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Commencement: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 16, 2009
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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 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)
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The CHOICES are very different for these 21st-century "Smithies" - gay or straight lifestyle, too many opportunities and not too few, whether to espouse the practice any religion AT ALL or embrace the agnostic modernity, to have children or not - but the WOMEN are the same, thank goodness.
And of course, some of the characters were not well developed - but they are all under 27, how well developed were YOU as a character at that age? But I found myself and my class- mates in each of these 4 women, parts of myself in all 4, and I admired them all - they respected themselves, and each other, and what's worth-while in life, and they evidently studied hard - all 4 graduated Phi Bete - and, what's more, they kept on trying to forge lives that were particularly THEIRS.
I agree that this novel would have lost its appeal with any other place as the setting, but that's totally missing the point - the Smith experience, and the friends you make there, shape you into who you are as an adult, and that's what this book is about. I could not put it down, and I am still thinking about all the ties that bind the 2002 grads to those of the early 1960s, now IN their 60s.
Thanks to J. Courtney Sullivan for giving me yet one more good reason to be proud of my Alma Mater - and April, Sally, Celia and Bree (and Lara!), keep up the good work! This is my first, and may be my LAST, Amazon review, I'm generally too busy for this kind of thing, but this book was worth it!
Commencement was the second novel that I have read by J. Courtney Sullivan (I read her novel Maine first) and I have to say, I'm glad I read Maine first, because after Commencement, I'm not sure I would have given her a second chance. There wasn't anything horrible about the novel, but the first half of it really dragged for me and it took me a very long time to get interested in the story. And then once the story got interesting, it seemed to start taking turns that got progressively less believable. The novel is well written, but maybe I'm not familiar enough with the culture and lifestyle of Smith College and its graduates to fully appreciate its charms.