Showing posts with label college. Show all posts
Showing posts with label college. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Commencement by J.Courtney Sullivan

Title: Commencement
Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: June 16, 2009
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

Assigned to the same dorm their first year at Smith College, Celia, Bree, Sally, and April couldn’t have less in common. Celia, a lapsed Catholic, arrives with her grandmother’s rosary beads in hand and a bottle of vodka in her suitcase; beautiful Bree pines for the fiancĂ© she left behind in Savannah; Sally, pristinely dressed in Lilly Pulitzer, is reeling from the loss of her mother; and April, a radical, redheaded feminist wearing a “Riot: Don’t Diet” T-shirt, wants a room transfer immediately.

Together they experience the ecstatic highs and painful lows of early adulthood: Celia’s trust in men is demolished in one terrible evening, Bree falls in love with someone she could never bring home to her traditional family, Sally seeks solace in her English professor, and April realizes that, for the first time in her life, she has friends she can actually confide in.

When they reunite for Sally’s wedding four years after graduation, their friendships have changed, but they remain fiercely devoted to one another. Schooled in the ideals of feminism, they have to figure out how it applies to their real lives in matters of love, work, family, and sex. For Celia, Bree, and Sally, this means grappling with one-night stands, maiden names, and parental disapproval—along with occasional loneliness and heartbreak. But for April, whose activism has become her life’s work, it means something far more dangerous.

My Review:

You may have noticed that this novel landed a spot on my 30 Before 35 list.  Perhaps it seems like an odd choice, nestled in there with the likes of Ulysses and The Color Purple.  However, I added Commencement because it's been on my TBR list for several years...and it's on my TBR because it tackles one of my favorite time periods: the college and post-college years.

Shortly after I graduated from UConn, I read I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe.  It really resonated with me, and still holds a spot on my favorites list.  However, I soon realized that the number of books that focus on college/post-college life (without a primary focus on New-Adult-style, almost-erotica romance) is not high.  Commencement is one of them, and I was happy to finally get around to it!   (And what better time to read it, just after cap-and-gown season??)

This novel will certainly appeal more to a female audience, though I hesitate to attach the "chick lit" label.  The book has its fair share of hookups, girly fights, etc., but they are worked into the plot with a higher level of seriousness than "chick lit"implies (at least by my definition).  For example, the broad subject of "dating" is discussed in a whole host of contexts: how to balance your love life with your career after graduation; how to reconcile the fact that the love of your life happens to be a woman, which is a situation that your conservative family will never approve; and how to cope when what starts as a wonderful first date, ends in rape.

Yes, one of the best things about this book is that it takes primarily-female issues, and gives them the weight that they deserve, without the frills you may have come to expect from other women's fiction novels.  I suppose this appeals to me because college was a significant time in my life.  Not to sound like a nerd (never mind, I am a nerd), but it truly was the best of times AND the worst of times in many ways.  I made a lot (A LOT) of mistakes, and had a lot of successes (thankfully more than the mistakes).  Plus, I worked in higher education for 8 years afterwards, and saw other students going through a whole slew of social and emotional changes through that work.  I know this is not the case for every college grad, but it gives you some idea why novels in this genre, written without a sense of frivolity, click so well with me.

The novel is broken into two parts, with the first part covering most of Sally, Bree, April, and Celia's 4 years at Smith College, as well as their reunion at Sally's wedding.  The second half focuses on what happens to the women after they go their separate ways post-wedding.  The first half was definitely stronger for me than the second.  I feel like the plot took a rather far-fetched direction in the later chapters, and the ending is incredibly abrupt, given how well-developed the rest of the book is.  That said, I suppose the second half is where most of the "action" happens, so I can't knock it too much, given that I never felt like I hit a slow point as I was reading.

Overall, Commencement is the perfect blend of head vs. heart.  Sullivan confronts some important issues in the novel, and does so with passion and humor.  If you have a recent female college grad in your life, this would be an excellent book to pass on!

