Looking for a light read to start the term but don’t know where to start? Search no further than J. Courtney Sullivan’s “Commencement.”
“Commencement” follows the lives of four friends — April, Sally, Bree and Celia—who meet their first year at Smith College. Although all of them are fundamentally different and are dealing with their own problems, they quickly become the best of friends and keep in touch even after they graduate.
Between April being a radical feminist, Sally dealing with the
death of her mother, Bree losing her fiancé and Celia trying to the keep the peace, these girls learn to deal with the typical issues of college life.
When first reading this book, it seems like the cliché novel to the testament of a perfect college life — where money and looks aren’t a
concern, perfect grades are achieved because they are brilliant and even boys don’t matter because the girls are beautiful. Sullivan’s writing style seems to match this theme, using an oversimplified technique and plenty of dialogue.
While the above is certainly true of this novel and at times it is painful to read because it all appears to be too perfect, each of the girls undoubtedly has her own problems to work through, and Sullivan’s concentration more on these struggles than on the girls’ near perfect lives is what makes this story tasteful instead of tacky.
The girls’ lives after college present struggles that are more real, which results in a more interesting plot line, and thus the pages turned quicker.
April is working for her feminist hero Ronnie Munro, Sally is married and pregnant with her first child, Bree is living with her partner in San Francisco and Celia is living alone in New York City working at her dream job. While the other girls’ lives are as normal as to be expected of recent college grads, April’s “job” with Munro is slightly odd and makes the other girls worry. Munro makes April move in with her, has her do dangerous jobs to complete documentaries and controls who she talks to and where she goes.
At this point, the serious subject of sex trafficking is developed: April and Munro are making a documentary about prostitution and the child sex trade in Atlanta, Ga., and are living in a neighborhood where these behaviors occur on a daily basis. None of the girls have any idea that April is in Atlanta until the unthinkable happens: April disappears.
While the ending of the novel is easily predicted, the novel itself is saved when Sullivan takes the graver route and talks about issues that need light shed upon them, rather than have this story fall into the happily-ever-after genre.