The Girls from Ames:  A Story of  Women & a Forty~Year Friendship is an intimate look at the friendships of eleven women over a forty~year period.  Interspersed with studies that highlight the importance of the development and maintenance of close relationships in the health and well~being of women, The Girls from Ames is part sociology study, part biography and part cultural reference book.  The women came of age just at the tail end of the Baby Boom, so they are the immediate benefactors of the women’s rights movement and other social changes that marked the 60s, 70s and 80s. It was fun to read about the different hairstyles and clothes the women wore and the music they listened to as their stories unfolded, these cultural references provided a musical and visual backdrop against which their stories could be shared by women from different walks of life.

During a weekend reunion, the women shared the details of their relationships (some good, some bad) with author, Jeffrey Zaslow.  They also invited him to look at scrapbooks, read emails, interview friends, quasi~enemies and family to find out what has kept the girls so closely knit when other relationships have unraveled.  At points, it seemed that the ladies’ relationships were ebbing but the women proved that they did not need constant contact to remain close, especially when email came about and they were able to simply hit “Reply All.”

The women have supported each other through elementary school, high school and beyond.  They’ve offered shoulders to cry on when they’ve been given devastating news and they’ve given tough love when it was warranted.  But more than anything else, they’ve been  there for each other.  Even when they didn’t agree with the choices that the other was making, they let their feeling be known and then they offered support…  That the women were able to love each other unconditionally, even when the other’s choices conflicted with their religious or moral beliefs was one of the things that stood out most to me ~ unconditional, unfailing, all~encompassing love.

In many ways, you can tell the author is a journalist; each vignette is punctuated by studies that point out the importance of life~long friendships to women and their health.  At first, I found the analysis to be intrusive and more than a bit annoying, however, by the end of the book, I was impressed with how much these women supported the data presented.  The overriding conclusion of all of the data presented in the book and supported by the women’s lives indicates that women who have strong friendships live happier and healthier lives ~ and when diagnosed with an illness, their chances of survival are increased significantly.

Part of the charm of this story is that each woman offers something to the reader with which they can identify, but more than that is the emotional tug~of~war of the story.  At points, I found myself laughing and other times I found myself crying.  In the end, I found myself a whole lot jealous.  These women have the type of friendship that goes beyond the casual acquaintances that many of us share.  They are soul sisters in every sense of the word.  I believe the greatest lesson to be learned from this book is to treasure the people around you and never take anyone for granted.

Disclosure:  I received this book free from Penguin Group in exchange for a review.  I am not required to write a positive review, just an honest one.