Is there a certain time period that you love to read about in novels?  Childhood?  High school?  College?  Parenthood?  What makes that stand out for you?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Book Review: Early Decision by Lacy Crawford

Title:  Early Decision
Author: Lacy Crawford
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

In  Early Decision , debut novelist Lacy Crawford draws on 15 years of experience traveling the world as a highly sought-after private college counselor to illuminate the madness of college admissions.

Working one-on-one with Tiger-mothered, burned-out kids, Anne “the application whisperer” can make Harvard a reality.  Early Decision  follows five students over one autumn as Anne helps them craft their college essays, cram for the SATs, and perfect the Common Application. It seems their entire future is on the line—and it is. Though not because of Princeton and Yale. It’s because the process, warped as it is by money, connections, competition, and parental mania, threatens to crush their independence just as adulthood begins.

Whether you want to get in or just get out, with wit and heart,  Early Decision  explodes the secrets of the college admissions race.

My Review:

You've probably heard me mention a few times that my (recently on hiatus) professional career is in higher education.  Specifically, I worked on the administrative side of things: student advising, retention, involvement, etc.  My husband works in the same field, and several years ago he had the idea for the two of us to start a college application consulting business.  Long story short, we never got it off the ground (thanks, 2008 recession), but I have often wondered what life would be like if we had gone down that road.

Now, along came Early Decision, and you can see why I quickly snapped it up.  I should first highlight the fact that this book is a work of fiction--the description doesn't make that immediately clear, but a passage at the beginning of the book does.  The author, Lacy Crawford, used to be a college consultant herself, so though the work is fictional, it definitely has an air of authenticity about it.

The main character, Anne, is a college admissions consultant to wealthy Chicago high school students and their families.  She has to deal with entitled students, pushy parents, and the ever-moving targets of college admissions expectations.  Not to mention, her own messy life--unclear career goals, a largely absent boyfriend, bitchy neighbors, etc.

All of these competing forces caused me to get sucked into the novel very quickly.  I love a book that elicits strong emotions in me as a reader, and this one certainly did--because I was constantly feeling infuriated at the students and parents (especially the parents!) that Anne had to battle in her quest to assist these kids on their way to college.
Best interpretation of me every time a parent in the novel re-wrote their kid's college application essay
(Side note: college consulting was probably not for me if "fury" was a common emotion while reading.)

Each of the five students she works with in the novel have their own obstacles to overcome, and Crawford does a great job crafting the unique dramas in which they find themselves entangled.  I stayed up way too late a few nights reading, in a desperate attempt to find out what happened next with their application woes.

The writing is fantastic--Crawford has a way with words that will leave you feeling dazzled by her prose.  (I think she may have polished a few students' essays in her day, eh?)  However, one downside is that I found the nuances in some of the character dialogue to be confusing and misleading.  There were several confrontational conversations between characters that left me scratching my head when they were, "Huh?  Why did that character walk away angry?  Did I miss something here?"  At first I thought this was just me not being a careful enough reader, but after it happened 2-3 more times, I didn't think it was me anymore.  The dialogue itself wasn't an issue, but the underlying emotions of the characters were often fuzzy, their reasons for being upset after a conversation unclear.  This disconnect was frustrating at times, especially when I had to wait another chapter or two before I could figure out what the author was trying to convey.

This is not a book of all happy endings, which I appreciated (even if it did mean sadness for some of my fave characters).  College admissions can be fraught with uncertainty and disappointment, and Crawford makes sure to highlight that.  I was especially happy with the way she chose to wrap things up in the epilogue.  I don't always want my endings put together in tight packages, but in this case, I appreciated that all the loose ends were tied up.

Overall: I loved the characters, the eloquent writing (minus some conversational bits), the way the drama heightens throughout the novel.  I think the subject matter will appeal to a wide range of readers: high school students thinking about college, college students themselves, any adult who's been to college, parents who are helping their kids with the application process...the list goes on.  Despite the confusing dialogue here and there, I was glued to this one from start to finish, and I hope Lacy Crawford goes on to write more novels in the world of higher ed!  Always a subject I'm happy to explore.

