A sparkling debut novel: a tender story of friendship, a witty take on liberal arts colleges, and a fascinating portrait of the first generation of women who have all the opportunities in the world, but no clear idea about what to choose.
Assigned to the same dorm their first year at Smith, Celia, Bree, Sally, and April couldn’t have less in common. Celia, a lapsed Catholic, arrives with her grandmother’s rosary beads in hand and a bottle of vodka in her suitcase; beautiful Bree pines for the fiancée she left behind in Savannah; Sally, pristinely dressed in Lilly Pulitzer, is reeling from the loss of her mother; and April, a radical, red-headed feminist wearing a “Riot: Don’t Diet” t-shirt, wants a room transfer immediately.
Together they experience the ecstatic highs and painful lows of early adulthood: Celia’s trust in men is demolished in one terrible evening, Bree falls in love with someone she could never bring home to her traditional family, Sally seeks solace in her English professor, and April realizes that for the first time in her life, she has friends she can actually confide in.
When they reunite for Sally’s wedding four years after graduation, their friendships have changed, but they remain fiercely devoted to one another. Schooled in the ideals of feminism, they have to figure out how it applies to their real lives in matters of love, work, family, and sex. For Celia, Bree, and Sally, this means grappling with one-night stands, maiden names, and parental disapproval–along with occasional loneliness and heartbreak. But for April, whose activism has become her life’s work, it means something far more dangerous.
Written with radiant style and a wicked sense of humor, Commencement captures not only the intensity of college friendships and first loves, but also explores with great candor the complicated and contradictory landscape facing young women today.
Praise for Commencement
“One of the year’s most inviting summer novels…. Sullivan introduces strong, warmly believable three-dimensional characters who have fun, have fights and fall into intense love affairs.”
–The New York Times
“Take Mary McCarthy’s The Group, add a new feminist generation striving to understand everything from themselves and their mothers to the notion of masculinity that fuels sex trafficking, and you get this generous-hearted, brave first novel. Commencement makes clear that the feminist revolution is just beginning”
–Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms.
“Sullivan is a keen observer, with a wry sense of humor”
“Commencement is much more than a novel about academia or young women. It’s a thoughtful, engrossing study in lives transformed and relationships realigned, full of details and dilemmas that speak to a broad audience.”
—The Onion’s A.V. Club
“Sullivan’s gifts are substantial”
–The New York Times Book Review
“Commencement is a beach book for smart women.”
“Sullivan writes fiction you might expect from a journalist: Her clean, precise prose stays carefully neutral and balanced, even as she shifts points of view from chapter to chapter…. [Her characters’] struggles, reactions and decisions feel real. How they pull through—and pull together—proves inspiring.”
–Philadelphia City Paper
“Wickedly sharp…. Ms. Sullivan’s voice is funny and smart.”
—The New York Observer
“This story about four Smith College students and the paths they follow post-graduation celebrates friendship and explores modern-day feminism. At the same time, it’s just a really devourable read.”
“Convincing and unique.”
—Elle (Winner of the Elle Readers Prize)
“As [Commencement] takes the women from their first shaky steps toward independence through the ups and downs of their 20s, you’ll relive—and celebrate—the stomach-dropping moments of the best friend-relationship roller-coaster.”
“I was deeply engaged by the characters and their complexity…. In Commencement I see the launch of a literary career.”
—Nicholas Kristof, nytimes.com
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