Ann Brashares, author of the beloved Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, is back with another heartstring-tugging tale and characters that will break your heart.
Brashares releases her next YA novel, The Whole Thing Together, in April. It follows two families that share a beach house (and a whole lot more) on Long Island and the ways their lives intersect. Below, Brashares tells EW what inspired this new book — and shares her thoughts on a potential third Sisterhood movie. To preorder The Whole Thing Together, head here.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What inspired this book?
BRASHARES: I often start with a concrete symbol to represent a complicated relationship. Long ago I started with a pair of pants. This time I started with a bed. It’s a bed in a room in a house at the beach occupied (in alternation) by two 17-year-olds who’ve never met. They’ve grown up on opposite sides of a deeply estranged family, and the bed is like a little island of peace and possibility.
What was the biggest challenge in writing it?
It’s a story about love trying to find space to grow in the middle of a messed up family. I wanted to depict this family in all its grandeur and sprawl, which meant taking on a lot of people and a whole array of family permutations. Not all of this ends up in the book, of course, but as a creator of a world, you’ve got to feel your way out to the edges.
What was the most fun part of writing it?
I love writing about families, sisters, brothers, mothers, daughters, whether in times of joyful intimacy or complete breakdown. I also love to write about love. I got to do all of that in this book.
What’s your writing process like?
Not pretty, I’m afraid. I procrastinate and self-loathe for an awfully long time before I get captivated by a story. But once I do, I really do. I write in a fever until I am done.
Blake Lively said in June that there might be a third Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie. What are your thoughts? Do you ever miss those characters, or do you feel like you completed their stories?
I would be thrilled for a third Sisterhood movie. I think those actors did a beautiful job on the first two and I cheer for the real friendship they’ve formed along the way.
And yes, I do miss writing those characters sometimes. They still feel alive to me, so their stories continue whether I write about them or not.
Excerpt from The Whole Thing Togetherby Ann Brashares
A DEEPLY CONSIDERED STRANGER
There were times when Sasha felt particularly strange in this house. The place was beautiful—sea light and giant climbing trees, lush lawns, and the jewel of a pond pilfered from the ocean. She loved it beyond reason, waited impatiently through the long alternating weeks the other family had it, yearned for the first sight of the arched trees over the driveway when it was their turn again. But because it was a divided house, the faintest things could make her feel like an imposter, put her on the wrong side of family alliances.
Her father liked to remind her it was her and Evie’s house as much as it was anyone’s. She felt bad that he needed to say that, but he did. It was built by his ex-wife Lila Harrison’s grandfather on land bought by Lila’s great-grandfather. Lila’s father rebuilt in the sixties to include lots of knotty pine paneling, decorative driftwood, and a bar in practically every room.
Lila was her father’s first wife, before he met her mom, Evie. Lila was the mother of Sasha’s sisters (fine, half sisters) and also the mother of Ray, who wasn’t Sasha’s half anything, but who was her agemate, her roommate, and (she might as well admit) her most deeply considered stranger. Lila was nothing to Sasha, besides descendent of the Harrisons and maker of weird craft projects.
When Sasha was old enough to begin wondering about these things, she’d asked her father why the house hadn’t simply gone to Lila in the divorce, why she and her dad and her mom got it every other week.
“Because by the time we got divorced, Lila’s father didn’t own it anymore,” her dad answered in his no-nonsense way. “Grandpa Harrison was an ass and a drunk, and if I hadn’t paid off his debts and bought this place from him, he would have had to declare bankruptcy and move to a flophouse.”
Sasha remembered wondering if he’d given that same account to her sisters.
Even though the property was still known as the Harrison place in town, her dad always made it sound like he was doing Lila a favor letting her have it even half the time. But Sasha also knew there were no favors, never favors, between her dad and Lila.
Grandpa Harrison might have been an ass and a drunk, but Sasha’s dad had made no effort to take down the portraits of Lila’s more respectable ancestors that hung in the stairwell. Sasha considered this as she walked past the old men in suits and robes who signed things and judged things and founded things, and who reflected Sasha back to herself without comment. They belonged to Lila and Lila’s daughters. They also belonged to Ray.
“Does it ever bug you to be judged by the men of the Harrison family every time you go down the stairs?” she asked her dad once.
Robert shrugged as though he’d never thought of it. “I like those pictures. They connect us with our history.” He said it without any apparent irony.
She’d been too dumbfounded to respond. Had he actually convinced himself Lila’s relations were also his? Even though they would have sooner cursed his brown face than shaken his hand? Robert took what he wanted from the world and left the rest. That was a gift of some sort. It had to be.
