different?
5. Given the close bond that Trey and Abby share, do you think that he should have told her what happened to their brother? Why or why not?
6. How are mother-daughter relationships depicted in this novel? Was there one dynamic in particular that you identified with?
7. After Cate reminds her mother not to call her at work, she thinks to herself, “It felt odd to be imposing such restrictions and curfews on her mother, as if they’d somehow swapped roles during the past few years” (78). To what extent is this true of all the parent-child relationships we see in These Girls?
8. What is These Girls saying about the role—and effect—of secrets in relationships? Are some secrets necessary, or are they all inherently negative? Do you agree with Abby’s assessment that “The hardest things to talk about are also the most important things to talk about?”
9. Discuss some of the challenges that Cate’s new job presents. How does she handle these? In particular, what role does gender seem to play in them?
10. Each girl sees something in another of her roommates’ disposition that she covets. What are these qualities? Is this kind of desire an essential component of female friendship?
11. In the last scene of the novel, Cate tells Trey, “I don’t want to be the girl who chose a guy over her friends.” How did you feel about their final encounter? Did you agree with how Cate handled this situation? Would you have handled it differently?
12. Ostensibly, Renee wants to lose weight because she thinks it will help her nab the beauty editor job. But does she have other reasons? What else could be driving her?
13. If you were casting the film version of These Girls, who would you pick to play each character? Why?
14. Picture where you see Cate, Renee, and Abby in five years. What do their lives look like? Share your imaginings with your group.
Jodi Picoult interviews Sarah Pekkanen about writing, motherhood, and the magic of female friendships...
Jodi: These Girls explores the nuances of female friendships. How hard was it to create a sense of realism between your main characters - Cate, Renee, and Abby - and how much of that came from your own personal experience in your relationships with female friends?
Sarah: Female friendships are vitally important to me, which is why I dedicated These Girls to my girlfriends, especially one I call my "frister" (a friend who turned into a sister). I'm surrounded by wonderful guys - I have two brothers and three sons - and I adore them. But female friendships nurture and uplift me, and I find them so textured and fascinating, which is why I'm drawn to writing about them. I love it that my girlfriends and I - often aided by a bottle or two of wine - can hopscotch from serious to silly to painful topics during the course of a single conversation, and end the night feeling as if we could've talked forever. I drew on all of those emotions while writing These Girls.
Jodi: Your main characters in this book come to reevaluate what's important in life as they navigate the complications of careers and love. As someone with three young children, and who has enjoyed a bit of success now as a novelist, how do you prioritize what's important in life? Has this changed as you've grown older?
Sarah: I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I was a little girl. After college, I covered feature stories for The Baltimore Sun newspaper, but when my first son was born, I left that job because it required a long commute and frequent travel. And when I suddenly stopped writing, I felt as if I'd lost a crucial piece of myself. But I couldn't figure out how to reconcile my need to write with my need to be with my children. Then one night after the kids were asleep (by then I had two young boys), I sat down in front of on my computer and began to type. The words poured out of me, and turned into my first novel, The Opposite of Me. I never forget for a moment how lucky I am to have a flexible job that I adore, and it's fairly easy for me to work in writing time around my kids' schedules. My family is my priority, but I know I'm a happier - and better - Mom when I'm writing, too.
Jodi: As someone who has twists in books all the time, I get asked about my endings a lot. These Girls, too, has quite a surprise in store for the reader. Did you know it would end this way before you started writing the book, or did that evolve?
Sarah: I love books that contain twists (which is one reason why I'm a big Jodi P. fan!), and I knew even before I wrote the first line of These Girls that it, like my previous two novels, would pack a big surprise at the end. I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries and sometimes I even deconstruct them, studying how an author put together pieces of the puzzle and used tension-building techniques like foreshadowing. It's my hope that readers feel as if my books have the same page-turning quality as a thriller - but with less blood and mayhem, of course!
