"THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS," by Meg Waite Clayton, Ballantine Books, 304 pages, $23

In the summer of 1967 thousands of young people came together in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco to take part in the "hippie revolution." This Summer of Love was defined by free food, free drugs and free love, ushering in an era full of new ideas, ideals, behaviors and fashions.

But the late '60s didn't just belong to the Flower Children. In her latest novel, "The Wednesday Sisters," author Meg Waite Clayton looks at the end of the decade through the eyes of Frankie O'Mara, who had "already settled into the life I'd been raised to settle into: dependable daughter, good wife, attentive mother."

After moving to San Francisco for her husband's job in the burgeoning microchip industry, Frankie finds herself looking for friendship and a purpose. She finds both at the park across the street from her home. There she meets four other women who are devoted to their husbands but feel there is something missing from their lives.

The five women find a common bond in their love of literature, and their friendship blossoms over discussions of Jane Austen, Agatha Christie and "The Great Gatsby."

When the women decide to get together for a Miss America party, they have no idea that the events of the night will transform their collective lives. But it isn't the bra burnings or the women picketing outside the pageant that spark an idea. It's during the talent competition that they realize baton-twirling and tricks on a trampoline are a far cry from representing any "real" talents they possess.

That night the women decide to write. Each Wednesday they'll each bring something they've written to the park and read it out loud for the others to critique. At first the women fear hurting each others' feelings and only give token compliments to awful work. But over time, constructive criticism comes into play, helping the women to express themselves and produce work far beyond anything they could have ever imagined.

Clayton captures the evolution of a decades-long friendship in an highly accessible narrative. She grabs the reader's attention early on, hitting on big events of the period while introducing compelling and quirky characters that are easy to identify with.

In a time when the media and culture in general is focused on everything that appears extreme or out of control, "The Wednesday Sisters" is a refreshing alternative. It is thoughtfully written, focusing on the trials faced by many women — particularly young wives and mothers — during the late '60s and early '70s.

"The Wednesday Sisters" gives a voice to the 1960s housewife, and after reading it, grown children will likely look at their mothers with a new understanding and respect.

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