Sasha found her mother in the kitchen poking around gingerly in the cabinet under the sink, surrounded by contractor’s bags. They were doing their part in “the Great Declutter,” masterminded by her oldest sister, Emma, and begun by the other family the week before. Evie pulled out an object made of bent chicken wire, barely recognizable as a soap dish. “Do you think it’s okay to throw this out?”
“Yes,” Sasha said. She hated her mother’s timidity sometimes. She hated her own timidity. The wrong side of family alliances mainly included her mother.
“What if Lila made it?”
Sasha laughed. She wasn’t sure if her mom was trying to be funny. You could never be sure what odd crafty thing Lila had or hadn’t made. “If she did, she should be especially eager for somebody to get rid of it.”
“I don’t know. . . .”
Sasha made a show of boldness, taking the thing from her mother’s hand and throwing it into the nearest garbage bag.
Her mother went over to fish it out. “I think we should make a pile of stuff we aren’t sure of and ask Emma.”
“We are sure,” Sasha said testily.
Sasha felt bad for the distinctions that made Emma and Quinn and Mattie—and even Ray—legitimate arbiters of bent chicken wire soap dishes and not her. That wasn’t because she resented her sisters, but because she loved them. She didn’t want to be on a different side than they were.
She spent a lot of time thinking about not belonging. She wondered if they spent any time thinking about belonging. She strongly suspected not. It was one of those negative identities— you imagined yourself in relation to what you didn’t have.
Her father said to her once that Americans in the North didn’t think much about the Civil War, barely identified themselves as Northerners because they had won it and moved past it. Sasha felt she was the South in this analogy.
That seemed a sad thing about human nature—how much more time we spend thinking about what we don’t have, or have lost, than about what we have. Clearly Sasha had not inherited the peculiar gift of her father’s.
She looked through the sliding-glass doors of the living room over the path down to the pond, shaded by enormous old linden trees. These were the days she would later be sorry not to have appreciated. She tried to induce appreciation, mentally get it firing like an outboard motor. It was a hard thing to will.
Was it even possible to see beauty in the present as it came at you? Or did it require a dose of time and loss and maybe a little pain?
“Have you finished in your room?” her mom asked.
Sasha poured herself a glass of water and drank it. “Ray did a surprisingly okay job. I just need to finish in the bathroom. I’m going back up. I’ve got nail polish in there from fifth grade.”
“Not the lime-green.”
“That and the Lip Smacker collection, including Cheetos and bacon.”
Her mother shook her head.
In the bathroom she cleared out most of the medicine cabinet. She hesitated over the bacon lip gloss, but not for long. She almost wished she could take these and a lot of the other stuff they were getting rid of and have a yard sale. She remembered a really long time ago Emma setting up a table and selling her old stuff for a few bucks at their driveway entrance on Eel Cove Road. But it had barely been the kind of neighborhood where you could do that then, and it really wasn’t now.
Standing there, she knew it wasn’t the bad lip balm flavors that made her feel nostalgic. The stuff that wasn’t hers evoked the deeper feelings: the capless, dried-out tube of athlete’s foot cream, the crud on the shelves, the dots of whiskers in the white sink bowl.
Ray was not an ideal roommate. He was a famous vomiter. That was what they all said, anyway, and she’d slept in the evidence more than once. Later it was peeing on the toilet seat, a caked tube of toothpaste long-term missing its cap (why couldn’t he ever screw a cap onto anything?), seaweed in the shower drain, and starting in the last year or so, the whiskers in the sink.
It’s weird to share a room with a boy,” her friend Willa had said disapprovingly, standing at that sink when she’d slept over. “I don’t share my room with him. I’ve never even met him,” Sasha explained in a canned way. Because though true, it wasn’t quite honest. She did share a room with him. And a bathroom, for better and mostly worse. She did more than that. She shared a life with him, at least in her mind. Books and toys and sand in the sheets. A jointly collected menagerie of miniature plastic animals. Seashells, sisters, a view of the moon. She didn’t know him, maybe, but how often did she think of him? How often did she live her life in this room, in this house, for both of them?
She used to want to meet him, fantasized about playing with him, made up games they might enjoy together. She was physically jealous that her sisters got to have him for their brother and she didn’t.
But later, she began to think it was easier that she never did meet him. He had the best qualities of an imaginary friend. He was patient, sympathetic, and understanding, silently sharing her things and spaces. He was never selfish or loud or bullying. He never even disagreed with her. He was just what she wanted, sometimes needed, him to be.
So in that way, he was an ideal roommate.