Secret Society Girl, by Diana Peterfreund

While poking around in the deepest, darkest depths of our slush pile, I fished out a copy of Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl. The book was originally published in 2006, but it feels much more recent than that—probably because while it was released about five years too early for the current craze for “New Adult” novels, that's totally what it is: a story for and about young people who are too old for teen books, but not yet in the market for mainstream adult fiction.

Peterfreund sets her novel at the fictional Ivy League school of Eli University. Amy Haskel is an ambitious literature student with her eyes on a job at a major magazine. In order to achieve her goal, she's the resume-packing editor of a school paper, a straight-A student, and (she assumes) a shoo-in for the Quill & Ink, one of her school's many secret societies. But when the secret societies start “tapping” their incoming members, Amy discovers she's been picked by a very different group: Rose & Grave, one of the country's oldest (and previously exclusively male) organizations. Amy isn't sure whether to be alarmed or flattered, but it soon becomes clear that not everyone in Rose & Grave is sold on the idea of girls joining their special club.

My favorite element of Secret Society Girl is the ongoing mystery of Amy's selection as a Rose & Grave candidate. Peterfreund does a brilliant job of turning Amy's normalcy into an intriguing plot point—why would this seemingly unremarkable (if harder-working and more driven than most) young woman be chosen as one of the first female members of a hyper-exclusive secret society? In the hands of a lesser writer, this might have turned into a romance thing (the non-vampire equivalent of “her blood smells great!”) or simply gone unexplained, but the eventual discovery is both satisfying and plausible.

I was happy to discover that this series sold well enough to support a four-book run, but less pleased to see that Random House has chosen to promote it as a good choice for fans of Jamie McGuire's inexplicably popular 2012 novel Beautiful Disaster. I can grudgingly accept that the comparison makes sense—Secret Society Girl has the same collegiate setting and steady stream of soapy romantic entanglements, but Beautiful Disaster is (and this is me being nice) a billion times stupider. I sincerely wish Peterfreund's books had come out at a better time to take advantage of the interest in this new genre, because they're a far, far better example of what New Adult books should be.
Posted by: Julianka


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