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Penelope (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – August 7, 2012

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Original edition (August 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307950314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307950314
  • ASIN: 030795031X
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #573,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“[An] amusing and often searing profile of a dysfunctional Harvard that runs on elaborately bullshitted papers and even more elaborately constructed personae. Penelope manages to bump into all manner of Harvard caricatures, allowing Harrington’s satirical voice to shine.” — Zoë K. Hitzig, The Harvard Crimson

“Unique . . . refreshing . . . It is this sincere depiction of a quirky quasi-misfit in a world of pre-law go-getters and trust-fund kids that renders Penelope not only a satire of the Harvard world, but also a sincere portrayal of an average kid.” —Shannon Draucker, The Dartmouth

“The quirky, titular character of the novel is hilarious, loveable, and perfectly imperfect (and mercilessly deadpan). Harrington manages to balance snarky and sarcastic observations with genuine truthfulness about the college experience. . . . Penelope brilliantly satirizes (and, on occasion, skewers) the various ‘typical’ students you meet in college and the trappings of academia. The supporting characters, particularly Lan, are fabulous (the hairy, hairless cat plus the t-shirts equals genius) and many of the social observations are spot on (the less than cool party you still attend to be at a party . . .). This remarkable debut is one that will stick with me for a long time to come. How could I forget a narrator who proudly wrote her college entrance essay on a car seat? The answer, not easily. . . .[A] charming, disarming, witty debut from a writer who cleverly captures the social absurdities many of us experience in the awkward transition from adolescent to adult. . . . If Zooey Deschanel were a novel, she would be Penelope. (This is a compliment.)” —Rory O’Connor,

Penelope will keep you laughing . . . This tale of a hapless freshman’s bumpy assimilation into college life recalls the neurosis of Bridget Jones—in a good way.” —Angela Mantano, Campus Circle
“It’s rare to find a novel that makes the reader laugh on every page, and Rebecca Harrington’s debut novel delivers this promise. . . . Penelope delivers a story packed with humor that will entertain readers from cover to cover.” —Sara Ermish, Indigest Magazine

"In Harrington’s telling, Harvard’s confluence of overprivileged climbers, antisocial geniuses, hyperambitious strivers, and hopeless geeks results in a special breed of dysfunction. . . . As the novel’s characters anxiously chatter about Lloyd Blankfein, Thomas Pynchon, the Harvard-Yale game, and housing arrangements, Harrington invites their mockery. In Penelope’s depiction of Ivy League . . . the comedic payoff is high." —Mythili Rao, The Daily Beast 

“Penelope is one of those novels that’s more than entertaining enough to take to beach but can still dazzle you with its wit and razor-sharp intelligence.” —Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly

“Dotted with classical literature in-jokes, Penelope is a clever read about the absurdity of the Ivy League experience: the hookups, the all-night ‘pregaming’ and the waffle irons branding the college crest on students’ breakfasts. . . . . [Penelope] never abandons her dorky core in favor of Harvard manners. As in the classic campus novels Harrington references, virtue is rewarded and the villains get their comeuppance.” –Rebecca Finkel, Metro

“Penelope is quite a gal, and one with very much her own voice.” –Ann LaFarge, Hudson Valley News

“Rebecca Harrington’s irresistible debut novel, Penelope, follows its plucky, doe-eyed heroine through her tumultuous freshman year circa the 20-aughts at Harvard.” —Lisa Shea, ELLE

“Harrington’s debut is a wryly funny bildungsroman chronicling the titular character’s freshman year at Harvard, and all the supplementary standard collegiate fare—drunken parties and regrettable hookups, pretentious extracurriculars, friends with and without benefits, an incessant pressure to succeed, and the #1 question: Who am I? . . . Penelope’s candidly deadpan neuroses provide plenty of humor, and while the well-off kids of Harvard Yard might seem too aloof, in Harrington’s hands they’re entertaining company.” —Publishers Weekly

“Debut author Harrington, herself a recent Harvard grad, is well equipped to lead readers behind the ivy-covered walls . . . [Penelope] comes into her own through deadpan oneliners and witty repartee. . . . [A] clever parody of Harvard pretentiousness.” —Booklist
“A debut novel that is refreshing, pleasantly absurd, and highly addictive. Penelope is a character who would describe herself as awkward and forgettable. Awkward: yes. Forgettable: absolutely not.” —Kaui Hart Hemmings, bestselling author of The Descendants
“Quick-witted and sharply observed, Penelope transported me right back to my freshman year dorm room and made me nostalgic for dining hall waffles and shots of Peppermint Schnapps. Every page of this hilarious and charming book made me laugh out loud!” —Jennifer Close, bestselling author of Girls in White Dresses

About the Author

Rebecca Harrington is a twenty-six-year-old writer living in New York City. She has worked at The Huffington Post, studied history and literature at Harvard and journalism at Columbia. Penelope is her first novel.

