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The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Ann Brashares

Chapters 17 and 18

Chapters 15 and 16

Chapters 19 and 20

Summary: Chapter 17

“You make all kinds of mistakes: but as long as you are generous and true and also fierce you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her.”

—Winston Churchill

Lena feels restless, unable to paint, and she goes back to the pond where she went skinny-dipping. She gets absorbed in her painting there, a feeling she loves, but she’s startled by splashing in the water. When she peeks at the pond, she sees Kostos swimming naked—and he sees her. She realizes that this pond is Kostos’s private territory and that last time, when she thought he was spying on her, he really wasn’t.

Bridget writes to Lena, telling her she knows something big is going to happen. That night, restless, she goes for a walk and thinks about her brother, Perry, and the fishing they used to do together. She can’t remember her mother in the scene. Bridget feels tired, but she wants to see Eric. She goes quietly to his cabin and sees him through the window. Awake, he follows her outside, walking some distance away from the cabin. He tells her he both did and didn’t want to see her. They have a physical encounter. Later, Bridget cries in her sleeping bag, realizing that she never thought much about what would happen after she and Eric kissed. She’s overwhelmed by how much she feels right now.

Lena writes to Tibby and says she now knows that the pond is Kostos’s private spot. She says she feels stupid, but she’s also glad that Kostos finally looked right at her. She asks if Tibby has heard from Bridget.

Carmen answers the phone at home at night, knowing that her mother’s lawyer boss, who calls all the time for help with things, is on the line. She lies and says her mother isn’t home. Carmen tries to eat, but she hasn’t had an appetite since she came home. She’s annoyed by her mother, Christina, even though she vowed not to be anymore. Albert’s wedding is in three weeks, but they haven’t called each other. She feels immensely guilty about what she’s done.

Summary: Chapter 18

“Wish for what you want. Work for what you need.”

—Carmen’s grandmother

Effie tells Lena that she made out with the Greek waiter, Andreas, even though she has a boyfriend, Gavin, at home. Effie chastises Lena for missing her chance to make out with Kostos. Lena suspects that Effie, who always has a boyfriend, is going to grow up to be happier and more loved than Lena will. She begins drawing a portrait of Kostos. She is so absorbed in the work that she doesn’t immediately see Kostos outside her window. Shocked, she wonders if he saw her drawing.

Bridget’s friends hound her for information about what happened with Eric even before Bridget gets out of bed. Bridget feels vulnerable and confused, and she tells her friends that nothing happened. Bridget misses breakfast, stays in bed during a soccer match between two other teams, and skips lunch.

Carmen tries to write to Albert, but every time she tries to start a letter, she slips in something mean. She mails him all her money, without a letter.

Lena lies in her bedroom, worrying about Bridget, whom she knows sometimes suffers from her free spirit. She goes downstairs and asks Grandma why Kostos lives with his grandparents. Grandma explains that Kostos once lived in New York City and had a little brother. One day, Kostos’s family went for a drive and got into a car accident. Kostos was the only one to survive, and he was sent to Greece to live with his grandparents. Grandma is so saddened by the story that Lena finally tells her the truth: that Kostos didn’t attack her. Lena cries because Kostos and Bridget, whose lives have been touched by sadness, are still willing to fall in love, while she herself isn’t.

Analysis

After Bridget has a physical encounter with Eric, she faces a situation that she can’t conquer with energy, high spirits, or her characteristic abandon. Until this point, Bridget has found the pursuit of Eric exciting. It’s been a challenge, and she has faced two major obstacles: the rule forbidding coach/camper romances and the difference in their ages. Sneaking to the bar and to his cabin made her seem courageous, fun, and a little reckless to her friends, and she liked showing off for them. Bridget has also found Eric’s attention exciting, since it’s clear that he thinks she’s attractive. All of these things made pursuing Eric fun. What Bridget is not prepared for is actually succeeding in her pursuit. When her interactions with Eric were part of the chase, they seemed harmless, challenging, and exciting. Bridget knew just what to do: keep coming up with ways to see Eric and keep flirting with him to increase his interest. But when their interaction becomes serious, when Eric gives in to his feelings instead of resisting them, Bridget doesn’t know how to handle the consequences. She has suddenly done something brand-new, something serious, something she can’t just laugh off or brag about. Something big has happened to her, and Bridget does not yet have the emotional skills to make sense of it. Brashares does not describe the encounter for the reader, nor does Bridget describe what really happened between her and Eric to her friends.

Lena sees her extreme beauty as an obstacle to finding true love or romantic happiness. Throughout her life, she’s gotten lots of attention for being beautiful, but this attention always fades, because Lena is very shy. Unsure about how to connect with people and distrustful that boys like her only for her looks, Lena has become introverted and withdrawn. She’s most comfortable and happy when she is alone, painting or walking. What Lena wants most of all is to blend in or even be somewhat invisible, and her beauty prevents her from doing that. However, being in Greece shows her that she may be missing out on happiness. Effie is warm, open, and charming, which makes her instantly likable to their grandparents and irresistible to boys, who want to have her as a girlfriend rather than just admire what she looks like. Lena envies Effie, even though Lena is the one always being praised for being gorgeous. Kostos, who has seen great sadness in his life, doesn’t hesitate to follow his heart, a quality that Lena is beginning to admire. Beautiful Lena is, at heart, a lonely girl, and she knows she needs to transcend her beauty and allow others to see what’s inside. She blames others for only seeing her from the outside, but she’s actually responsible for holding people at arm’s length.

Both Lena and Kostos enjoy skinny-dipping in the secluded pond, which suggests that both of them feel truly free only when they are alone. Lena, self-conscious about her beauty, usually wears baggy, unattractive clothes to avoid calling attention to her body. At the pond, however, she feels so alone and so free that she takes off all her clothes, feeling indescribably happy as she swims. Her reverie is disturbed, of course, by Kostos, who winds up seeing her naked. For his part, Kostos is not self-conscious about his appearance, but he has grown up under the watchful eye of people like Lena’s grandmother, who are convinced that he’s perfect. He also holds the weighty grief of losing his entire family. At the pond, he too finds the freedom to become completely himself, alone and unwatched. Just as Kostos interrupted Lena’s swim, Lena interrupts Kostos’s, and she sees him naked as well. Both Kostos and Lena have seen each other at their most vulnerable moment, but this moment is also when they are most fully themselves. Though Lena thinks Kostos doesn’t understand or know her, the fact that they have seen each other this way suggests that they are more aligned than Lena suspects.

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