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Commencement: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 16, 2009

3.4 out of 5 stars 223 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 Scotch

From Publishers Weekly

It isn't quite love at first sight when Celia, Sally, Bree and April meet as first-year hall mates at Smith College in the late 1990s. Sally, whose mother has just died, is too steeped in grief to think about making new friends, and April's radical politics rub against Celia and Bree's more conventional leanings. But as the girls try out their first days of independence together, the group forms an intense bond that grows stronger throughout their college years and is put to the test after graduation. Even as the young women try to support each other through the trials of their early twenties, various milestones—Sally's engagement, Bree's anomalous girlfriend, April's activist career—only seem to breed disagreement. Things come to a head the night before Sally's wedding, when an argument leaves the friends seething and silent; but before long, the women begin to suspect that life without one another might be harder than they thought. Sullivan's novel quickly endears the reader to her cast, though the book never achieves the heft Sullivan seems to be striving for. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (June 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307270742
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307270740
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (223 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,027,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J. Courtney Sullivan is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels Commencement and Maine. Maine was named a Best Book of the Year by Time magazine, and a Washington Post Notable Book for 2011. Her third novel, The Engagements, has been called "her most ambitious novel yet" by Entertainment Weekly. Kirkus gave it a starred review, and praised The Engagements as "Elegant, assured, often moving and with a gentle moral lesson to boot."

Courtney's writing has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Elle, Glamour, Allure, and the New York Observer, among many others. She is a co-editor of Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Visit Courtney at www.jcourtneysullivan.com or on Twitter at @jcourtsull

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I am just about 20 years older than the women in this book, and I went to Mount Holyoke, not Smith, but I recognized the women in this book.

The book is imperfect. It seems to make the case that the life-changing aspects of an education at a place like Smith are all in the personal relationships and extra-curricular activities, and that's just not true. Academics are mentioned only in connection with a plot point that has nothing to do with education. It's not my experience (nor my observation, of my Mount Holyoke and Smith alum friends) that you can isolate any part of the experience like that. It's an education as well as a community.

Once the women graduate, again, the focus is solely on their emotional lives, except for April, and again, this is solely because it's needed for a plot point to work. On the whole, the separation of emotional life from the any grounding context weakens the book. (Example: At one point, Bree takes a long leave of absence from her job -- that she supposedly loves -- as an associate at a West Coast law firm, a job that was hard to come by, even after graduating magna from Smith and at the top of her Stanford Law class. Her response? "Oh well, I'll probably be fired.")

Now for what works about the book. The descriptions of the early days settling into Smith rang very true. The women seem realistic to me, even with their weaknesses. The friendships are complex and complicated, and even difficult, but believable.

Finally, and most important, the book is about choices. Good choices, bad choices, brave choices, careless choices, scared choices, and even the choices we make when we pretend not to choose. It's about accepting the consequences of those choices.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Since I'm always a sucker for novels about academic life, I devoured Commencement as soon as it arrived in the mail. This novel chronicles the complex lives and relationships of four young women (the Southern Bree, the radical April, the complicated Sally, and the dynamic Celia) who meet as freshmen at Smith. The chapters move seamlessly, and each character is beautifully intertwined within each chapter. This novel is more complex than most novels about women's friendships, and this has more "bite" than a typical summer read. I agree with some of the other reviews in that the novel has somewhat of an "identity" crisis, but I don't think that this is necessarily a negative quality. I enjoyed the look into the emotional lives of the characters, the clever dialogue, and the very realistic feel of the plot devices. Refreshingly, these characters do more than shop for designer clothes and sip on cosmos. This is a thinking girl's summer read.

The characters' post-collegiate lives serve as relevant commentary on the many choices that today's young women have. The plot twists and turns, and most of these twists are resolved at the end of the novel, which is satisfying. Don't let the social commentary fool you, though- This is still an enjoyable book. I think that readers who enjoy Curtis Sittenfeld or Kate Christensen will enjoy this one, as well.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Commencement" is a beach book for 2009 for the post college crowd. I am probably not in the demographic that this book would appeal to but I applaud the author, J. Courtney Sullivan on her debut novel just the same.

The story seems benign at the onset as 4 women meet and become bonded in their first year at Smith College. But this tale takes serious twist and turns in the lives of it's 4 female characters weaving back and forth between their college years of discovering who they are and their post college years as the women they have become.

There are heavy topics used as platforms or springboards for this story and sometimes it does approach preachy. Prostitution, child abuse, lesbian relationships, date rape, just to name a few.

The author J. Courtney Sullivan, who is a graduate from Smith goes into detail about the unusual tendencies and rituals of attending an all women's college and I found this amusing and sometimes a little freaky not having attended an all female college myself. I have heard the rumors but this was way more than I needed to know--if it's really true!

Overall, it was an easy read with a small mystery towards the end. Was it a page turner? No. At the heart, it's a book about the bonds of female friendships in a fast paced world which barely leaves you time to take out the garbage, much less keep up with your most cherished relationships.
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Format: Hardcover
As a graduate of a women's college and lover of commercial and literary women's fiction, I wanted to like this book but it just isn't any good. As many others have pointed out, none of the characters have their own character or voice and it feels like the author was torn between writing something commercial and writing a literary novel. As it stands, it is neither; it is just a muddled, dull novel about four boring characters that I couldn't for the life of me care about. I'm disappointed in the author, but more than anything I am disappointed in the New York Times, a supposed beacon of subjective reporting, for blatantly favoring a novel written by one of their own.
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