Customer Reviews

Nope, boring characters and hardly any plot throughout.
Paige B
I kept reading the book hoping at the end there would be something to make sense of it, there was nothing.
Laura Belurgi
In terms of writing, the motivations of the main character are very unclear.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 35 people found the following review helpful By K. Jacobson on September 18, 2012
Format: Paperback
I can't remember the last time a book has left me with such a violently negative opinion.

Despite the cliche, I've found that judging books by their covers is usually a rather accurate method of choosing what to read. However, in the case of Penelope, I should have listened to my second-grade teacher. Like other reviewers, I was drawn in by the appealing cover image and enticing summary of this book. But as I read on, I found myself becoming increasingly disappointed.

Penelope herself, ostensibly our heroine, has very little personality and is not really likeable at all. At times she is maddeningly stupid. The rest of the characters are no better, and would be more suitably referred to as caricatures: Penelope's roommates, the Overachieving New Yorker and the Rebellious Loner; a flock of Loserish Boys Who Drink Too Much In Hopes Of Being Cool; the Handsome Rich Boy Who Is Actually A Jerk; the Shallow Bubbly Girl, etc.

And it's not as though there's really much of a plot to lean on. There are no revelatory moments, no hard-won victory (or even crushing defeat) by the book's end. The writing style is beyond stilted, as though English is not Ms. Harrington's native language, and she used an online translator and a thesaurus to come up with much of her text. I finished the book angry: at myself, for having wasted my time, but even more so at Rebecca Harrington for having written Penelope in the first place. I truly, truly have no idea how this was published.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Nerine Dorman on May 15, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
If I have to pick one word as the underlying theme for this novel, it would be “awkward” – everything from the writing to plot and characterisation. Penelope is the kind of girl who’s gone through life agreeing with everyone and never having a strong opinion about anything. She has no recognisable passions or interests, either. She’s so bland and self-absorbed that she’s incapable of connecting meaningfully with anyone. Even her interactions with her mother are painful to behold; her gauche behaviour at Harvard even more so.

Secondary characters all have their quirks and are generally not likeable, perhaps existing as exaggerated archetypes of the students you might recall from your own college or university days. Predictably, Penelope gets involved with a highly unsuitable boy, while the obviously suitable one ends up dating someone else.

That the characters themselves seem so obtuse and unaware of what is going on around them doesn’t ring true. Not much happens in this book, which can pretty much be summed up as “socially inept woman attends Harvard, sleeps with a heartless cad and acts in a terrible play”. We follow Penelope from one snatch of stilted dialogue to the next, all the while silently yelling for her to get a life.

Granted, there were points in the story when I found myself vaguely amused at the author’s observations of life at Harvard, but then Penelope’s floundering became tiresome again. Eventually, when she gets a little spine near the end, it’s not with any earth-shattering Oprah-worthy “A-ha” moment.

In conclusion, I’m not quite sure what the author was trying to achieve. The book switches between satire and sincerity, so that at its close it comes across as an uneasy and somewhat lukewarm mixture of the two.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Morgan S on September 25, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I hate panning a book, I really do. I kept seeing this in every book store and was intrigued so I downloaded it. Aside from the fact that the author apparently hates contractions (no matter how geeky, college students all speak with contractions), there wasn't really a story. It read like a boring memoir. The "heroine" didn't mature or grow, learn much about herself or others or do any good for anyone else. She was just there, as was the rest of this book. At least it was a quick read, just not worth it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amelia on June 4, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I thought Penelope was a fairly accurate representation of college students who don't get the "perfect experience", though perhaps it is too fairy tale like in the fact that she makes friends without even trying. She was overly awkward, but it fit in with the whole story in that everything was slightly over-exaggerated and stereotypical. I enjoyed the story though, and found some parts to be relatable and funny. Not bad for a first book, not too much of anything. Not a "coming of age tale" and definitely not a romance. A nice middle of the road book for people who have sometimes felt they are on the sidelines of life.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By C. Kepler on September 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
I really looked forward to reading this book after seeing the cover and reading the back cover description, but ended up being completely disappointed. Instead of developing an actual plot line this book basically just followed an extremely awkward (but in no way redeeming) freshman in her first year of college at Harvard. I kept reading expecting an interesting (or at least existent) plot to develop. But no luck. Besides the lack of plot, I had issues with the basic writing. The dialogue was extremely unbelievable (has the author ever heard of a contraction?) and there wasn't one likable character. I'm really not sure how the book was even published in the first place. I think the author might have had a good basic idea at first, but then just lost all momentum once the writing got going.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews

More About the Author

Rebecca Harrington is a writer living in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, Elle and other publications.

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