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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book review: Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan

I liked this book a lot, but I do understand the criticisms. Commencement is the perfect book for college students or recent grads. It covers four friends from Smith College, during their college years and beyond.

It really starts five years after graduation as the four young women are meeting up for the wedding of one of them. Although the book tries to be even-handed in the four stories, we do end up with one character that is more central, Celia, She is going to be a bridesmaid in Sally's wedding, along with Bree (the Southern Belle turned lesbian) and April (the militant feminist). Sally is the brilliant and beautiful but wounded girl whose mother died right before she started college. Celia is less defined and as the stand-in for the reader, that makes sense. With wedding preparations, the girls flash back to when they were assigned to a small back hallway, just the four of them, in their freshman (sorry, first-year) dorm. We see them grown and change through college, but also how those changes impact them after college. One girl says their first year after college is like their freshman year in life, and I really like that idea. I think it takes some of the pressure off to have everything figured out because how many freshmen have everything figured out? Their post-college paths are very different but they keep close, although not as close as they'd expected, and mostly due to Celia and Sally keeping them all updated on each other.

At the wedding there is a big fight. Mean truths are said, feelings are hurt, and relationships are injured. It takes a very long time to resolve this, which is much more realistic than these types of situations are generally portrayed. The ending was both odd and predictable. I can see why some readers don't like it, but it was well set up and fit with the personalities presented. It did feel like a first novel, with some awkwardness and fits and starts and some parts that weren't as cleanly developed as they could be. I had a little trouble keeping the three girls who weren't April straight. But I thoroughly enjoyed it and am very much looking forward to Ms. Sullivan's future books.

I think I got this book free at my previous job, years ago when it first came out, from the publisher.

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