Traditions abide in this sorority house, especially when it comes to members who are as unhinged and harsh as the group's 1863 founders.
This book has everything you might expect in a novel about a sorority: eating disorders everyone is aware of but ignores; unplanned pregnancy; sexual assault perpetrated by brutish frat boys; trichotillomania; age-old Greek traditions such as swallowing fireplace ashes and assigning mean-spirited nicknames in the interest of fun; and ample drug and alcohol abuse. The last, coupled with a heart defect, leads to the focal event of the story: the death of Margot, who lived in Room Epsilon. Each section of the book is told from the perspective of a different sister, one of the founders, or—in keeping with the Greek mythology conceit—the chorus who sees all. Margot’s overdose—or was it suicide?—reverberates throughout the story as the sisters carry on with their own lives, handling their own personal triumphs, tumults, and tragedies. But one sister in particular, Deirdre, may never recover. Her relationship with Margot went beyond the frenemy status of sisterhood: They fell in love. Crane, once a sorority sister herself, skillfully reproduces sorority life: the particular cruel caring of these friendships, the intensity of this way station before the adult world, the way the decisions made during that time can stay with a young woman. Crane shows that the college experience is not all frivolity and fecklessness but the foundation of autonomous personhood, that plunging in is risky and unknowable. As Margot once said, “Pledging is like sprinting in the dark without a flashlight.”
The strain and pain of sorority sisterhood are not redeemed by lifelong kinship in this unflinching depiction of hardhearted girls growing up.