Penelope by Rebecca Harrington
If there’s one thing I love about summer, it’s the gift of longer days and with that the promise of having more time to read, read, read! With this expectation, I only want to fill my time with enjoyable and carefree reads; I don’t want to work or think too hard. Least of all trudge through a book like it’s a homework assignment.
This brings me to my latest find, Rebecca Harrington’s Penelope. The author’s literary debut transported me back to my own college days and somehow magically forced me to relive all the angst and insecurities I felt as soon as my mom drove away from my freshman dorm. The story’s heroine, Penelope O’Shaunessy, suddenly finds herself at Harvard, starry-eyed and with a somewhat romantic notion that college will instantly transform her from a nerdy dork who can’t make friends into someone like Selena Gomez: popular, attractive, in short the girl with the cutest boyfriend. It doesn’t take long before she realizes she is clueless and had no idea starting college is no different than starting kindergarten or high school.
The book painstakingly winds through Penelope’s first year of Harvard, (FYI, the author attended Harvard, so you wonder how much of this story is autobiographical) and provides a firsthand glimpse of the challenges and expectations that are almost a given for first year students at any university. And while most of the storyline rings true, if you’re like me and haven’t seen the inside of a dorm room in 25 years, then the book will probably seem like a reality show from MTV. Therefore, I highly recommend this book for young women around the same age. They will most likely love it way more than someone a few years their senior.
I think what bugged me most was that the majority of the story is a running dialogue between the characters, so it felt more like reading a play or TV script, with little descriptive or no narrative elements present. So not only did I find this extremely taxing, but I kept wondering when I would get to the “good part”. After reaching the mid-way point and realizing the only sub-plot I was even remotely interested in was whether or not Penelope’s handy hook-up Gustav would consider her more than a friend-with-a-benefit, I knew it was time to move on to bigger and better things.
While I do give kudos to Harrington’s keen observation and spot-on depiction of today’s college social scene, I hope her sophomoric effort will show a little more depth. She has the potential, the ideas; she just needs to fill in the rest and become more of a storyteller.
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