Go on a ramble through a world of secret gardens created in beautifully detailed pen-and-ink illustrations a€“all waiting to be brought to life through colouring, but each also sheltering all kinds of tiny creatures just waiting to be found. New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Robbins became curious about whether the stereotypes of sororities were actually true, so she spent a year undercover with a group of girls in a typical sorority.
Why is the desire to belong to a sorority so powerful that women are willing to engage in this type of behavior -- especially when the women involved are supposed to be considered "sisters"? With fly-on-the-wall voyeurism and remarkable insight, Pledged manages to expose the dark side of sorority life and endear its participants to us.
Because I've never been a member of any girl-only group other than sports teams, I didn't know much about sororities when I started researching this book.
The day I was to visit the house, I agonized over my outfit, blow-dried my hair straight, put on more makeup than usual, and dug my spikiest ankle boots out of the recesses of my closet.
Later that afternoon, I was curled up on a bunk bed and chatting with two of the sorority girls.
After several days of observing this major national sorority, I was approached by the adviser of the house. When I got home, I called the sorority's national office and explained what I was doing, figuring this process of obtaining official permission was just a formality.
Realizing that I wouldn't be able to openly observe a sorority house unless I received permission from its national office, I called other national sorority headquarters to state my case.
I didn't understand the panicked responses of the national offices, which claim to instill within their sororities "individuality, . Because no sorority would knowingly let me tail its sisters for the year, it became necessary for me to fly under the radar of both the national offices and the sorority girls themselves. In writing this book, the surprise for me -- and this may delight many readers -- was that the notions of those topless pillow fights may not have been so far off base after all. Much of sorority life espouses noble purpose, and the friendships and philanthropy encouraged by these organizations can enhance a girl's college experience, boost her self-esteem, and better her character. Alexandra Robbins, a former staff member of The New Yorker, is the author of Secrets of the Tomb and the coauthor of Quarterlife Crisis.
As a longtime member of a book club (my current one is made up of moms from my town), I was intrigued by the premise of Heather Woodhaven’s new novel, The Secret Life of Book Club: women in a neighborhood book club take a break from reading books to try a series of new experiences—adventures that force them out of their comfort zones. While the idea is unorthodox—a book club that doesn’t read books?—the idea of trying something new, something unfamiliar, with a group of friends is appealing.
As the novel opens, each woman in the book group featured in The Secret Life of Book Club is facing some kind of stress or uncertainty, some of which becomes more apparent as the adventures develop. I read The Secret Life of Book Club while on vacation with my family, pulling it up on the Kindle app after I completed my latest book club book. I was invited to review The Secret Life of Book Club by the book’s author Heather Woodhaven.
Disclosure: I was provided a complimentary copy of The Secret Life of Book Club to review, but the ideas presented here are all mine. The sororities' sordid behavior exceeded her worst expectations -- drugs, psychological abuse, extreme promiscuity, racism, violence and rampant eating disorders were just a few of the problems. As Robbins joins in their sorority life -- from their giddy highs to their abysmal lows -- she conveys the perspective of a sorority girl with the eyes of an outsider.
I was officially entering Sorority World, a world of High Priestesses, Temples, and secret handshakes, a world so entirely different from my non-Greek experience that it had a name for people like me, people unaffiliated and unlettered.
In order to understand this world so fully that I could portray it fairly and accurately, I realized I needed to have so engulfing an experience that I would be living, breathing, and shopping sorority.
Admittedly, because not many of my friends were sorority sisters, I was nervous about entering an entire house full of them. Sometime during the emotional story one sister shared about how a sorority rivalry destroyed her relationship with her longtime best friend, I flashed back to my camp counselor days and had visions of serving as a kind of resident big sister to these girls. She interrupted herself by cursing under her breath and yelling in her deep voice at the girls she could see through a window who were smoking cigarettes on the front porch. One by one, every national office I talked to shut me out of their houses, even as I told them I was presenting a truthful -- not necessarily negative -- account of what sorority life is really like. I sought out individual sisters who were willing to risk their sorority membership by letting me into their lives for an entire academic year, knowing that they could not tell anyone -- their sorority sisters, their friends, their families -- who I really was.


