These Girls: A Novel

These Girls: A Novel

by Sarah Pekkanen

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Overview

Internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen examines the lives of three women working and living together in New York City and shows that family secrets may shape us all, but it’s the rich, complicated layers of friendship that can save us.

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.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451612547
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: 04/10/2012
Edition description: Original
Pages: 325
Sales rank: 589,136
Product dimensions: 5.38(w) x 8.08(h) x 0.87(d)

About the Author

Sarah Pekkanen is the bestselling author of The Ever After, The Opposite of Me, Skipping a Beat, These Girls, The Best of Us, Catching Air, Things You Won’t Say, and The Perfect Neighbors. Her work has been published in People, The Washington Post, and USA TODAY, among other publications. She lives with her family in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Read an Excerpt

One

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.

“Julia!”

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.

“Patrick Riley.”

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

Jodi Picoult

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.

Interviews

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!")

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