01 Aug 2006

Secret Society Girl

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Diana Peterfreund’s Secret Society Girl is an agreeable example of High School/Adult Chick lit, with benefits.

(In a modest effort at discretion, names have all been changed.)

Smart and spirited Amy Haskell is a junior at “Eli University” (Yale), where she edits the “Lit Mag” (Yale Literary Magazine), and resides at “Prescott College” (Davenport or Pierson), and so on.

Amy had been expecting to be tapped for the humble literary Senior Society “Quill & Ink” (Manuscript), but instead receives an unexpected (and irresistible) invitation from the dreaded and all-powerful “Rose & Grave,” described as follows:

You’ve heard the legends, I’m sure. We’re the Ivy League’s dirty little secret. We run the country, even the states you wouldn’t think we’d care about, like Nebraska. We start wars, we coordinate coups, and we have a hand in writing the constitution of every new nation. Every presidential candidate is a member—that way, whoever wins, they’ll always be under our thumb.

The media fears us, which is silly, since the CEO of every newspaper and television network in the country is already a member of our brotherhood. We’ve been controlling every aspect of the media for more than a century, from deciding which movies get greenlighted to choosing the next American Idol. (Do you actually think your text-message votes count?)

We own most of the buildings of the university, as well as most of the land in the city, and we’ve got a good proportion of it bugged. The local police work for us. The mayor lives in our pocket. There’s not a student on campus who isn’t afraid to walk past our imposing stone tomb.

Election to our society is a ticket into a wildest dreams. Success is our birthright from the moment we emerge from our initiation coffins into our new lives as members of the society. Any job we want is within our reach, and any job we don’t want our enemies to have is out of theirs. We are given enormous monetary gifts upon graduation, as well as sports cars, valuable antiques, and a mansion on a private luxury island. We will never be arrested. We will never be impoverished. The society will see to that.

Our loyalty to the society supercedes everything else in our life—our families, our friendships, even our love lives. If anyone, even someone we care about with all our heart, mentions the name of our society in our presence, we must leave the room immediately and never speak to them again.

We can never tell anyone that we are members. We can never let anyone who is not a member into our tomb, or they’ll be killed.

We can never quit the society or reveal any of its secrets, or we’ll be killed.

Which of these rumors are true and which are overblown conspiracy theories?

I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.

The author, Y ’01, serves up a thinly veiled, but still quite informative picture, of the customs and ceremonies of a certain nameless Yale organization (whose membership includes both candidates in the 2004 Presidential election), along with what seems to be a pretty accurate description of the interior of a certain well-known building on High Street.

She plays with history just a bit for purposes of her plot, moving the confrontation within a certain society which occurred in 1991 over the selection of female intitiates between that year’s graduating class and the society’s alumni forward to the present day.

Like many school story protagonists of earlier day, Amy Haskell experiences serious doubts about her own commitment to ancient and arcane school traditions, as her new association with these quickly produces ugly conflict and personal cost. At first, she tries to free herself by rejecting those traditions, but she soon comes to understand that they have already become part of herself, and she must defend her own right to be part of them.

Book web-page.

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