Jodi: What advice would you give to someone who is trying to break into writing as a career?
Sarah: Treat writing like exercise - you need to do it nearly every day to get results. For people who say they're too busy to write a book, I'd encourage them to search for little windows of time in their day. Maybe wake up half an hour earlier than usual, or carry around a notebook and write a few paragraphs on the bus ride into work. Jodi, I remember that you and I once chatted about how we both wrote in car-pool pick-up lines outside of our kids' schools because it was one of the few quiet times we could carve out of the day. I'd advise other writers to fight for those little snippets of time, and the page count will pile up, slowly but surely.
Jodi: What is the most bizarre fan encounter you've ever had?
Sarah: I love that you asked me this question, because it was the very first question I ever asked you! Years ago, I was writing a newspaper article on strange things that happen to big-name authors at booksignings, and you told me about the time someone asked if you'd ever consider writing non-fiction. You replied that it seemed daunting because one had to be meticulous about getting every single fact straight... and then you brought up James Frey, who got into trouble for making up parts of his memoir A Million Little Pieces. And a few minutes later, the librarian in charge of your booksigning brought over two audience members to meet you: James Frey's parents. This was during the time when Oprah was eviscerating him, but you merely brought up his situation as an example and didn't pass judgment or make a joke. I thought it was very classy, and even his parents weren't bothered by your comment, which says a lot.
So... as for my most bizarre fan encounter, I'd have to say it was the time when my husband and I took our three kids out to dinner at a busy restaurant. One of our sons was very tired and cranky - we later learned he hadn't eaten lunch at school that day - and while we were waiting for a table, he completely melted down, crying and whining. We quickly left, and then my two-year-old tripped and fell on the sidewalk and he started crying too. So there we were, this hot mess of a family, and suddenly a woman stopped and pointed at me and yelled, "Aren't you Sarah Pekkanen? I love your writing!" And that remains, to this day, the first and only time I have ever been recognized in public. (And I'm still kicking myself for not answering, "No! I'm J.K. Rowling!")
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the third book by Sarah Pekkanen that I've read, and it may be my favorite so far. It's about three roommates who work together at a beauty magazine in NY. Like all of her books, it explores relationships, this time between female friends. It was a fast read, but I liked how it wasn't predictable. I thought I knew what was going to happen, but then there would be twists and turns that would take me by surprise. This is an enjoyable book that has a lot to say about how we need our "girlfriends."
I was anxiously awaiting the release of this latest work by Sarah Pekkanen. I was not disappointed. This story is about the friendship of women. The struggles with career, image and love. I liked that it was told from the perspective of the 3 women, hearing the story of their own feelings and also how they saw each other. Each of them admired by the others for their special qualities but each feeling terribly inadequate. And making us realize that things are not always as they seem. Well written, complex characters you will love.
I have a four and a half year old daughter who wakes up too early every morning, and yet I found myself reading Sarah Pekkanen’s These Girls late into the night, braving a tired tomorrow because I needed to know what was going to happen next. These Girls follows the lives of three very different characters living in New York City: Cate, Renee, and Abby. Each young woman’s story is told with compassion, the characters quickly come to life a few short paragraphs, and the dialogue is some of the best I have read, so sharp and witty and full of personality. Their individual dramas are compelling and complicated. And somehow, with the novel brimming with such great characters and storylines, Pekkanen also manages to braid these lives together with the kind of friendship that will have readers tearfully calling up their childhood BFFs. This novel is beautiful on so many levels and you will think of these character long after you have finished the last page.
This is the 3rd book I've read by Sara and definitely not the last! I find the first few chapters of her books slow to start and a bit dry but once I get into a bit, I can't put the book down. I can't wait to see what happens next. Her character development is spot one and they are always wonderful characters you can connect with on a personal level.
