Tiny Pants's Reviews > Cum Laude

Cum Laude by Cecily von Ziegesar
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's review
Jan 03, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: fiction, young-adult

Oh, CvZ. What were you thinking with this one? Actually, scratch that. I know exactly what you were thinking. "I can write a novel. I came up with an idea that spawned a bestselling young adult series, and a television show whose popularity strains credulity. I can write a novel." She went to some sort of writers' retreat, set it in 1992 (which is likely around when she herself attended college), and there we have it.

And of course, her agent and publisher were like, "absolutely, sweetie! You so can!" And they accepted all the nonsense with the writers' retreat and whatnot, knowing full well what they were about to do: Package up CvZ's attempt at a serious-ish novel, which appears to have been written possibly for an adult audience (nothing on the jacket says otherwise), and make it look like "here it is folks! The sequel to the Gossip Girl sequel!" I mean they make almost the entire cover a girl's face, and of course not just any girl, but a girl with quite the resemblance to Blake Lively, aka TV's Serena, and they splash copy on it like "graduate to a more sophisticated class of scandal."

Yeah, no, here's the thing about that. This is definitely not the sequel to the sequel of Gossip Girl. My guess is that people reading it expecting that -- which between it being penned by CvZ and between the jacket copy is not honestly that stupid of an expectation -- absolutely freaking hate it. Hence the low average review on goodreads, which I feel like is honestly kind of surprisingly low (let's face it, sometimes I feel like you people will give anything five stars, even books that haven't been released yet).

There are a few problems here. One, it's clearly been totally mismarketed. But two, we have to face facts -- CvZ doesn't really have a novel in her. I mean, this isn't bad, but on the other hand, it's not very good either. It's sort of a junior version of The Rules of Attraction, if we sub in Dexter/Colby for Camden/Bennington, dial back the drug use a hair, and tone down the sexuality quite a bit. The biggest problem with this book was how completely unreal it felt. And not in the Gossip Girl you'll-probably-never-own-a-Birkin sense, but in a she-couldn't-come-up-with-any-details-so-there-are-too-many-blanks-that-never-get-filled sense.

It's weird, because I feel like one of the strengths of Gossip Girl was that you really got a feel for the characters as part of a larger world, particularly in the books where they were at school. In contrast, this book may as well be a play -- you feel like the characters are utterly cut adrift, alone, in empty spaces. You never have a feeling for Dexter as a college (despite all the omniscient chapter intros, which really feel like she's crutching along without the Gossip Girl site as a way in), nor quite frankly for any of the characters as people. Even Shipley, who is basically Serena, and at this point who we can understand as the author's ideal-self stand-in, is sort of a vague shape. As a result, it takes much too long for the reader to become invested in this book in any way.

There were a lot of minor things that bugged me about this one, which, if you read any of my other reviews, won't surprise you at all. The whole "it's 1992" thing gets ridiculous pretty fast -- at first you're just like, "what's with all the cassettes these kids own?", but eventually it gets very heavy-handed with election references, bludgeoning you with the fact that it's 1992. One reason it's confusing that it's 1992 is because they constantly talk about the on-campus Starbucks. Okay, sorry, but no. Yes, there was Starbucks in 1992, but come on. There wasn't even one in Connecticut by that point, and we're supposed to believe there's one in some not-even-one-stoplight town in Maine? I don't think so. I feel like had there been more detail in the book, these would have gotten more lost in the mix for me, but given that the book was so light with any kind of context, these really stuck out and grated.

Long story short, will you like this book if you liked Gossip Girl? I'm gonna say no, unless you like guessing which one of the characters in this book is a stand in for which characters in GG (hint: It's not hard). Will you like this book if you liked The Rules of Attraction? Maybe, but you'll probably find it kind of boring. Will you like this book if, like me, you'll give anything that takes place at a small New England liberal arts college a go? Eh, you'll tolerate it okay. I think the ideal audience for this book is probably the three people who liked the Upper Class series (which I just bought the last one in for $1 on clearance at a Half-Price Books in Tempe). So hey, three people who wrote the Upper Class books (yep, it took three authors to dredge up those bad boys) -- this one's for you.

P.S.: Seriously, the back cover says, "They're here for a higher education... and you won't believe how far they'll go." I mean really, does it get cheesier than that? Clearly CvZ has the clout to get to try her hand at a novel, but not to control how her work gets foisted upon the world.
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Reading Progress

January 3, 2011 – Shelved
January 3, 2011 – Shelved as: fiction
January 3, 2011 – Shelved as: young-adult
Started Reading
January 9, 2011 – Finished Reading

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