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Commencement ~ J. Courtney Sullivan

July 15, 2011


Genre: Adult Fiction
Publisher: Knopf
336 pages
ISBN: 9780307270740
Source: Book Store

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.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2011 12:34 pm

    I know someone who this book would be perfect for! I don’t think that it would be something that I would read, but I know someone whom this book would fit like a glove. Thanks for sharing this review with me. I now have a recommendation to take back to a rather picky friend!

    • July 15, 2011 8:23 pm

      I’m glad you have someone to recommend it to. It’s definitely not for everyone, for sure!

  2. July 15, 2011 6:26 pm

    I keep reading great things about Sullivan’s writing. My book club will be reading her newest book in September. If I like that, I’ll probably look for this one.

    • July 15, 2011 8:23 pm

      Ah! I’ve heard such good things about her new one! I’m contemplating going to get it this weekend though I try not to overdo authors (even ones I like) in succession.

  3. July 15, 2011 10:53 pm

    It’s so neat that you felt such a strong connection to the story!

    When J. Courtney Sullivan spoke locally about MAINE (focused on an Irish Catholic family), several audience members said “but I’m (insert Jewish/Protestant/searching here) and I felt like you were writing about ME and MY family!”

    • July 17, 2011 11:48 am

      Oh wow! She must have that certain something that makes readers feel as though they’re getting something unique but it really just touches on those seriously human aspects of life. Very neat! Maine is on my list to read very soon.

  4. July 18, 2011 3:39 pm

    So glad to hear that this one worked for you! After reading Dawn’s post about seeing the author speak about MAINE, I really wanted to read it — unfortunately, my library doesn’t have it yet, so I’m going to start with COMMENCEMENT. I hope I love it as much as you did!

  5. July 19, 2011 8:09 pm

    This sounds like an amazing book! I think I’ll give Commencement a try.

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