Very rarely I have the misfortune of reading a book that I dislike just enough to regret ever picking it up.
I'm not sure what review etiquette is for something along these lines, as I'm still fairly new to this side of the book world, but I'm going to just plod along while trying to be brutally honest. The following review is based on my opinion only, and I don't claim to be an expert book analyst...so take from this review what you will.
Cum Laude is an almost-satire of college life, following five incoming Freshman at a Dexter, a small, Liberal Arts college located just outside the town of Home, Maine. This college is apparently among the premiere colleges in the nation, just behind the Ivy Leagues, as several of the characters claim to have turned down various Ivies to attend Dexter. Throughout 23 chapters the reader is passed from character to character, seeing all of the action mainly from 5 pairs of eyes (well, more than 5, but I'll get into that later).
Let's introduce the characters.
Shipley is your not-so-stereotypical blonde undergrad beauty. Beneath her bombshell exterior is an actually quite innocent individual--it is this innocence/naivete that she is most eager to shed during her time at Dexter. One of the reasons that Shipley has decided to attend Dexter is because her troubled older brother, Patrick, dropped out of his program during his time at Dexter and disappeared from her family's life almost altogether.
Shipley's roommate is Eliza, an edgy, brash young woman who hates Shipley on principle (because boys drool over her, she hangs her jeans, irons her underwear, etc. etc. etc.). Eliza is determined to get noticed at Dexter.
Tom and Nick are roommates in another dorm on campus. Tom is your stereotypical rich, preppy young man, all Lacoste polos and deck shoes. He couldn't be more different from Nick, a stoner wannabe (allergic to the world) whose main desire is to build a yurt in the middle of campus for ~spiritual purposes.
Enter Adam Gatz, the local commuter student. Adam and his adoptive sister Tragedy have grown up on a local sheep farm, with parents (Dexter drop-outs due to a predilection for dropping acid) who push the all-organic lifestyle to the extreme. Adam is shy and quiet--the polar opposite of fifteen-year old Tragedy, who lives life with a reckless abandon.
The final character to introduce is Patrick, Shipley's long-lost brother who actually hasn't really left the Dexter vicinity. Self-hailed as "Pink Patrick," Shipley's brother lives off of discarded food in dumpsters, clothing from Dexter's lost and found, and handouts from good Samaritans like Tragedy Gatz.
In Cum Laude, Shipley, Eliza, Tom, and Nick--students who besides being roommates probably would never have had anything to do with each other--are thrown together in an orientation group. Dexter's form of orientation is apparently to drop 4 college students off in the middle of the woods for camping. [side note: lemme tell you--if this were me, heads would have rolled.]
Nick supplies the pot, and this motley crew ends up finding/stealing the campus van to go on a joy ride, ending up at the Gatz family farm. So by the end of the first day, all three young gentleman (not including a couple of beer-swilling upperclassmen) have fallen head-over-heels for Shipley, leaving Eliza to intensify her indignation/jealousy for all things Shipley.
So this is how our main characters are interconnected. The reader follows each person through his or her first semester of college--times that are filled with drugs, failing grades, personal dilemmas, and sex(ish).
I feel like this story had a lot of potential, and goodness knows that von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl series has gotten a lot of notice, but there were issues in this book that I couldn't ignore.
First, the use of third-person omniscient made this a very complex story line, jumping back and forth among 6-7 different characters to relate everything. I couldn't bring myself to really care for each of the characters, and this made following the ~plot a little more difficult.
Second, Patrick's interaction with his sister while at Dexter mainly takes the form of stealing her car because she is idiotic enough to leave the keys on the front tire. It happens like this: Patrick recognizes the car he used when learning to drive, and hallelujah there are keys on the tire! He steals her car, drives it until it's almost out of gas, and then returns it. And throughout all of this, even though Shipley has no idea that it's her brother taking her car out for joy rides, she continues re-filling the gas tank and leaving the frakkin' keys on the stinkin' tire. Idiocy. I can't talk about this any more--I'm making myself angry.
Finally there is the issue that apparently at Dexter you're either a pot-smoking, acid-dropping, ether-sucking druggie, a jaded preppy or a cheerleader. It makes one wonder how this college could have any sort of decent reputation to maintain its place among the Ivies. In satirical form it makes sense to make use of stereotypes, but in my honest opinion this book didn't pull off the satirical voice successfully.
In short, Cum Laude was entirely unbelievable. And boring. Not one of the characters, besides perhaaaaaps Adam Gatz, was likable, which makes reading alternate points of view almost excruciating.
So if you love Cecily von Ziegesar and her Gossip Girl books, I recommend that you stay far, far away from this stand-alone adult novel. It can only cause disillusion and disappointment.
What was the last stinker you read?
Maybe if I'm lucky, I can avoid it. :)
Happy Saturday, everyone!