REVIEW: Penelope by Rebecca Harrington

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars, Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Pages: 270, Level: Easy

Book Description from Barnes & Noble:

When Penelope O’Shaunessy, “an incoming freshman of average height and lank hair” steps into Harvard Yard for the first time she has lots of advice from her mother: “Don’t be too enthusiastic, don’t talk to people who seem to be getting annoyed, and for heaven’s sake, stop playing Tetris on your phone at parties.” Penelope needs this advice. She is the kind of girl who passes through much of her life with coffee spilled on her white shirt, who can’t quite tell when people are joking, and who, inevitably, always says the wrong thing. But no amount of coaching will prepare Penelope for the people she meets at school.
Gloriously skewering the social hierarchy of college, Penelope is the brilliantly funny story of one of the most singular, memorable heroines in recent fiction.

Note: I received a complimentary advance copy of Penelope to review.

Penelope is a socially awkward young woman who begins her first year at Harvard. This is Penelope’s story of trying to fit in.

While there are some issues that are specific to Harvard, most of the book could be representative of any college, or in some cases, even high school. There are a lot of relationship, social and academic issues that are not necessarily unique to any school.

I was thinking that maybe this book should be read by graduating seniors and discussed. It is a light-hearted look at freshman year but it does address situations regarding class selection, auditing, parties, making friends, extracurriculars, competitiveness, etc. It is not unusual for a freshman to become overly stressed about his or her experiences and this book looks at the humor of it.

I did chuckle in many different places, sometimes because I remember going through some of the same things during my first year at college, and others just because they were really funny:

“Penelope was duly awed. Harvard stretched languidly and impressively into the rest of Cambridge like a redbrick monopoly. It was larger and more obliquely Federalist than Penelope remembered and, if she thought about, she was intimidated. To her right she saw a large clock tower; to her left she saw a tobacco shop filled with antique pipes. In the center she saw a gigantic Au Bon Pain.

“Wow,” she observed to her mother.

“I know,” said her mother. “I have never seen that big of an Au Bon Pain before either.””

One negative is Penelope’s personality. She is a complete pushover and truth be told, has absolutely no personality. She agrees with practically everyone, let’s people walk all over her and then rejects the one really good person in the whole book. It got a little old.

There are no profound messages in this book. However, Penelope is a quick, light read and anything that makes me laugh is worthy of my time.

Reviewed by Christina

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