Think the awkwardness of your college years is over? Think again. In this exclusive essay, Jenny Jackson, editor of Rebecca Harrington’s Penelope, explains that you’re never too old to have a very Penelope day.
Ah, college: That venerable institution of higher learning that brought us beer pong, Raman noodles, Animal House-like partying, and keg stands. Or, in my case, a major dose of social unease. I still vividly remember my first week of school as a nail-biting gauntlet of ineffective name games and confusing acronyms. I got shockingly lost trying to find my art history class. My entire dorm went to every meal together, everyone too afraid of walking into the dining hall alone. Late at night, strangers would stroll into the common room, plopping down in the beanbag chairs and introducing themselves. It was bewildering. But, eventually I made friends. And I learned my way around the tiny campus. And, in time, the strangers stopped coming over, unless they were really drunk. College got fun.
When I read this debut novel, Penelope, all these memories came crashing back to me. The ridiculous theme parties! The crushes on standoffish upperclassmen! The inability to make a mixed drink that would not taste disgusting! This book perfectly captures those socially awkward, geographically challenging, totally wild early days of college life.
But there is a reason that fifteen years after that first week of college Penelope still hits so close to home. It is because no matter how successful you are, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve had to play a name game, and no matter how far you’ve come from the clueless freshman in the oversized sweatshirt, we are all occasionally struck by a major case of the social awkwards.
The other day Rebecca Harrington came into the office. She had a huge backpack looped over one shoulder, two books pinned under one arm, a coffee cup in one hand, and, inexplicably, a shoe in the other. As she collapsed into a chair and scattered her various things across the table she announced that she was “having a very Penelope day.” I laughed, but ever since then that phrase has been replaying in my head. Penelope is laugh-out-loud funny and fantastically comic, but only because it’s so true. We’re all a little bit Penelope sometimes. She’s a heroine for the ages, she’s relatable and wildly funny, and I fell in love with her and her story. So, plop down in the old beanbag chair, whip up some Raman noodles, and settle in for a read that will have you laughing and maybe seeing a little bit of yourself in our heroine!