Sometimes a book comes along, and as you read the description, you realize it ticks every one of your boxes. Here’s the tagline for Graduates in Wonderland from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program: “Two best friends document their post-college lives through emails in this hilarious, relatable, and powerfully honest memoir.”
Best friends. Check. More books should have friendship at their core.
Post-college. Check. This book occupies that nebulous “new adult” space, and proves NA isn’t just YA with sex scenes.
E-mails. Check. I love a good epistolary novel, and these e-mails are really in-depth letters.
Hilarious, relatable, honest, etc. Check. I take any adjectives in a publisher’s description with a grain of salt, but as it turns out, these ones apply.
I don’t know if Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale wrote these letters with an eye toward publication the whole time, or whether they were edited after the fact (for clarity and grammar if nothing else), but either way, this is a fantastic read that I wanted to recommend to many of my friends before I’d even finished it. Because of the format (e-mail), both authors use a casual, honest, straightforward style. They reveal their fears and insecurities about their nascent careers and love lives, and they encourage each other, offer advice, and build each other up.
Graduates of Brown, the authors are privileged but conscientious. Jessica moves from New York to Beijing to Australia, while Rachel spends more time in New York before going to Paris; both of them end up in London, though the book ends before they settle there. They are both creative, and explore various career paths; they aren’t completely sure what they want to do at first. They’re also struggling with living in unfamiliar places and speaking second languages, and of course they’re both looking for The One. The e-mails strike a perfect balance in subject matter between work and romance.
They are honest: “I don’t think the people I see on a daily basis realize how down I really am.”
They are funny: “Get a French person to try to read the word hodgepodge out loud. They will say, ‘hogey-pogey,’ and it will be the best moment of your life.”
They are practical: “Note to future selves: Never buy anything. You will just have to pack it in a suitcase one day.”
They are observant: “Yesterday, I was in a park and I saw a Chinese man out walking his birds. In each hand he held a birdcage as he strolled, showing the birds the park scenery before hanging the cages from a tree while he went to go socialize with his fellow bird-walkers. I’m really going to miss this place.”
They are contemplative: “Everywhere people and friendships are changing. I’m starting to wonder how many friends I’ve made here will still be friends for the long haul. How many places can you leave people behind and still expect to keep in touch with all of them?”
They are, sometimes, wise: “I feel like I haven’t lived enough to really focus on my writing. I don’t think I’m ready.” / “He sounds great, but we need to listen to the warnings that guys give about themselves.”
They have a sense of themselves in the world: “These beautiful moments are a nice distraction from the stagnation of my career. (Is it stagnation if it hasn’t begun?)”
While I’m not sold on the title or the cover, I really, really liked this book, and would recommend it to anyone who is in college now or who has graduated in the past ten years or so. It fits perfectly between Tara Altebrando and Sara Zarr’s novel Roomies, which takes place in the summer between high school and college, and Rachel Bertsche’s MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend, a memoir of the author’s experience moving from New York to Chicago after getting married.