Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Penelope, Rebecca Harrington

penelope, rebecca harringtonTitle: Penelope
Author: Rebecca Harrington (twitter)
Release Date: January 24th 2013 by Virago Press/Hachette
Age Group: Young Adult/Adult
Genre: Contemporary
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 star

It’s not every day a book like Penelope finds itself in one’s hands – or mailbox.

Accompanied by a personalised note singing its praises, and a double-sided page of gushing commendations from the staff of its Australian publisher, Penelope made grand promises, and charmed me from page one.
From Goodreads:
Prep meets The Marriage Plot in this uproarious debut novel, a send-up of campus life starring one singularly unprepared, socially maladroit, charmingly clueless freshman named Penelope.

When Penelope O'Shaughnessy arrives on the Harvard campus she is amazed: she has never seen such a vast and majestic Au Bon Pain. She has also never met anyone like her fellow freshmen. Everyone is overwhelmed and overworked, striving to get into the right social clubs and frantically pulling all-nighters at the library - and classes haven't even begun.Penelope's roommates aren't exactly the soul mates she had hoped for (Emma is a social climber intent on punching The Pudding, while Lan is a misanthrope who paints her room black). Meanwhile, her 'Images of Shakespeare' class seems mostly to involve angry discussions over whether or not the Bard was overweight; the dorm room 'pre-game' sessions never seem to lead to a real game; and the aristocratic upperclassman she has admired from afar never seems to be eating in the freshman dining hall, where she might woo him alongside the make-your-own waffle bar. When Penelope finds herself roped into a production of Camus' Caligula, she begins to worry that her entire college experience is beginning to resemble an absurdist play.

A laugh-out-loud depiction of college life, PENELOPE announces the arrival of a deliriously funny new writer.


The Story:


Those of us who didn’t have our day in high school, are often advised to wait. That high school isn’t everything. That, eventually, the popular kids will wind up selling cars or hamburgers, while for us, the awkward, the quiet and the outsiders, the best is yet to come. As Elizabeth Halsey sagely advises in Bad Teacher, “I’m thinking college is your window.”

So it is, with years spent cultivating personality, peculiar anecdotes about car seats and a Tetris addiction to rival Elvis’ love of cheeseburgers, Penelope arrives at Harvard ready for her day. And her first year is going to be a very long day.

The 101:


Now. I loathe the word ‘quirky’ with an irrational intensity. Yet I can think of no term which better suits Penelope and its titular protagonist. With its sweet, intellectual humour and matter of fact whimsy, there is a touch of fairytale to its pages.

Penelope herself is a peculiar character, hapless and naïve, yet practical – somewhat. There’s something of Amelie to her and, despite claiming to loathe whimsy in all its forms at one point in the novel, she’s possessed of a certain matter-of-fact dreaminess which fits the word perfectly. What makes her so utterly charming is how relatable she is as a character. From her social awkwardness and proclivity for playing Tetris on her phone instead of talking to her vaguely neurotic way of seeing any given situation, I rather felt I knew Penelope as I know myself.

With the familiar tone of a humorous observer and a plot concerned not with what is happening, so much as to whom, Penelope has been likened to the work of Wes Anderson, and it is not difficult to see why. There’s a delightful incongruity between Harrington’s writing and the book’s semi-adult subject, and it is this which lends the book its fairytale leanings. After all, infant-eating witches are not light reading, but when told with childlike honesty it lends new perspective. Penelope is hardly this dark, but the deceptive simplicity and levity of its tone hides something sweeter and deeper.

The Verdict:


Penelope is not a love story, nor a coming of age story, but a simple insight into Penelope and her friends' life with often humorous honesty. With an affable and ‘quirky’ protagonist and Rebecca Harrington’s charming prose, Penelope's delightful naïveté will prove a welcome balm to all who have ever felt out of place.

Want it? Get it:


Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Bookworld | Dymocks | QBD
An enormous thank you to the Australian publisher of Penelope, Hachette for providing a review copy of Penelope!

42 comments:

  1. QUIRKY.

    (Okay, okay. I'll stop now.)

    This sounds like a good book for those who are about to enter college. Penelope sounds very... real lifeish.

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  2. *shudders*
    *sits in corner and rocks*

    WHY, AMANDA? WHYYYY?

    I really loved it. Never went to uni, but... it's funny and it's charming, and I liked it so much. I really enjoyed Rebecca's writing, too :)

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  3. I love the word quirky. It is....quirky. (I also like the word quirks.)

    Many college students actually go through culture shock when they get to college (even if they're in the same country/state), so books like this one sound like they give a good idea of what college COULD BE like (as in, it's probably never quite as you imagine it to be).

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  4. Oooh. Socially awkward? THIS SOUNDS LIKE ME.
    "Uni is going to be your day." THIS IS WHAT SO MANY PEOPLE TOLD ME. (And tt wasn't, really, but that's OK.)
    *eyes book suspciously*
    I must investigate further.

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  5. Ahahaha! Right? It's either that, or that high school is "the best years of your life."

