If I said reading COLLEGE GIRL made me nostalgic, that wouldn't be quite fair. Since I am a 20-year-old second-year college student, being reminded of last year isn't so much a feeling of nostalgia as it is traces of the angst I still have. Regardless, this book is an excellent portrayal of what it's like to be a girl figuring out herself and her education.
Natalie Bloom is a 20-year-old college senior, a virgin, and a transfer student from a lower-quality state school to UConn, where she feels completely out of place. Her roommate has a longtime, sleezy boyfriend, the girls down the hall make fun of her for being a virgin, and she is even less of a good student than she used to be. She drowns herself in schoolwork and refuses to have a social life, only a few times allowing herself to be pulled off to a frat party by her roommate.
Going to the library on a Friday night isn't all bad, though, when a cute guy tells you you're pretty and asks your name. Natalie can't understand why Patrick finds her interesting, when all she wants is to be left alone. But he persists, and soon they go on a date.
Like any girl who has no idea what she's doing, Natalie freaks out when she and Patrick get too intimate, and she refuses to take any of his calls. But he keeps on pursuing her. Soon it's winter break, and Natalie is driving hours each night to meet Patrick at a cemetery for sex. Needless to say, this does not improve Natalie's self-esteem.
In a lot of ways, Patricia Weitz's first work of fiction is wholly depressing --- but then again, so is your first year of college, until you meet the one guy who doesn't treat you poorly. That doesn't make it a bad read. On the contrary, this is one of the best angst novels I've read since Megan McCafferty’s SLOPPY FIRSTS. Every single description and reaction is spot-on and perfect.
It's hard to find a book that really feels like life. COLLEGE GIRL is one of those novels that isn't necessarily feel-good because it's happy-go-lucky at every turn; rather, it makes you feel good because it makes you feel like you're not alone. Natalie repeatedly blows people off because of her inability to understand that they may genuinely want to get to know her. She loves her major (Russian history) but can't explain why she feels so drawn to it. She desperately wants to have sex, but any time the opportunity presents itself, she runs away. This is real college life; falling in love and having your first boyfriend is not the fairy tale it seems like it should be.
COLLEGE GIRL feels a bit too self-indulgent at times. Natalie comes from a blue-collar family and is always reminding us how out of place she feels among the rich students of UConn. I can definitely understand the frustration of being the out-of-place poor kid, but the dead horse was beaten a few too many times. I would have preferred a slightly more subtle approach to that conflict.
Still, anyone who has ever been to college, wants to go to college, or has been a young person with angst can appreciate this novel and its protagonist. It's as real as can be, and I have a great respect for Weitz and her ability to use angst without melodrama, college without cliché, and sex with emotional consequence. COLLEGE GIRL is definitely worth a read.
Reviewed by Sarah Hannah Gómez on December 26, 2008