I’ve never been very good at doing what people expect me to do, so I decided to pick up THESE GIRLS, because (a) it sounded interesting, and (b) I’d heard Sarah Pekkanen’s name before, but I have trouble remembering where. It didn’t hurt that it also received a nice blurb from Jodi Picoult, and I happen to be a fan of her work. Aside from my memory loss, I do have a rather eclectic taste in books, and I’m pretty much willing to take a chance on just about any book that interests me. So I wasn’t all that surprised when I discovered I enjoyed this novel. It’s a light-hearted read with some rather interesting and realistic characters, stimulating storylines, and a couple of twists and turns. It’s not the most thought-provoking book I’ve ever read, but I read for about a hundred or so different reasons, and this one certainly fit the bill at the time I picked it up. THESE GIRLS manages to give more than a few insights into the way women think, and since I’m a guy, this is rather useful information. Some might even call it research. I’d call it a good, old fashioned beach read with more than a little heart. And if that’s what you’re looking for, you might want to check this one out. Robert Downs Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator
Not awful; not very good.
Cate, Renee and Abby are These Girls. They are three girls you can’t help but fall in love with. All three girls have history, baggage…things they are hiding…things they don’t want to talk about. Each girl has her own story, and their three stories overlap each other until they are braided together forming a strong friendship. The smart, sexy and talented Cate believes her career is like a house of cards, if someone figures out her lie her career will fall apart. With a new promotion at Gloss, Cate feels she has something to prove the boy’s club and to herself. As her career seems to hit some bumps in the road, Cate recognizes she is missing what is going on right in front of her. Renee wants no needs to get the promotion as the beauty editor of Gloss and she is willing to do whatever it takes. Even if whatever it takes means drastic measures to ‘fit’ into the idea of what a beautiful person must look like. The beauty of Renee is a beauty she doesn’t seem to see in the mirror. She is fun, funny and loving. Anyone would want to be her best friend, but she doesn’t realize her true beauty. Abby had been happily working as a nanny and fallen in love with the little girl in her charge, Annabelle. Out of nowhere, Abby rushes into the story as a mystery--you will pull one layer after another to finally unveil her pain. The more and more I read the deeper emotionally I connected to all three characters. I don’t always relate to characters or maybe to just one, but I related on some level to all three women! I think what surprised me the most, was while reading These Girls I felt as if I was becoming part of the friendship that was blooming. They became my friends. A definite recommened! I just have to add this one line that JUMPED out of the book, “I think the hardest things to talk about are also the most important things to talk about,” (Pekkanen 306) expresses why we need good friends. Now go grab yourself a copy of These Girls!
Sarah Pekkanen has a way for developing characters that a reader can fall in love with at page one. She has the opportunity to develop three unique characters who begin as room mates and end as friends. Cate, Renee and Abby end up living together through different circumstances and each are struggling with hard life situations. Although I may have not personally related to any of the problems these girls are trying to overcome, I felt like I was really able to experience their full emotions. The reader was given details at precisely the right moment. I was completely impressed by the uniqueness each girl had, their voices were of their own. The other thing that struck a cord with me was the character of New York, I loved how New York was described. Another Sarah Pekkanen book that I will be passing along to friends and family.