    I gotta say. If your time at high school was the best of your life, you've been doing something wrong, since :P

    I liked this a lot. If you do want to read it, let me know! I'll send it your way xx

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  6. Ix-nay on the "best years of your life"
    Which reminds me, there's a book called "Don't Peak In High School" with a collection of personal stories from various comedians and authors about how high school was kinda sucky - and sometimes the years that came after were also kinda sucky - but it DID get better. I was skimming it in a bookshop - because I'm an adult and I can do that now without shop assistants chasing me out, haha - and I keep on meaning to track it down and read it properly.
    Anyhow, tangent aside, YES. I was incredibly lucky that high school was not too terrible for me (thank goodness for friends), but still, there is no way in the world I'd want to go back, and the idea of having the best days of your life over and done with before your second decade has even begun? THAT IS TRAGICAL.
    Also, yeah, I'd love to read it, if you don't mind!

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  7. *snort*

    I don't know why it bothers me. I think it was one of those words like 'dynamic' which was so overused for such a time itjust bothered me. And I'd love it if someone like YOU called me quirky, but from others it seems like a veiled insult. and and and... I DON'T KNOW. HOW CAN I HAVE POSSIBLY OVERTHOUGHT A WORD THIS MUCH?!
    O__O

    I think that culture shock, and things not turning out how you expect is kind of universal. High school wasn't what *I* expected. A new job never is, either, or a new place.

    OH! I discovered this word, the other day. It's German:

    Weltschmerz - Literally 'world pain'. The sadness or pain that you feel when the picture of the perfect world you have in your mind doesn't match up with reality.

    Isn't that just splendid?

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  8. I LOVE Amelie... you're talking about the French film (if there's a book I haven't read it) right? I get why this is enjoyable. It's one of those life interest stories that leaves the readers feeling good or contemplative.

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  9. Looks like someone beat me to it, but... quirky. THIS BOOK. I don't remember where I first saw it, but I knew I wanted to read it. Bejeezus. This book is expensive stuff. Maybe if I see it in stores I'll do an impulse buy. :P

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  10. Just from reading your "The Story" section, I KNOW this is definitely my type of book! (Okay, so maybe the "popular" kids won't end up selling hamburgers or whatever, but the quiet/shy/not-so-popular kids WILL get their turn one day. heheee )
    I actually quite *like* the term quirky :) This definitely sounds like something I'll enjoy !(although I've been hesitant to start this due to GR ratings!) Fab review, as always Sarah <3 I'll have to start this VERY soon!

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  11. I like the sound of this book as quirky is definitely a plus for me and the way the summary was written was very appealing.

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  12. Sarah! This book sounds amazing! I hadn't heard of it before, but it sounds so good! Really have to look into getting a copy of my own! Sounds like a fun New Adult novel!

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  13. Set on a college campus? You mention Wes Anderson? Sold!! This sounds like such a cute read, thank you for putting it on my radar. :)

    I had no idea you didn't like the word "quirky," though. *thinks HARD about how to torture Sarah*

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  14. Ahahaha! Wendy! *hugs*
    It's the most bizarre thing to dislike, is it not? But, on the bright side, the more I see it used here, and the more you all torment me in the comments, the less it bothers me *grins*

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  15. I'm glad you enjoyed this, Sarah! It's not on my main TBR pile but I will get to it one day - it looks great and most definitely quirky ;) Actually, I think "quirky" was in the press release or the letter that came with it LOL.

    Reading stories about colleges...is a little depressing. Our universities totally pale in comparison LOL. I want my dorms! Parties! Moving across the country like it's NBD! *stomps foot* We're all about the education while everyone else is getting the experience too. HAARRRUMPH.

    Anyway, great review :P

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  16. THIS SOUNDS LIKE SUCH A QT BOOK!!!! I've never heard of it before you mentioned it to me but it sounds deeply charming. and hellooo, I love Amélie and Wes Anderson so this book probably fills my quirk quota. YES I SAID QUIRK.

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  17. I can tell this is so not a book for me but I am happy you enjoyed it.

    Awesome review as always.

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  18. Just sitting in the dark, repeatedly saying the word quirky. Quirky is kinda of a quirky word. It certainly has it's quirks. (I think I use the 'q' word quite a bit in reviews...you must do this quite a bit then... I apologise for horroring you.

    I like the sound of this and have ever since you were reading it last year and Goodreads updated us that you were really liking it. It sounds different and I love the fact that Penelope isn't your usual character, and is QUIRKY (cause I know how much you love that word!). Also, her social awkwardness sounds like something I can completely relate to. Awesome review, Sarah! :)

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  19. I have never heard of this one but I am so adding it to my TBR list! Sounds so cute! And I love a TRUE quirky character/book/movie etc. but I think it's so overused. I'm probably guilty of it also haha. So I believe you when you say quirky! This makes me so excited! I love finding books I've never heard of that sound like something I'd love!!

