Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Book Review: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett, and Amanda Pressner

10. The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett, and Amanda Pressner

For the first few chapters of this book, a sanitized crossbreed of The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City, I was mildly intrigued. Then, it became a rather straightforward and not particularly interesting account of partying across South America. And then, it began to breathe.

This is the true (but melded and simplified) story of three New York women who took a trip around the world. There is nothing special about their descriptions of the places they went, but it is their encounters with other people, and with each other, where their narrative shines. The book is divided into chapters narrated alternately by each of the three. Each woman has a distinctive voice and character, but the writing style is cohesive and the content rarely repetitive. Jennifer is searching for direction, though more in terms of romance than career. She and Amanda are both feisty and outgoing, while Holly is quieter. Holly is a more spiritual traveler who spends a month in an Indian ashram training to be a yoga teacher. Amanda is a devoted career woman, who, having lost her job, spends much of the trip focusing on freelance writing gigs. Each of these women comes to form part of a support system for the others, and it is inspiring to see their friendship grow over the course of the book.

The story really takes off when the women volunteer at an orphanage in Kenya. Through their eyes, the readers meet the school's proprietor, his family, and students. As the women, or "girls" as they consistently refer to themselves, teach dance lessons, battle cockroaches, and visit do-gooders, a clear picture emerges of day-to-day life in Kenya. It helps that the writers do not shy away from admitting their shortcomings and sharing their true feelings. Amanda misses an important play rehearsal due to a writing assignment, and feels guilty. Jen cops to being "evil" in an unexpectedly cold Vietnam. Holly even wonders whether it was a mistake to pursue enlightenment at the abstemious ashram, where she feels her illness is unjustly attributed to bad karma. I especially appreciated these moments of honesty and authenticity after readingWanderlove. Although the "girls" are backpackers, there is not one moment of traveler vs. tourist superiority in the whole book.

For a well-written, thoughtful meditation on friendship in travel, I highly recommend The Lost Girls.

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