Much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Lacy Crawford on Twitter.

Readers: what are some of your favorite books that focus on the college experience?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How to graduate college without reading.

Fun reading, that is.

I recently read a pretty great blog post by Stormy over at Book.Blog.Bake (here!).  Stormy's in college, and she outlined what her reading life has been like since she started her college career.  Her post made me laugh a little because when I was in college...

...wait for it...

...I didn't HAVE a reading life.

I know!  THE HORROR.  I feel guilty even admitting it to myself.  But alas, it is true.  College is the one time in my literate life when I had a near-cessation of all pleasure reading.

From my conversations with others, I've found that I am not alone in this.  A lot of people lose their pleasure-reading mojo in those four (or five, or seven...) years on the way to a university degree.  On the flip side, other students go on total reading binges in college.  I actually read several very active book blogs run by current college students, and I have to admire them for it.

Reason #1 why I wasn't reading in college: I was busy dancing like an idiot in dorm rooms.
Other faces blurred to protect the innocent.  You know who you are.
But why did my reading life shrink to nothingness in college?  Here are the main reasons I can pinpoint.

1. Too much OTHER reading to do.
Freshman year, I was a pathobiology major (nerd alert!) and spent all my time trying to figure out what a derivative was and not blowing things up in chem lab.  Sophomore year I switched to family studies, and for the rest of my collegiate life, I was left with the hell that all social science majors are familiar with: NEVER-ENDING TEXTBOOK READING.  No time for novels, that was for sure.

2. Too much socializing to do.
What can I say?  I lived on campus all four years, and there was always a party, concert, or midnight pizza run to attend to.  And even when I wasn't out and about, I was on AIM in my dorm room IM'ing everyone I knew and coming up with witty, pithy away messages.  Those were the days, AMIRIGHT?

AIM away messages: practice for future Facebook statuses
3. Too much work.
I worked 3 jobs simultaneously while I was in college, in addition to taking a full courseload.  I was fairly well booked all the live-long day.

4. Too tired.
With all the aforementioned stuff going on, I rarely went to bed before 2am and rarely woke up after 7am (on weekdays, anyway).  When I DID have downtime, the last thing I had energy for was a book.  Instead, marathons of West Wing (BARTLET FOR PRESIDENT!) and episodes of Late Night with Conan O'Brien were pretty much the only activities that could hold my attention for more than 30 seconds.

My senior year college dorm room.  NARY A BOOK IN SIGHT.  West Wing DVDs, 35mm film, and an overabundance of fluorescent colors are there to date me though.
THANKFULLY, during the last semester of my senior year, I reconnected with my love of literature.  I had a serious case of senioritis, and spent a lot of my free time getting back into the world of Reading For Pleasure.  What were some of the books that knocked me out of my funk?

Angels and Demons, and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

One of my friends let me borrow these, and I remember sitting at one of my jobs, DEVOURING them.  Nothing like a quick and dirty mystery to get you back in the groove.

Jemima J by Jane Green

I randomly picked this up at the bookstore and read it during my solo spring break vacation to Los Angeles (another story for another day).  This started my love affair with Jane Green, and was probably the beginning of my women's fiction addiction.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

My then-boyfriend-now-husband let me borrow this right before I graduated, and I was fascinated.  I quickly jumped into Krakauer's other available books afterwards.  And we all know about my adoration of JK.

So, collegiate readers, I salute you.  College is not an easy time to get lots of fun-reading done.  For those of you that do, keep on truckin'!  And for those that have lost their reading mojo, please have faith that your break is temporary, and the library will be waiting for you after graduation.

Now go down that Jager shot your roommate just poured for you, and don't give it a second thought.
Graduation day.  That face says, "Thanks for the memories, now where's my library card?"

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