Ann Brashares was born in Alexandria, Virginia, in the late 1960s (the exact date has not been made public). She grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with three brothers. She attended Sidwell Friends, a Quaker school in Washington, D.C. Always a thoughtful child, she studied philosophy at Barnard College, where she met Jacob Collins, a painter who would become her husband. After graduating in 1989, she began working as a children’s book editor in New York City, where she often wrote nonfiction books when she couldn’t find another author to do it. Her nonfiction publications include Linus Torvalds: Software Rebel (2001) and Steve Jobs: Thinks Different (2001). She worked as an editor for more than ten years.
Brashares got the idea for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants while she was co-president of Alloy Entertainment, a book packager focused mainly on children’s and young adult fiction. Her coworker, an editor named Jodi Anderson, told Brashares stories about sharing a pair of pants with her girlfriends when she was a teenager. The path of the idea from Anderson to Brashares is murky, and two sides of the story exist. One story alleges that Brashares, who had always wanted to be a writer and always had a rich imagination, began spinning the tale around in her mind. With Anderson’s agreement, Brashares created a storyline and characters, ultimately selling the proposal and writing the book herself. The other story contends that Anderson created the proposal, believing that she would author the book, only to have the proposal accepted and another writer—Brashares—selected. In the world of book packaging, stories are often thought up by more than one person. Some or all of these people then write an outline and develop the characters, and the book itself is usually written by someone else entirely. In interviews, Brashares adheres to the first explanation of how she came to author Traveling Pants. But according to an article in the New York Observer in May 2006, the second explanation is actually what happened. Although the conflict hasn’t had an effect on the popularity and fame of the series or Brashares, it shows the often-complicated way that young adult novels are created, written, and published.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was an immediate success upon publication. The “magic” pants, the girls’ enviable friendship, the characters’ unique personalities and family situations, and Brashares’s pitch-perfect rendering of teenagers’ experiences and feelings touched readers and critics, and the novel wound up on the New York Times bestseller list. The American Library Association put it on its Top 10 list of books for young adults, and it was second on the children’s book list in Publishers Weekly. In 2002, it won the Book Sense Book of the Year Award for children’s literature. In 2005, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was made into a movie directed by Ken Kwapis, starring Alexis Bledel (of Gilmore Girls fame), America Ferrara, Blake Lively, and Amber Tamblyn.
The remarkable success of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the variety of issues it addresses, including sexuality, friendship, and growing up, have led Brashares to be compared with Judy Blume, another best-selling young-adult fiction writer whose novels address sensitive issues connected with girls’ experiences of adolescence. The novel’s success has also been compared to that of the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, since both Brashares and Rowling have managed to capture the interest of children and adults alike.
Brashares claims that she did not base the girls on her own friends, although she admits that the characters are composites of people she knows. She relates most to Carmen, who is Catholic, like Brashares, and whose parents, like Brashares’s, are divorced. Brashares, who set large chunks of the novel in Baja California, Mexico, and Oia, Greece, never visited those places before writing about them. Instead, she did research, looked at pictures, and imagined them thoroughly.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is the first in a series of four books written by Brashares that follows Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget through the summers of their friendship: The Second Summer of the Sisterhood (2003), Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood (2005), and Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood (2007). Brashares is also the author of a novel for adults, The Girl of Lost Things (2006). She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, two sons, and a daughter.