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  20. Oooh, Jaime, I hope you like it! I kind of somehow think the cover is very YOU, and... blog matchy... and... IS THAT WEIRD? :P

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  21. SLOW RESPONSE, BUT: " I was skimming it in a bookshop – because I’m an adult and I can do that now without shop assistants chasing me out, haha – and I keep on meaning to track it down and read it properly."
    This made me laugh out loud in public. You are wonderful ♥

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  22. I am SO talking about the French film! It's one of my absolute favorites, and Penelope reminded me of it a LOT. It's not as... romantic, but it's lovely ♥

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  23. Bahaha! I'm being bombarded with quirky comments and... I kind of love it :D

    It's such a lovely book, but oh yes. It's expensive :/

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  24. Eeeeeeeeee! Shirley! *hugs*
    I really hope you like this! I'm sure the popular kids went on to do amazing things, too (the popular kids at my school were actually... not popular, you know? Or they were well-like for a reason. There were clique-cliches :P)

    But the quiet kids? The shy ones? The ones who preferred the company of a book? YES. They so get their day ♥

    Ahaha! I can't explain why I hate quirky. It's lame. So lame. If you got the ARC you should read, Shirley! It's worth it for Rebecca's writing alone and... I think it's one of those books you'll get a really good feel from, even by just reading the first page :D

    I hope you love it! xx

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  25. It's a lovely book. Loved her writing. And thank you! ♥

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  26. Oh, Jo, I liked it a LOT. It IS quirky and oddball and charming, and I had so much fun reading it ♥

    Hope you like!

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  27. Ahaha! I think you're right about 'quirky,' too.

    I wanted to read it for the cover and press release alone, and I'm so glad I did, but I get the... non-urgency to read? I still haven't read Mara Dyer #2, Beautiful Chaos, Shades of Earth, and... yes. READING PRIORITIES FOR THE TBR :P

    Ahaha! I get you on that. We grow up watching US TV with dorms and torrid campus romance and out of control parties and we... get to stay at home, and commute to uni, just like school.

    Hmph.
    Ripped off *nods*

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  28. It is SO cute! And seriously, I think you'd like it a lot. I kept thinking of you while I was reading it :D

    Heh. Kwerk.

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  29. Yes I have a lot of other books I "need" to be reading first! I haven't even read A Million Suns, okay? Let alone Shades of Earth LOL. Beautiful Redemption isn't a high priority and you know I'm just waiting for Mara Dyer #2 to become available on TBD :P

    That exactly. It's just not fair. Thank you, America, for ruining university.

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  30. Jennifer! Thank you, lovely! *hugs*
    I liked it a lot, but I don't think it's a 'you' book, either. Lovely writing, but... I think we all ready for different reasons, and we all like certain stories, and that's OK *nods*
    ♥♥♥

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  31. Bahahaha! Becca, you make my life, you know?

    The gif... is perfect.

    I REALLY like the book. It's so sweet and funny, and... I love it so much. I related to her a lot, too ♥

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  32. YES. BLAME THE AMERICANS.

    Ugh. SO many books I want to read. I haven't read Shadow and Bone, I haven't read Scorpio Races or Raven Boys. I still haven't read BLOODLINES, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD *whimpers*

    I wont mentioned A Million Suns if you don't mention that :P

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  33. I've had my eye on this for a while, mostly due to that pretty cover!

    I know what you mean about quirky, it's like every second author wants to write the quirkiest girl in YA, but when it's done right, I don't mind it :)

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  34. Penelope sounds like a truly delightful character, and I can already see myself relating to her pretty easily. I remember coming across this title on Goodreads not too long ago, but I didn't really pay it much attention then. I'm glad you posted your review! It's a brilliant one, as usual. :)

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  35. What's wrong with the word quirky? I quite like it. The word itself is quirky. :D

    I hadn't heard of this before, but it sounds kind of fun. Ordinarily I might think it too fluffy, but there's something slightly appealing about it. I love that Penelope is such a relatable character. Fantastic review, Sarah! :)

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  36. Lol, I should start calling you quirky xD Anyways this sounds like such a fun read! I can't say I've heard about this one, yet it sounds so good! Defiantly going to be adding it to my TBR. I've never had the pleasure of reading a book with the setting of college life which makes this novel even more intresting for me. Great review! :)

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  37. Quirky!!!

    That is all.


    Except also that I want to read this.

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  38. I'm not even going to spew excuses at you right now (because I really do feel spew-y and this could get messy and you really don't need to know this) for not having commented earlier. I'm just going to pretend you posted it this morning.

    Firstly: How did I not notice the cover before?! I never noticed the cat and the bunny and the birds! Well maybe the birds, but I never saw how darn cute they were. This cover has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning #brodieisablindidiot

    Anyway! I already ADORE Penelope. I get tired of narrators who ANYONE could slip into. Like, they're a one-size-fits-all, moulded for any reader who picks up the book? Rather than someone unique and individual and... and... QUIRKY! Plus, she plays Tetris on her phone? Love.

    This sounds so DELIGHTFUL. It's totally on my overcrowded TBR <3 BEAUTIFUL REVIEW.

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  39. Lovely review Sarah! I must admit I am drawn to the gorgeous cover, but it does sound like something I would really enjoy reading. Adding it to the list! :)

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