Commencement Cover

by J. Courtney Sullivan


J. Courtney Sullivan’s celebrated debut novel is a sparkling tale of friendship and a fascinating portrait of the first generation of women who have all the opportunities in the world, but no clear idea about what to choose.

Assigned to the same dorm their first year at Smith College, Celia, Bree, Sally, and April couldn’t have less in common. Celia, a lapsed Catholic, arrives with a bottle of vodka in her suitcase; beautiful Bree pines for the fiancé she left behind in Savannah; Sally, preppy and obsessively neat, is reeling from the loss of her mother; and April, a radical, redheaded feminist wearing a “Riot: Don’t Diet” T-shirt, wants a room transfer immediately. Written with radiant style and a wicked sense of humor, Commencement follows these unlikely friends through college and the years beyond, brilliantly capturing the complicated landscape facing young women today.

“One of this year’s most inviting summer novels…. Strong, warmly believable three-dimensional characters who have fun, have fights and fall into intense love affairs.”
—The New York Times

“Wickedly sharp…. Ms. Sullivan’s voice is funny and smart…. A fun, fresh… insightful read.”
—The New York Observer

“Manages to find that sweet spot between Serious Literature and chick lit. Commencement is a beach book for smart women.”
—Entertainment Weekly

More About Commencement:

Praise | Read an Excerpt | Author Interview | Tour Events | Reading Group Guide


Sample questions from the reading group guide for Commencement:

1. What are your thoughts on single-sex education?

2. Do you think Commencement presents an accurate description of a women's college?

3. In the novel the character Sally becomes involved with a professor. Do you think student/teacher relationships are more common at women's colleges? Or is that an out-dated myth?

4. This book has a strong feminist message. What do you take away from this?

5. Commencement's protagonists graduate from Smith in 2002. Gloria Steinem compares Commencement to Mary McCarthy's The Group, which depicts a group of eight young women who graduate from Vassar in 1933. And Gloria Steinem, herself, graduated from Smith College in 1956. How do you think these three generations of experiences at women's colleges differ and how do they remain the same?

6. Each character thought they had a very clear notion of who they were when entering college. How did each grow and change during their time there and what impact did their unique friendships have on each other?

Click here for the complete reading group guide.

Visit the Reading Group Center for a list of all of our reading group guides.

J. Courtney Sullivan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, New York, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Allure, Men’s Vogue, the New York Observer, Tango, and in the essay anthology The Secret Currency of Love. She is a graduate of Smith College, lives in Brooklyn, and works in the editorial department of The New York Times. Commencement is her first novel.
Photo © 2009 Jerry Bauer