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I didn’t initially have the intention of reading Lisa Jahn Clough’s novel, Me, Penelope. I was attending a book singing for her new young adult novel, Nothing But Blue at the Rowan University Barnes and Noble. Professor Jahn-Clough was my Writing Children’s Stories professor at Rowan. I haven’t really read any of her work before but she was one of my favorite professors during my time at Rowan. I actually began writing my current work-in-progress young adult novel about teenage depression and suicide in her class.
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I heard nothing but good things about her latest novel and was eager to read it. I couldn’t hear to well at the book reading/singing (I’m hearing impaired so these things are always a bit of a challenge for me), but it was nice to see her once again and I was excited to finally read some of her published work.
Unfortunately her latest novel, Nothing But Blue, sold out quickly and I wasn’t able to get a copy. She brought several other novels/published works with her for sale, so I picked up a copy of her other young adult novel, “Me, Penelope” and had her sign that for me. It seemed to be written in the young adult style that I was always a big fan of and I thought it may even help me with writing my own young adult novel.
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I had very high expectations for this novel since I view Professor Jahn-Clough so highly as a professor. She has taught me so many valuable lessons when it comes to writing young adult novels and she always seemed to have such a strong grasp on the art. However, I found myself extremely disappointed in this novel.
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I debated on whether or not I should review this novel. I feel GUILTY for not liking it very much since my professor wrote it. But then I remember I went to school to learn how to critique literature an discuss what I like and don’t like and why and ways to make it better. I’ve done this with my classmate’s work several times, so why should I go and do it to a former professor now?
First off, I like most of the characters. Penelope is your typical teenager, I guess. She feels a bit lost and confused in the sea of high school. She just wants to be loved and she is ready to experiment with sex. This is one of the biggest things I don’t like with the novel. Penelope seems way too sex-crazed for me. I know 16 year olds are bound to think about sex and possibly experiment with it, but I have trouble believing people go through the same measures as Penelope with it. She tried to have sex with like three different guys one after the other. This seems really odd for a 16 year old girl.
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Toad might be one of my favorite characters. He is the classic best friend of the opposite sex that is in love with Penelope. Penelope doesn’t see it until the end when she ultimately loses her virginity to him. I liked this part, really I did, but at the same time it seemed incredibly cliched to me. I wish Toad would’ve spoken out more about Penelope and her affairs with the other men or that Toad and Penelope would’ve gotten together in a more-than-friends way earlier on.
I hated Penelope’s mom and I hate Josh. That whole part seemed so unbelievable to me. I understand there are moms out there that go for younger men and maybe aren’t the greatest moms to their daughters. But she freely smoked pot in front of her daughter? She flirts with her daughter’s boyfriend right in front of her? She is way too apathetic for me to believe. It seems weird to me that Josh loves her so much, too. Josh seems a lot different from her. I just have trouble believing their relationship.
Tina was an okay character but I think Professor Jahn-Clough could’ve easily cut her out and it wouldn’t have made a difference. She just seemed like an extra character.
I was probably the most interested in hearing about Penelope’s deceased brother, Adam. It is obvious that she feels an immense amount of guilt over his death. She thinks that she is to blame for not stopping him from getting out of the car or telling her parents he was gone. I wish this played a stronger role in the story. I wish the desire to have sex was a small part of the story and this the main focus. I wanted to see more of Penelope’s depression and hear more about how the family dealt with Adam’s death or maybe a bit more about what life was like before. Professor Jahn-Clough just barely touches on these subjects,but I think if she pushed more she’d see that’s where the real story lies.
I don’t think I understood this novel very well. It kind of felt like “Yeah Penelope wants to lose her virginity” and then, “Okay Penelope lost her virginity to Toad…so what?”. I didn’t see what the big deal was. I didn’t feel like Penelope have met a big milestone in her life or that she was a whole new person or much of anything in the end. It felt more like the book just ended.
I didn’t HATE this book. I couldn’t put it down. I kept thinking it would get better. I was just incredibly disappointed. I think a sequel or even a rewrite could make this book a lot better. That is why I gave it 3 stars instead of just 1 or 2. I still look forward to reading more of Professor Jahn-Clough’s works, especially Nothing But Blue.