Reminiscing About College with "Penelope"

Penelope book review

I’ve been out of college a little over a year now and I think I’m just now coming to accept the fact that I will not be returning to my campus as a student. Even though I’m relieved I no longer have to worry about finals, it’s always fun to think back on the days of campus life. That’s why I was quick to pick up Penelope by Rebecca Harrington as a light fall read.

“Penelope” follows the incredibly awkward Penelope O’Shaunessy as she embarks on her first year at Harvard. Having spent most of high school playing Tetris on her phone at parties, Penelope is thrown into the strange social landscape of the Ivy League. Her roommates Emma, an extreme type-A, obsessed with getting into Harvard’s exclusive social clubs, and Lan, an unfriendly rebel who rarely leaves her room, offer little in the ways of friendship. But Ted, the Marc Anthony look-a-like she meets on her first night in the dorm, becomes a companion and classmate as they navigate their first few weeks at Harvard.

The book is mainly episodic, detailing the strange characters Penelope encounters through her classes and attempts to try out for a string of extracurricular activities.

The novel’s major downfall, however, is that it lacks a plot, leaving readers to often wonder exactly what they’re working toward. While I would usually see this as a serious flaw, there’s something that drew me into the story and characters. Just like a school year, there are plenty of ups and downs and things don’t necessarily end up neat and tidy.

There are a few humorous moments sprinkled throughout and plenty of cringe-worthy awkwardness. But the book isn’t completely absent of conflict. Most of it lies with Penelope’s romantic life as Ted falls for the mostly oblivious Penelope, and Catherine, a bug-eyed girl with “the largest breasts Penelope had ever seen,” decides to be her best friend while chasing after Ted. More complications arise when Penelope begins to interact with Gustav, a wealthy upperclassmen Penelope develops a crush on after seeing him her first day on campus.

A freshman effort for Rebecaa Harrington, a 26-year-old Harvard alum and a Huffington Post editor, “Penelope” is a quick read that is sure to leave you nostalgic for the days of the freshman dorm or bring back memories of your own awkward 18-year-old self.


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