From Goodreads: When Penelope O’Shaunessy steps into Harvard Yard for the first time she has lots of advice from her mother. “Don’t be too enthusiastic, don’t talk to people who seem to be getting annoyed, and for heaven’s sake, stop playing Tetris on your phone at parties.” Penelope needs this advice. She is the kind of girl who passes through much of her life with coffee spilled on her white shirt, who can’t quite tell when people are joking, and who, inevitably, always says the wrong thing. But no amount of coaching will prepare Penelope for the people she meets at school.
Penelope, of average height and lank hair, is, in two words, socially awkward. However, the quirky, titular character of the novel is also hilarious, loveable, and perfectly imperfect (and mercilessly deadpan). Harrington manages to balance snarky and sarcastic observations with genuine truthfulness about the college experience. How many people, that first weekend in college, felt like they were sitting on the outer edge of a new social circle, trying to look interested, but not sure if that is even where they wanted to be (or if anyone actually cared they were there)?
Penelope brilliantly satirizes (and, on occasion, skewers) the various “typical” students you meet in college and the trappings of academia. The supporting characters, particularly Lan, are fabulous (the hairy, hairless cat plus the t-shirts equals genius) and many of the social observations are spot on (the less than cool party you still attend to be at a party…). This remarkable debut is one that will stick with me for a long time to come. How could I forget a narrator who proudly wrote her college entrance essay on a car seat? The answer, not easily.
Penelope by Rebecca Harrington is a charming, disarming, witty debut from a writer who cleverly captures the social absurdities many of us experience in the awkward transition from adolescent to adult. I look forward to what she writes next. Bottom line: 4/5.
P.S. If Zooey Deschanel were a novel, she would be Penelope. (This is a compliment.)
And yes, there is a Harvard-crested waffle on the front, so of course I am going to recommend a waffle recipe (Pumpkin waffles to be exact, obviousness be damned).