Saturday, September 17, 2011

Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan

Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
Publisher: Knopf
Published: June 16, 2009
Paperback: 416 pages
Source: purchased at Borders

My Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis (from A sparkling debut novel: a tender story of friendship, a witty take on liberal arts colleges, and a fascinating portrait of the first generation of women who have all the opportunities in the world, but no clear idea about what to choose. 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 fiancé 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.
Written with radiant style and a wicked sense of humor, Commencementnot only captures the intensity of college friendships and first loves, but also explores with great candor the complicated and contradictory landscape facing young women today.

My Thoughts: For so long, I have been searching for a book written for young women in their 20s. When you think about it, there aren't many books that speak to women this age. And it's a difficult time to go through. Many have graduated college and are starting on their careers, trying to find love and get married, becoming a true independent, and learning who they are. J. Courtney Sullivan realizes what a tumultuous period this is in a woman's life and chronicles how four women each go through this phase of their lives.

There are four characters who narrate this story: Celia, Sally, April, and Bre. They meet their freshman year at Smith College, an all-girls school in New England. They come from different walks of life: Bre is a Georgian girl with a fiance; Sally just lost her mother and is growing up without an older woman to help her; April is the rebel, promoting equality for all; and Celia is the most normal of the girls, coming with no boyfriend, no baggage (well, she has the vodka in her suitcases, but not much else). They seem so different from one another but they become best friends. 

As usual, I don't want to give away too much of the plot. Each chapter is told by one of the girls, so you get to know each of them as individuals and also understand who they are and what they mean to the other girls. They recap how they met at Smith and how they grew through college. Sullivan seamlessly meshes the past and present in each chapter. It feels as if each girl is just talking to you over coffee. And each girl has something that you can relate to. For some people, it might be Sally planning her wedding. For others, it might be Celia, grappling with her relationships with men. Each has something that you can relate to as a woman.

I could gush about this book for hours. I have already recommened it to several friends! It's a great book for a young 20-something girl, or anyone who remembers that time and all the changes that come with it. Sullivan perfectly captures the joy and uncertainty of that age in her debut novel.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds lovely. Thanks bunches. I'm going to write this down because there aren't very many books like this to be found.