Starting with the first novel in the “Ivy League” series, Secret Society Girl, we follow our heroine Amy Haskell as she gets tapped into the Rose & Grave secret society at Eli University; adventure, romance, and hijinks ensue once she is initiated.
Author Diana Peterfreund not only went to Yale but when peeking at her acknowledgements it seems like she has recently gained even more alluring insider knowledge on secret society life as well. I know NOTHING of secret societies, I’ve never visited an Ivy League campus, so my association with them are limited to the Joshua Jackson movie The Skulls, the hott hott Matt Damon movie The Good Shepard, and the assumption/fact? that George W. Bush was in the Skull and Bones at Yale.
Overall the whole series was a fascinating (even if fictional) glimpse into life in an Ivy League secret society, and super entertaining for adult readers, but my favorite part was Amy’s romance and happily ever after with the guy I liked the best for her. Surprised much that was my favorite part? ;)
Told in first person from Amy’s point of view it took me a little while to get into the first book. Only because Amy didn’t think she was all that great, or special, or interesting, so she couldn’t figure out why the Rose & Grave would want her. So neither could I. While Amy had a skewed view of herself it wasn’t until halfway and three-quarters of the way through the first book that I really saw some scenes that showcased Amy’s strength of character, loyalty, ability to think outside the box, and bravery while she took the lead on solving the Big Problem with her new secret society.
That Big Problem in the first book was that this was the first time the Rose & Grave had ever let women into their society, and the alumni (old-stick-in-the-mud-chauvinists) were doing everything in their power (and they had a lot of power as the alumni were in the White House, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, etc. so they were taking away internships, jobs, threatening family members) to kick the girls out.
Each of the ensuing books in the series had a similar premise: a Big Problem in the Rose & Grave, Amy’s love-life [yay!], sub plot of Amy’s senior thesis/post graduation job search, sub plot of how secret society life has changed her views on her pledge class and on her friends outside of the society, and Amy’s personal growth overall.
I came to love Amy’s narrative voice, she is frank, witty, sometimes sarcastic [yay!], and very observant. In this quote we see that she can be self-aware, but also makes me giggle at her wry observations:
As much as I hated to admit it, some of it rang true. This is the problem with being both really smart and a little screwed up. You’re able to concoct the most believable self-defeating positions.
The thing about all the books having a Big Problem, is that they needed to be resolved by the end of each book, and sometimes it felt like the end of a Full House episode for me. Like you look at the clock and see only 5 minutes is left of the show, cue the cheesy “lesson time” music and then we hear how we should all be nice, get along with others, and be good Samaritans.
Not that the plot ever felt contrived, or wrapped up too neatly, but there were just certain passages that struck me as “lesson time” like this passage where Amy is chatting with Clarissa, whom she hated as a richy-rich trust fund baby who only got into Eli because she was a legacy and wore too many name brand clothes. But now that they are in the Rose and Grave together they are BEST FRIENDS:
“You’re not awful,” I said recalling how even a year ago I though the exact opposite of her. “You’re ambitious – even if you don’t know what for – and that comes with a strong sense of competition. It doesn’t make you evil to think back things about your friends from time to time.” At least I hoped it didn’t or someone should fit me for a black hat and a twirly mustache. I was regularly jealous of Lydia and vice versa. But we loved each other, and we stood by each other when it counted.
All of the series had the underlying theme of “girl power” to me. There were lots of “I am woman here me roar” moments, or at least that’s how I read into them. I think these “morals” were appropriately geared towards the young adult readers, and were subtle enough without being overbearing.
But, like I said, as an adult I definitely enjoyed the stories immensely and would recommend them to ANYONE. The third book Rights of Spring (Break) was the best for me, maybe that’s because that’s when she got it on with my favorite guy.
But I heart these books. Amy’s relationships are very complex, from her best friend and room mate who is not in her secret society, to her love interests.
Obvi her love interests were my favorite part, and their characters were developed really well, with depth to their personalities, how that matched or conflicted with Amy’s, and the issues that arose between them as a result. Her interactions with them ranged from cute, to funny, to sexy (yes there are sex scenes!) but this was one of my favorites [you should know everyone has “society names” and this guy’s society name is Poe, but Amy only just found out his real name is Jamie. Also they get penalized every time they use a society name outside of their society house]:
The sand sifted below my feet, and the water was still plenty chilly. A few feet out, I was only up to my knees but the ground fell away swiftly after that. “P – Jamie!” I called.
He waded back toward me. “I’m starting to think my name is Pajamie.”
“Your name should be Pajerky. You said it wasn’t deep.”
“Pajerky?” He gave me a skeptical look. “ That’s Pathetic.”
The fourth and final book Tap & Gown was a great conclusion to the series, Amy’s character arc was very satisfying, and there was an even stronger emphasis on romantic relationships, whether it was Amy’s, her ex-boyfriend and his new girl friend, or her society sister who couldn’t be with the one she loved due to religious reasons. Here is a great discussion:
Brandon’s expression was closed, his face reflecting bitterness. “It’s the underlying inequality,” he said. “Someone is always the one who loves more, and it eventually drives the other – less loving one – away. Just the pressure of it.”
“Been reading your Auden, I see”
“Huh?” he said, furrowing his brow. “Oh, right ‘If equal affection cannot be / Let the more loving one be me’…I don’t know if W.H. was right about that. I’ve been both. And I prefer guilt to humiliation.”
“No,” I said softly. “It doesn’t have to be that way.” Sometime you met someone that changed the pattern, who wormed their way past the cracks in your heart, caulked them up, sealed themselves in, and stayed there.
Oh sigh, I just love it all. And those little literature references and other types of symbolism were all throughout the books. These characters (and the author) are very very smart and I loved that.
I’m going to stop blathering on, but before you think these are all about romance, THEY’RE NOT, there are society pranks, legal issues, hidden cameras, break ins, secret clubs in new york city, kidnappings, near drownings, and national media frenzies. These books have it all, and anyone of any age should enjoy reading them!