Friday, September 27, 2013

Mini-Reviews: College Novels

I absolutely loved my time in college and now I'm a professor so I really enjoy reading books that depict college life.  Here are three books that I've read recently that are set in college:

Sophomore Switch
Author:  Abby McDonald
Publisher:  Candlewick Press, 304 pages
Publication Date:  March 10, 2009

From Goodreads:
Take an administrative snafu, a bad breakup, and what shall heretofore be known as "The Hot-Tub Incident," and you’ve got two unprepared sophomores on a semester abroad. For American party girl Tasha, an escape to Oxford may be a chance to ditch her fame as a tabloid temptress, but wading Uggs-deep in feminist theory is not her idea of a break. Meanwhile, the British half of the exchange, studious Emily, nurses an aching heart amid the bikinis and beer pong of U.C. Santa Barbara. Soon desperation has the girls texting each other tips — on fitting in, finding love, and figuring out who they really are. With an anthropologist’s eye for detail and a true ear for teen-speak, exciting new novelist Abby McDonald has crafted a funny, fast-paced, poignant look at survival, sisterhood, and the surprising ways we discover our true selves.

Cute fast read.  It's a story about figuring out who you are, who you want to be, how to fit in, friendship, feminism, and romance.  There's party girl Tasha who is more serious than people give her credit for.  And then there's serious Emily, who is starting to realize that having everything planned out may not be the best way to live and that she needs to loosen up a bit.  The author does a great job of creating two unique characters and you feel like you get to know them since each chapter alternates between Emily and Tasha's POV.  Even though the girls are both sophomores, since they have switched schools there's still that adjustment period and both of them trying to figure it all out.  I enjoyed reading about the girls trying to fit in (definitely a culture shock), and I also liked both romantic interests.  Emily and Ryan...initial dislike turning into that!  One of the guys acts in a pretty horrible way at one point which I thought was a bit inconsistent for his character, but I admired the way the girl handled it and I admire the author for having it end that way for that particular couple (I know this is a bit vague but I don't want to give anything away).  There's character development for both Tasha and Emily, a growing friendship between them that I enjoyed, and both girls were believable and relatable.  Fun book!

Author:  Rainbow Rowell
Publisher:  St. Martins Press, 433 pages
Publication Date:  September 10, 2013

From Goodreads:
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

I absolutely loved this book.  Rainbow Rowell is a fantastic writer.  Great dialogue, interesting characters, and the book just made me smile.  College can be a difficult time for some students, especially the beginning, and the author definitely captured some realistic moments of college life in this book.  Not knowing where to go, not feeling that comfortable with dorm life, your roommate, etc.  

Cath was a unique character (maybe a bit too unique), and I did like her, although she frustrated me a lot of the time (Just go to the dining hall already!)  And the fact that she was in college but really had no desire to meet new people and didn't even seem that interested in her classes.  All she wanted to do was write fan fiction.  So, a little different.

Levi...oh Levi.  I loved him, then I was quite mad at him, then I was hopeful again.  He was what Cath needed.  I could just picture him smiling all the time. Wren was such a great character, and Reagan as well, I sort of wish we had some chapters from their POVs.  My only complaint is that the MC (and Wren) were portrayed as such extremes.  If you don't drink or party, you're practically a shut in and if you do drink and party, you're basically an alcoholic.  There is a happy medium to college life that's barely portrayed (although you get the sense that Levi, Reagan, and Jandro fall into that category).

Still, a fabulous book that I wholeheartedly recommend.

The Ivy (The Ivy #1)
Authors:  Lauren Kunze and Rina Onur
Publisher:  Greenwillow Books, 312 pages
Publication Date:  August 31, 2010

From Goodreads:
Congratulations! You have been admitted to the most prestigious university in the world. Now what are you going to do?

Callie Andrews may not have money or connections or the right clothes, and she may have way too many complications in her love life, what with

the guy she loves to hate ...

the guy she'd love to forget ...

the guy she'd love to love ...

and Matt
the guy she really should love ...

all vying for her attention.

But she has three fantastic roommates (best friends or her worst nightmare?) and a wholesome California-girl reputation (oops) and brains and beauty and big, big dreams.

Will it be enough to help her survive freshman year at Harvard?

I really enjoyed this book.  The authors went to Harvard and it shows.  They even include real professors (Professor Sandel's Justice class is actually pretty famous).  I loved the different characters and thought the authors did an excellent job describing them in such a way that I could picture them.  None of them are perfect, they are all flawed in their different ways.  Callie makes some really poor decisions, let me tell you.  They make mistakes as they navigate their way through their first year of college (actually the book ends before Thanksgiving).  They do normal college things (go to classes, get drunk, study, hang out, hook up, join different clubs, try and join Harvard Final Clubs--sort of like sororities and fraternities) and I appreciated what a realistic portrayal of college life this book gives.  The dialogue is so natural and evokes the way people talk in real life while at the same time revealing the personalities of the different characters.  I had no idea this was a series so be warned that the book ends in a cliffhanger (which is a bit unusual for a contemporary YA).  I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.  A highly recommended read.

