'The Girls from Corona del Mar' Is a Serious Study of Female Friendship

The challenges of adulthood can alter the friendships we forge in childhood.

The Girls from Corona del Mar: A Novel

Publisher: Knopf
Length: 256 pages
Author: Rufi Thorpe
Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2014-07

The title of Rufi Thorpe's debut novel, The Girls from Corona del Mar, and its book jacket, depicting the bare arms and shins of two girls, insinuates a light summer read or even "chick lit". While the story is about female friendship, the book is far more profound than its packaging suggests.

A few pages into the book, it becomes clear that it's no breezy read. Thorpe doesn't shy away from the uncomfortable realities the transformation of girlhood into womanhood can present. She also isn't afraid to grapple the complex and sensitive issues of disability, addiction, incest, the hurdles of friendship, and the sacrifices of motherhood.

On the surface, the story looks at the friendship between best friends, Lorrie Anne, "the good one" and Mia "the bad one". At least that's the way Mia, the narrator of the novel, sees her and her best friend. She has spent much of her life comparing herself to Lorrie Ann, fascinated by her honesty, good nature, and willingness to always do the right thing.

Lorrie Ann was contemplative where I was wily, she earnest and I shrewd. Where she was sentimental, I became sarcastic... In a way, Lorrie Ann made everything I am, for my personality took shape as an equal and opposite reaction to who she was, just as, I am sure, her personality formed as a result of mine.

Mia comes from a broken home with an absent father, alcoholic mother, and two young half brothers she feels responsible for raising. Meanwhile, she sees Lorrie Ann's family as “living in some other, better world".

Whatever luck Mia believes Lorrie Ann possess runs out after both girls get pregnant in their teens and make different decisions regarding their pregnancies. This is when their lives go in radically different directions.

Mia, the “awful and terrible" winds up going to Yale and getting her degree in Classics, then moving to Istanbul to translate the story of a Sumerian goddess named Inanna. Meanwhile, Lorrie Ann ends up widowed with a disabled son and an injured mother she must care for. While Mia is spending her days traveling and studying dead languages, Lorrie Ann spends her days lifting her ten-year-old son out of his wheelchair to change his diaper.

Thorpe takes an unflinching look into the sporadic strains of friendships, tackling feelings of jealousy, insecurity, judgment, and blame. While Lorrie Ann's life unravels even further, Mia must come to terms with the fact that Lorrie Ann no longer fits the perfect mold she once so neatly filled. Mia begins to wonder if she ever really knew her.

Naturally, the person Lorrie Ann was as a teenager and who she has become due to time and circumstances are two different people, but Mia has a hard time excepting this. This idea of what happens to relationships that blossom in childhood and the lengths we sometimes go to in order to save them is at the heart of the book.

Motherhood also plays a major role in the story, particularly the often-monumental sacrifices made for a child in need, and the repercussions if those sacrifices aren't made. The heartbreaking story of Lorrie Ann and her son Zach, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy, is difficult to get through because the subject matter is packed with so much emotional gravity.

When Mia gets involved, questioning Lorrie Ann's judgment as a mother, the situation becomes even more tense and loaded. Thorpe does a brilliant job of illuminating the painful choices we must make in life and what happens when those we love disagree with them.

The plot becomes convoluted. While flashing back to the past, Mia also focuses on the present, in which she is questioning her relationship with her boyfriend, Franklin, because she may be pregnant. Meanwhile, the story of the Sumerian goddess Inanna makes its appearances throughout, adding another dimension to the novel. Mia sees herself and Lorrie Ann in Inanna, who is described as having demons following her "out of the underworld".

After Lorrie Ann winds up in India with her boyfriend, she pays Mia and unexpected visit in Istanbul. While she is there, she forces Mia to look hard at their friendship and her plans for the future. She then unexpectedly disappears from Mia's life for what seems like the final time.

Mia begins emailing Lorrie Ann, but doesn't get an answer for months -- until one day, and the reply is not what she expects. Thorpe doesn't wrap things up with a tidy, happy ending, instead letting the plot mirror the complexities of life. Rich and introspective, The Girls from Corona del Mar is a friendship story with the literary refinement such “best friends stories“ deserve.

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