Commencement ~ J. Courtney Sullivan
I really need to quit judging books by their covers. After Vaclav & Lena surprised me, one might think that I would be less judgmental of books that seem frilly on the outside. Yet, here I am, once again, reporting on the deep and gritty content within a seriously “chick-lit” cover.
I’ve had Commencement on my shelf for almost a year without so much as cracking the cover. I don’t know why it took me so long as I grew up in the area where the story takes place and know a huge number of women who went to Smith, Mt. Holyoke and the like. Whatever initially deterred me from beginning the book was finally shed, this past week and boy am I glad!
The story isn’t really one that can or should be summarized because the true “point’ of the whole thing, I think, is that journey. The growth and change of friendship, love and heartache are the driving forces in the novel and all other plot items are simply along for the ride.
Commencement is one of those books that I took as a personal letter to my own life even though other people have actually had the privilege of reading it. Though the book is based on the campus of a small women’s college and I went to a large, co-ed state school, the people in the story could easily have been found in personal history: the smart but hard partying Catholic girl from Boston; the sweet, preppy “good girl” from the Massachusetts suburbs; the pretty southern belle; and, of course, the seriously radical, over involved, under-manicured, Midwestern activist.
Though this sounds like a wide range of personalities, people who know me well will probably laugh at the combination. I found several figures from my life, to compare to each young woman in the story, making the progress of the book that much more personal. Now, not everyone grows up with a mix of preppy and Irish Catholic kids, all the while going to protests and marches with her parents and then, ultimately, moving to the deep south. So, maybe it does sing to me on a more personal note.
I loved the analysis of feminism, gender identity and other timely topics that have been at the front of my brain for the last little while. Because each player in the story is so different, the big picture provides such a complex and full overview of the breakdown of these issues.
I’m not really sure how to recommend this book because, again, it seemed to call to me on such a personal level that I’m not actually clear that it would appeal to anyone else. How silly but I feel like it’s my own little story. I do think that it’s a great book that should be read, regardless of personal experience, simply for the character development and overall fun. Sullivan did a great job with this and I hope other readers have and continue to enjoy this as much as I have.