A Lilac Wolf and Stuff Review The cover is classic chick lit - flows with Sarah's other novels too. Lone female staring out a window in New York. I'd bet on Abby - I do wish they would have put all three women on the cover. The story does go from Cate, to Renee and then to Abby. It follows their messed up love lives, and mistakes they have to overcome. I really connected with Renee, having my own issues with weight. The fact that she's in that industry at all proves her worth. And she's not even fat, but compared to all the models and fashionistas she works with, she feels every pound more than anyone else would. She even realizes that when thinking about going back home. Cate feels the need to prove herself because of a big mistake she made back in college. She comes across as cold and guarded to other people - even she realizes this. But what happened to her in college has to do with it. Abby - her story makes me want to curl up and cry. You won't find out what is going on in her life until the end. But it keeps you so addicted to the story, along with the other 2 that you won't be able to put it down. Sarah's writing is so smooth, and the flow is fairly fast - never boring. I truly was sad when the story ended. I fell in love with each and every character...well I'm talking the 3 main ones. There were a few outside ones I wasn't too crazy about, but they were written that way. :o)
I've had this book on my to read list for quite some time now, and it's certainly lived up to its hype.These Girls by Sarah Pekkanen follows the lives of three very different women: Abby, Cate, and Renee as they navigate life, love, and work. At first, I thought it was the typical "fluff" read and while a fun novel, one that wouldn't stay with me long. I couldn't have been more wrong.This book does tread familiar ground-- dealing with broken marriages, infidelity, friends who both like the same guy, eating disorders. But the way Pekkanen handles her characters and her prose transcend this book into a totally different category. I loved the development of all of these women, particularly Cate and Abby. There is a very poignant encounter with Abby and another character that I will not divulge-- but it was powerful, meaningful, and surprising. A two dimensional character became very three dimensional and human.The turn of phrase is often beautiful and unexpected. And I thought this was a four star book until the very end where I was surprised and moved to tears by how Pekkanen deals with ending her story. It was done in a way that was perfect and ultimately satisfying without pandering to the stereotypical chick flick ending.Overall, I was impressed with this novel-- beautifully written, wonderful characterization, and a must read.
I'd like to rate this one with 3.5 stars. Apparently I forgot to write a review for These Girls and now I'm a little foggy since reading a book after it. This is why I write the reviews within a day.A quick summary... 3 girls - Cate, Renee, and Abby - all struggling in their lives for various reasons are pulled together to help one another out in the Big City.The book touches on some serious subjects yet Pekkanen's sense of humor shines through, love her sense of humor!Definite recommend!
These Girls -- Started out a low slowly but definitely got betrer and kept your interest. I have read all her books and highly recommend her for light, easy reading.
LOVED this book! Perfect summer read! Didn't expect the book to be a page turner, but I found myself unable to put it down. Sarah Pekkanen writes with such detail and voice that I felt like I knew these girls and was their 4th roommate! If you enjoy girly shows, you'll love this book-very much has a "sex and the city" meets "younger" feel.
This is the first book I've read by Sarah and it won't be my last. Excellent character development and such a relatable plot. You feel connected to these three woman as their friendship and bond grows. I love that they're educated and independent, struggling with life's ever day issues of family, love, work and finances. You can see a little bit of yourself in each of these characters. I can't wait to read more from this author. I wish it'd been just a little longer! 262 pgs
I totally lucked out when I took a chance while looking for a new book to read and bought this. This was the first book I have read by this author, and as soon as I finished this one, I went and bought anything I could find by her. I LOVED IT. I got into it immediately. After the first page I was hooked and couldn't stop. The characters where very believable and down to earth. Read this book, you will NOT regret it!
I really enjoyed this bok but think the ending could have been better felt like i was left hanging
Loved this book! Seriously will make you want to move in with these girls!
Sarah Pekkanen has been added to my favorite author list! (she knows chick lit). I have read five of her books recently, (all winners), and looking forward to reading The Opposite of Me and Skipping a Beat. (I seem to begin with newer ones and work my way back.) If you enjoy Jennifer Weiner and Emily Giffin (which I am a big fan of both), you will love Sarah’s books. She gets to the heart of the matter through friends and family, especially in the gal pal relationship. Each of her characters has a past, a story which has not been told, and much baggage--- she sets the stage delivering tidbits to keep you hanging until the end. Engaging, warming, and humorous and with realistic topics of student/teacher romantic relationship, nanny/boss, weight/diet pills, past unfaithfulness of parents, step siblings, and some secrets which haunt them and have been hidden away come to the surface, plus others. The fun setting in NYC, glamour magazines, and social media--which carries this fast paced novel to a satisfying ending. Would love to see a sequel and continuation of the character of Renee.
A good story but I struggled wanting to read it