I also chose these girls on the basis of their diverse attitudes toward and roles in their sororities. Because I played the role I did, the sisters didn't know to censor their behavior in front of me, and my four main subjects tended to view me more as a friend than a journalist. In the back of my mind, I don't think I ever really believed that sororities were quite as campy as their conventional image. But the prevalence of the aforementioned litany, which still occurs on several campuses nationwide in the name of tradition, speaks volumes about larger issues concerning women, higher education, and female group dynamics. She appears regularly in the national media, on such shows as Today, Oprah, 60 Minutes, CNN Daybreak and The Early Show. After all, it’s easy to talk ourselves out of doing things—things that we find scary, intimidating, or different—but, as the women in The Secret Life of Book Club find, taking the leap with others gives you someone to whom you’re accountable, which makes you less likely to shy away from the challenge. The experiences they share (which I won’t tell you about so as to not leak any spoilers) help them clarify their life priorities and learn more about themselves.
I enjoyed the friendships between the women in the story and the journeys they go on together, which cement their connections. I’ve never had an author write to me directly about reviewing his or her book on Red Shutters, and, at first, I was worried: what if I didn’t like the book? She kindly answered some questions for Red Shutters readers, and I hope you appreciate learning more about Heather and The Secret Life of Book Club. When talking about a story you love, there’s a vulnerability there because usually it impacted you in a personal way. I write in two different genres so most of the ones releasing now are romantic suspense—though, I can’t help but add in doses of humor.
But even more surprising was the fact that these abuses were inflicted and endured by intelligent, successful and attractive young women. Robbins understands what drives these young women and their friends -- their passions and their fears. We outsiders, who can only envision what goes on behind sorority house walls and inside sorority girls' heads, merely have movies such as Revenge of the Nerds, Animal House, and Legally Blonde to inform our views about sororities. My first plan was to try to follow a sorority throughout the 2002ñ2003 academic year, to become such an ever-present fixture in the house that I would be treated as something like an honorary member. It hit me then that when I attended overnight camp, my teenaged bunk acted in ways that were somewhat similar to sororities. I can't divulge how the four girls I chose, who knew they would be the main characters in a book I was writing about sororities, introduced me to their sisters, who did not know; and I can't disclose the disguise I wore or role I played when spending time with these groups (suffice it to say, I can pass for nineteen). These sisters, one of whom was a sorority officer, are largely the kind of girls whom the national offices would be proud to have represent them, had the national offices been willing to allow themselves to be represented. With that said, however, I would not presume that the experiences of these four sisters alone could accurately represent a sorority system of millions. Her work has appeared in publications including The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, USA Today, Cosmopolitan and Mademoiselle.
Perhaps it’s easier to take a risk or be open to change when you know someone is looking out for you. But, fortunately, it was not a concern with The Secret Life of Book Club; this is an enjoyable book that will resonate with book club members and those considering joining a book club. Weiland’s focus on structure (books and podcasts) on one side and Story Trumps Structure by Steven James on the other side. I'm a lover of travel, science, good design, great books and I write about exploring success, passion, fulfillment and love.
Those of us with the more salacious of imaginations -- or the more B-movie of tastes -- might associate with sororities the topless pillow fights that must inevitably occur when fifty estrogen-laden creatures gather for a sleepover (or so men everywhere fervently pray). As I tottered up to the porch, I suddenly didn't feel like a twenty-six-year-old investigative reporter preparing to dig into another project about secret group behavior. We traveled in packs, had rivalries with other bunks, pressured each other to break rules, and even fought over the same guy (who, coincidentally, eventually became the president of his fraternity at the school where I now sat). Girls peered in quizzically as they walked by, but a quick glare from the adviser sent them scurrying on. The show had infuriated sororities nationwide, who believed that MTV had overly sensationalized life in a sorority house and concentrated only on the girls' drinking and catty fights.


To further protect the four girls, who could be ostracized and even thrown out of the Greek system if their identities were revealed, I have given pseudonyms to them, their school, and their school's Greek groups, and have changed identifying details. The two juniors and two sophomores all attend a school I'll call State University, a campus on which Greek life is considered important but not essential. Many of the posts on Greek system message boards constantly remind readers that it's not right to let a few renegade sisters, or even chapters, represent the image of the entire sorority system.
Why are twenty-first-century women still so eager to participate in such seemingly outdated, ritualistic groups and activities? Preconceived judgments go out the window and that’s when real growth starts to happen.
Now that my kids are all in public school (with staggered schedules), I have exactly five and three-quarters hours to myself.
Or perhaps a Heathers-inspired coldness might come to mind as we visualize the vicious hair-tearing, earring-twisting catfights between sororities clamoring for the most popular fraternity to escort them to Homecoming. I felt like the kid I was in junior high school, wearing sweatpants and soccer sandals, hoping to please everyone but at the same time trying hard to pretend not to care. Here at the sorority house was a group that similarly provided selected college girls an automatic sense of belonging, no talent or niche required -- a built-in social network to accompany a girl to bars, parties, sporting events, and study sessions. The twenty-six member groups of the National Panhellenic Conference, which was established in 1902 to oversee the historically white national sororities, had laid down the law. That combination (along with heavy doses of chocolate and coffee) made it a great setting to begin my story. I try to fit in a workout and the inevitable errands and cleaning while they’re gone.
Or our image of sororities (as was mine) is the tamer, more relatable version: the popular group of girls from high school -- cooler, prettier, wealthier, multiplied by ten, living under one roof, and recognized officially by their college as a clique. This comparison caused me not only to wonder if sorority girls were so different from the rest of us, but also to think that had I attended a larger college, maybe I would have been a sorority girl, too. My four girls aren't renegades; nevertheless, I have supplemented my observations of them with visits and interviews with scores of other sorority girls.
The inspiration came from hearing other women consistently long for a little of what the characters experienced in whatever story we were reading—a closer family, more romance, going after a dream, more adventure, etc. Add in a hefty dose of blogging and social media, and I have to set the timer to write fiction. He’ll coach her in humor if she helps him understand the female mind as he tries to break in to fiction.
Away messages are bulletins that IM users post online so that friends can see what they are up to. By the time I finished writing Pledged, I had spoken with or met with several hundred girls. Do sororities cause women to fall further behind in the gender wars or are they instead women's secret weapon?
If I had joined a sorority, I asked myself, would I, like the girls I met, inevitably have fallen into the kind of herd mentality among sororities that can encourage conformity, cliquishness, and compromising morals? One would assume the real-life sororities, therefore, have so much to offer that their positives would far outweigh their negatives.
Essentially, I got to return to college and experience the path I had not taken the first time around (and had a far better time than I did when I was actually enrolled in college). Though I couldn't incorporate all of the hundreds of interviews in this book, the sisters' frank assessments of sorority life shaped my observations.
Girls who would be surprised to read how their sororities appear from an outsider's point of view.



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