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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, Commencement not 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.
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Amazon Exclusive: Allison Winn Scotch Reviews Commencement
Allison Winn Scotch is the New York Times bestselling author of Time of My Life and The Department of Lost & Found. Her third novel, The Happiest Days of My Life, will be published in 2010. Read her exclusive Amazon guest review of Commencement:
There is a curious thing that happens to nearly all of us in the haze of our post-college years, and that is this: we anticipate the prospect of becoming honest-to-God adults with both heady excitement and unfathomable dread. Dread because we know, wisely, that once we cross this threshold, we cannot go back; there is no sleeping in past eleven, no immature antics that can still be written off to childhood, no phoning our parents when the checkbook hits zero. Excitement because it is such a relief to evolve into something bigger than we were before, to embrace the world as ready, steady grown-ups. And J. Courtney Sullivan, via her debut novel, Commencement, explores these very complexities and growing pains of leaving behind our adolescences and surrendering to adulthood.
As I followed the intertwining paths of her four protagonists, each written honestly and tenderly, I couldn’t help but recall my own tangled path toward adulthood, the missteps, the right steps, the paths that have lead to a content life. And this is what the very best fiction does: it draws you in, resonating, asking you to reflect not just on the characters, but yourself. There is Celia, who can’t get unstuck from her rut; there is April, whose convictions threaten to overshadow the rest of her life; there is Bree, who faces a choice between her happiness and that of her family’s; and there is Sally, who is taping herself back together after the loss of her mother who held her family together.
The four of them, united as freshmen at Smith, slowly bond to form their own family, and like even the best of families, they find themselves both dependent and also fractured at various points in their lives. Sullivan does a fabulous job steering the quartet through realistic, life-changing events, events that so many of us have experienced in these growing years that usher us into our thirties. She never loses control of the plots, never lets the characters spill into something false or untrue. An unplanned pregnancy, a dead-end job, a relationship that might be worth salvaging, but who really knows how or if?
What I enjoyed most about Commencement, and there were many things—the smart writing, the laugh-out-loud dialogue, the ending that I truly couldn’t predict—was that it reminded me so much of how much I loved those years of my life. And how much I loved my friends who I have been fortunate enough to have along in my journey. I found myself rewinding through memories, sifting through old pictures, smiling as I was reading because Sullivan managed to transport me. She created indelible characters who became part of my life, and thus, allowed my life to become part of her book. This is also what the best fiction does, it pulls you along for the ride as if you were there, as if you were in between the pages, as if Sullivan knew my own story and made it hers. —Allison Winn ScotchAbout the Author:
J. Courtney Sullivan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, New York, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Allure, Men’s Vogue, the New York Observer, Tango, and in the essay anthology The Secret Currency of Love. She is a graduate of Smith College, lives in Brooklyn, and works in the editorial department of The New York Times. Commencement is her first novel.
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