Weitz takes a weak stab at a collegiate version of Prep in this disappointing me-too. Beautiful but virginal Natalie Bloom, a student at the University of Connecticut , has traded her working-class past for a spot at the bourgeois party school. While she maintains good grades, she is less successful in the social scene—a menacing environment where horny frat boys lurk in dark corners and couples easily betray each other—until she meets Patrick in, naturally, the library. Though Natalie insists she’s shy, her dialogue with men is snappy and direct, and she and Patrick move toward dating in a series of dull getting-to-know-you conversations. When the relationship turns sexual, Natalie finds herself doubtful about his intentions, but she soldiers on until a weakly developed subplot about her brother’s suicide somehow brings her to her senses. Without a comprehensible or urgent plot, the novel relies on its characters, but bland Natalie is surrounded by equally forgettable, interchangeable supporting personalities. When Natalie finally does find her happy ending, the reader won’t really care.
The above excerpt mirrors a lot of reviews I’ve seen around about College Girl. It does not seem to have been well received among bloggers thus far nor, apparently, when it comes to Publishers Weekly (interestingly enough, the average Amazon rating is four stars, so not as low as I would have thought compared to the reviews I’ve read). Although likened to be a knock off of Curtis Sittenfeld’s book Prep, I thought it was more similar to I am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe. Now let me reiterate for the hundredth time, it feels like, that I hate I am Charlotte Simmons . There is not other way to say it. Charlotte was a blubbering, self-pitying fool. Not to mention the book was almost a thousand pages long, so to have to deal with her for such an amount of time was miserable.
I feel that Natalie, the protagonist of College Girl, had a lot of the same qualities and issues as Charlotte Simmons. She wasn’t one of the popular girls and she wasn’t used to attention from male peers. She was from a hard working, blue collar family. And she also seemed to have the whole self loathing thing going for her. However, with Natalie, the whole woe is me façade did not bother me as much as it did with Charlotte . Maybe because it took Natalie a lot less time (or at least pages) to discover who she was and what she wanted. All I know is that I came to find Natalie endearing.
I wouldn’t say that Weitz hit a home run with this one, but I’m not sure I understand all the negative reviews I’ve read. I do agree with PW that the subplot regarding the suicide of Natalie’s brother was a bit murky for me. It didn’t seem to fit in well with the rest of the story and it felt too forced. And yes, the ending was weak. I’m not one of those readers who insist that an author have an ending. I really don’t care one way or the other if there is a concrete ending. However, I do mind when an author tries to wrap everything up in a cutesy way. It makes the ending seem forced and rushed, and such was the case with College Girl. I could have done without the last 5-10 pages.
I did, however, enjoy College Girl and I think that a lot of focus has been put on its downfalls and not the positive portions of the book. I found Natalie to be very relatable. It’s hard for a lot of people to come to terms with their sexuality, so I could empathize with Natalie. The situation she found herself in with Patrick was completely believable to me. Most women have had, at least at some point, a friend that is dating a guy that is so wrong for them. You look at the guy, who treats your friend like dirt, and wonder why she stays with such a schmuck. That’s how it was with Natalie. Patrick was not a good boyfriend, if he even was her boyfriend, and the great part is Natalie had enough self realization to know it. I think a lot of girls in relationships like that know subconsciously that it’s not a healthy relationship, but I always imagine that many girls won’t even admit it to themselves. Natalie though knows that Patrick doesn’t treat her the way he should, which made me like her more. That may seem odd to people—wouldn’t it be even more irritating when someone KNOWS they’re in a bad relationship and still stays with that person? But really, it made me more sympathetic to Natalie’s character.
I am a big fan of literature that deals with the collegiate experience, and I don’t think College Girl let me down. It was a good story about a girl in college trying to discover herself as she matured, and it did so in a way that was meaningful and worthwhile. If you liked Prep, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this book as well.
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