Ladyville Book Club: Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan

I love books and films about women. I especially love books and films that are set in entirely female environments, like boarding schools, convents, or homes for unwed mothers. I know “homes for unwed mothers” is not exactly a popular location for books (especially since I’m pretty sure those don’t exist anymore), but have you read The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett? Good gravy! I love (most of) that book! I also love books about all-female families (like Little Women. You can stay gone, Mr. March) and strong groups of female friends (don’t even talk to me about Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants because I’ll probably start crying). I took to Twitter a few weeks ago to get some recommendations for lady-centered books, and Carrie recommended Commencement. I went right to the library, got a copy, got distracted for two weeks, and finally finished it. And guess what? This is a perfect book to feature in Ladyville Book Club. It has strong ladies, feminism, a women’s college, romantic relationships, strong friendships, hard truths about serious feminist issues, and it’s fun to read.

According to a blurb on the back, Entertainment Weekly called Commencement “a beach book for smart women,” and I can’t really think of a better description. There are all the hallmarks of “chick lit”*–ladies tryin’ to make it on their own! Relationships! Sex!–but also a lot of really serious information about sex trafficking, prostitution, porn, mainstream vs. radical feminism, and rape. What’s better than getting invested in a character’s love life and feeling physically ill after reading about the harsh realities of prostitution? Oh, and there’s a very detailed childbirth scene, which I always appreciate because childbirth is real life and I think we should read about it and hear about it all the time. The more graphic, the better. I need to know what I’m getting into (someday in the very distant future).

Commencement follows four friends who meet at Smith. April, Bree, Celia, and Sally are very different but they still become close friends. If that sounds a little cliche, that’s because it probably is, but it totally doesn’t matter. The characters and interesting and it’s fun to watch them interact, both at school and in the “real world” after graduation. If you’re still navigating the post-undergrad world, or if you recently did, then you’ll probably identify with the girls’ struggles as they go through their “freshman year of life.”

J. Courtney Sullivan is also one badass lady. She actually went to Smith, and she edited a book called Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists. Plus, she has amazing taste in books, if this article from The New York Times is any indication.

J. Courtney Sullivan recently came out with another book, Maine, that I’ll have to get my paws on. She’s an interesting writer who knows how to make a book easy to read without making it devoid of substance. I feel about Commencement the same way I do about brussels sprouts. They taste so good, but they’re also really good for me. I realize this analogy only works if you love brussels sprouts as much as I do (and if you don’t, just…I don’t even know what to do with you), but what I’m saying is that Commencement is great and you should totally read it.

If you have any recommendations for books set in all-lady environments, let me know! Especially if they’re in that elusive “home for unwed mothers” setting.

*I hate the term “chick lit” because, duh, it’s an offensive and reductionist way of dismissing any woman who writes about relationships and women’s issues.

2 Responses to “Ladyville Book Club: Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan”

  1. carrie

    yay! i’m so glad you liked it. isn’t it weird that her author name is “j. courtney,” though? like, WHAT’S THE J?


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