Posted by:  Pam


  1. Fangirl & Sophomore Switch sound really good! I'm adding them to my TBR list :)

    1. All three were really good, but with The Ivy you're committing to a series. Hope you enjoy them! ~Pam

  2. These all sounds really good. Fangirl is already on my TBR list, dying to read it!! And the other two sound really good as well. Will be adding them to my TBR list! Thanks for sharing!

    Rebecca @ The Library Canary

    1. Hope you enjoy them. I've been reading more contemporary YA and liking them (a change of pace from the dystopian/fantasy/post-apocalyptic I usually read). ~Pam

  3. I have Fangirl on my Kindle but I haven't got around to it yet and Sophomore Switch looks really good!

    1. Fangirl is excellent, hope you enjoy it! ~Pam

  4. I loved Fangirl, too, although I agree with your complaints as well. Sophomore Switch sounds really fun. It's been so long since I've read The Ivy that I cannot discuss it in any kind of intelligent way, but I remember not really caring for it and struggling to get through it. Great reviews!

    1. I love college novels, and it's always interesting how the authors choose to portray college life. And I always compare it to my own experience. Glad you loved Fangirl and sorry you didn't like The Ivy, I really enjoyed it. ~Pam

  5. I've read Sophomore Switch and liked it well enough, and I am sooo excited to read Fangirl. Everyone seems to love it. I'm in college right now so these novels definitely appeal to me. I hope they kind of portray the life realistically, but that is something that YA high school novels seem to have a tough time doing. Great mini reviews :)

    1. I really enjoyed Fangirl. There are aspects of it that definitely rang true for me, but I guess everyone's college experience is a little different. Hope you enjoy it! ~Pam

  6. Sophomore switch looks cute and fun. I'll probably read it sometime. I was planning on trying to read Fangirl this week, but I signed up for so many book tours that I haven't gotten to it yet. I've heard great things about it and obviously you loved it. I'm thinking I will too. It looks like you've been getting some good reading in. :)

    1. There's just so many great books to read and Fangirl was definitely one of them. ~Pam

  7. As far as Sophomore Switch goes, you had me at "feminism" and then sealed the deal at the romance that starts as dislike and goes into like. I NEED to get a copy of Fangirl!!

    1. I do like romances that start as dislike rather than the love at first sight type. I hope you enjoy reading them! ~Pam

  8. Me too! I loved my time in college and I love finding books that have college life. You've just given me two suggestions (I didn't realize that the Ivy was set in college). ALSO you're a college professor?! Wow, I'd love to hear about that experience one day when you have the time.

    I'm a little curious at how the two girls ended up studying abroad in their sophomore year. In my college you did that in your junior year, and I hadn't seen that happen at another time elsewhere. The adjustment period in college. And the culture shock. Yeaaah, your review is bringing on memories and nostalgia already again ahah :). YES YES ME TOO - I love dislike-turned-attraction. Hmm, did the guy doing something horrible lead to a plot development? Sounds like it. When stuff like that happens, it's always a tad disappointing to me for romance plot wise because... plot point. But anyway. This book does sound fun and so does the friendship between Tasha and Emily. TBR pile here we come!

    YESSSS so glad you loved Fangirl!! It is the perfect smile book and great at capturing how difficult college can be too. What do you mean by Cath being a bit too unique? Ahhh, you mean her extreme introversion. I don't know. I mean, her not going to the dining hall and not really caring as much for other people etc. etc. - yeah, it was kind of frustrating, but I kind of liked how different she was and that she didn't have to change. ALSO YES. I agree with you about not having that happy medium portrayed, especially with the drinking. Even Levi, if he does fall into that category -- well, his most stupid decision happened when he was drinking.

    Professor Sandel Justice. You are making me want to look up that class since I am so woefully ignorant about these things. Ha, has there been anyone who didn't make mistakes in her first year of college? Interesting that the book ended before Thanksgiving - I'm assuming that's because it's a part of a series -- ah, yep, cliffhanger ending. *sigh*

    Anyway, have you ever read Easy? It was one of the first NA titles and doesn't have as much college portrayal, but you might like it. Or at least Psych Major Syndrome - that one has more focus on the actual college life.

    1. I basically loved college so much that I'll be there for the rest of my life! :) I actually love my job, I feel so lucky to go to work every day (or when I go, the flexible schedule is onto of the best parts).

      The way the girls ended up studying abroad was not necessarily realistic (it's last minute and they have to keep each other's schedules) but that made the adjustment part of it even more so given they weren't taking classes they had actually picked. I hope you end up enjoying it.

      I did enjoy Cath's uniqueness, but parts of it I felt were a bit overdone. But I absolutely loved the book.

      And yes, when I think back to some of the things I did in college, especially in the beginning, it's a wonder I'm even alive, to be honest. Some of Sandel's lectures are online if you ever want to check them out, he's fairly entertaining (for a professor). And I recently finished the rest of the books in The Ivy and they are really cute and enjoyable but start taking on a bit of a Gossip Girl feel. But highly entertaining.

      I have not read Easy (by Tammara Weber, right?) but I may have to check it out. And I hadn't heard of Psych Major syndrome, but I just looked it up and I'm definitely reading that one. Thanks! ~Pam