Lindsay Heller's Reviews > Penelope

Penelope by Rebecca Harrington
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's review
Sep 11, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012, academia, humour

You know when you get a new pop CD and you put it in and it's fun, it's catchy, and you can't seem to stop listening to it over and over again. But then you know you should probably listen to that new indie record that you've had your eye on for awhile. You know it will be quality music and mean something more than that pop CD you've been listening to on repeat, so you give the indie a listen and really like it, but then the next day you've the pop CD back in the player? This book is a little like that. It's bubblegum sweet and a whole lot of fun to read, but you feel a little bit guilty when you've enjoyed it way more than some of the meatier novels you've read recently.

Penelope O'Shaunessy is the sort of person who flies under the radar. The sort of agree with everything and try very hard not to rock the boat but then don't understand why, though they're universally liked, they aren't befriended. At the start of her freshman year at Harvard University her mother drops her off with plenty of advice; don't play Tetris on your phone at social gatherings, join extracurriculars, and don't tell the story about how she sat in a car seat until forth grade (an old standby party anecdote, it seems). Still, Penelope has a hard time fitting in with the rest of the Freshman. She doesn't understand why everyone's studying for placement tests, she doesn't spend every waking moment with her homework, and she has no desire to ever join finals clubs or societies. As she makes her way through her freshman year she'll make a lose friends, attempt to befriend her opposite roommates, join the production of an absurdist play she doesn't understand, and hazard a crush on foreign, playboy, Gustav, all the while never really fitting in.

Penelope, the character, is not without her merits. She's bitingly witty, sometimes unintentionally, and manages to have a come back far more often than the the rest of us. She is kind and she honors her commitments. But she is the sort who believes she's often in people's way and doesn't want to be under foot. I am like this. Actually, I saw a lot of myself in Penelope (though I'm not sure that's a good thing). At times she's frustratingly naive and others shows an astute understanding of her surroundings. In other words she's as inconsistent as a real human being.

I had a really great time reading this book and often found myself laughing out loud, much to the chagrin of the people sitting in cafes around me. There was nothing groundbreaking about it and I can see someone shutting it at the end and wondering what the point was. But, to me, it wasn't about making any sort of point, it was about a certain type of person in a certain type of situation and in that it succeeded.
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