College Girl: A Novel
by Patricia Weitz
Description from the back cover:
Jocks and hipsters. Frats and sororities. Drinking rituals and cafeteria food. Cheap dorm-room décor and never-been-cleaned off-campus apartments. From all-nighters to one-night stands, this is life at college.
For Natalie Bloom, a beautiful, shy, twenty-year-old senior, it is everything she has ever craved – and feared.
Quick aside: I find it highly amusing that the back cover description describes Natalie as beautiful, because no indication of this is ever given in the actual book. Granted, the story is told through her self-deprecating eyes, but I was led to the impression that she was distinctly average looking, or at best a sort of pretty. Beautiful definitely did not come through. (Although she's described as 'attractive to most' on the first page, she is so negative about herself that we quickly forget.)
Technically a junior that transferred to the University of Connecticut, Natalie is the perfect embodiment of the awkward freshman in college. At times she's childish; boys still freak her out, so she avoids talking to them and tries her best to hide from them in the school library. Her family doesn't have a lot of money, and she's the only person to go to college, so she often feels inadequate around her wealthier classmates. Since she transferred in at twenty, she doesn't know anyone and has few friends. She's struggling to grow up and find her place, but doesn't know how. I remember that feeling well. This is what makes the book work so well. Natalie Bloom is authentic. As she stumbles through that year at UConn, you sometimes want to yell at her for making terribly bad choices, but how many of us can claim that we really made all the best decisions when we were first on our own?
Natalie crushes badly on Patrick, the pothead hipster so common on the college campus. She quickly idolizes his good looks and “high-end” literary tastes, but in my dotty old age of twenty-four I just can't see her attraction. Like Edward Cullen in the Twilight series, Patrick has warning signals announcing his relationship toxicity every time he appears. But Natalie blithely ignores them, and continues to pursue Patrick when good judgement ought to intervene.
With hormones in full bloom, the characters obsess about sex. This gives Natalie plenty of chances to exercise her self-loathing and make bad choices, and also acts as a catalyst leading her to pick up other bad habits like smoking and drinking. She's often downright self-destructive. Her behavior is definitely in line with the college dorm mythology, but I wonder how much this actually happens on campus. I've yet to experience the dorm life, and I doubt I ever will, so I think books like this are the closest I'll get. It's a fun, light read – almost too light, somehow, for the topics it talks about – with a tidy little ending to tie everything up neatly. I thought it was fun, and made me rather nostalgic for my golden, wasted youth.