Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sorority 101: Rush to read it

Books about sororities, I thee dread. Looking at the world of fiction, one would think that college sororities are only good for instilling eating disorders and making a person buy one's friends. Having been in a sorority, I can tell you that while all fiction has some place in fact, my life in a sorority was simply not like that. Being in a sorority helped me develop leadership and social skills and introduced me to a lot of women I might not otherwise have met, even at my small liberal arts college. As an alum, I regularly meet up with my sorority alumnae association, and it's lots of fun. We have women in the group ranging in age from 23 to 85, and our dinners and parties are always full of good conversation and great food. Now that I've said this, you can probably understand why I was nervous upon picking up the first two books in the Sorority 101 series, Zeta or Omega? and The New Sisters by Kate Harmon, copies courtesy of Penguin/Speak (thank you!).

The plot: Veronica (Roni), Lora-Leigh, and Jenna are all from very different backgrounds, but they all end up attending Latimer University, a school of 2500 students in Florida. Roni is running from her rich Boston parents, who care more about how they look to the neighbors than what Roni wants to do with her life. Jenna is the oldest of four sisters and recently diagnosed as a Type I diabetic, and college is a chance for her to prove she can live independently. Stylish Lora-Leigh would rather be at FIT designing clothes and is only at Latimer to make her mother happy. All three go through sorority recruitment (formerly known as Rush, but it hasn't been called that in almost 10 years) with different expectations...or in Jenna's case, no expectations at all; she was talked into going through by her roommate, who hopes to join a sorority. As the recruitment period progresses, Roni, Jenna, and Lora-Leigh become close friends and each other's support system. They swear to remain friends, but will they be lucky enough to also become sisters?

Why you'll love it: Finally, a book about sororities gets it right. So many other books focus on the pressures of what to wear and what to say during recruitment that they forget how fun recruitment can be. I had a blast during mine, and later in my college years served as Membership (aka Recruitment) Chair in my sorority and as a Rho Chi, or Recruitment Counselor, someone who answers questions from freshmen and guides them through the recruitment process. There are skits and good conversation, and during the final parties, members of sororities get to talk about what their organization means to them. In book 2, we see the three girls going through their new member period, which is when you learn about the history and traditions of your organization and prepare for initiation. The action moves nicely and there's an appropriate amount of suspense around the girls finding the right group for them and receiving bids, or invitations to their sororities. And of course, there's romance, family drama, and a look at the perils of the college freshman-roommate-matching algorithm. With college being the new high school in both TV and YA literature, it's nice to see a book that emphasizes the positives of sorority life and doesn't play into stereotypes.

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