reviews

Zeta or Omega?; Kate Harmon

Zeta or Omega? by Kate Harmon
Genre: Young Adult/Chick Lit
Published: 2008
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Hufflepuff

Not eligible for 2019 Book Awards

It’s late summer and Florida and a new school year at Latimer University is just beginning. And three girls are about to have the time of their lives…maybe.

VERONICA: Wants to escape her snobby parents once and for all in Boston. She wants to discover who she really is without the designer labels or the fancy family name. She’s already disappointed her parents by not choosing Harvard, so what has she got to lose? Maybe a sorority will give her the family she truly needs.

LORA-LEIGH: Would much rather be beginning her fashion career at FIT, thank you very much…except for that her father is making her attend the local university first. She is dying to get out of there and is only going through sorority rush because her mom wants her to join Tri-Omega, her own sorority.

JENNA: At Latimer on a band scholarship, Jenna doesn’t really care about rushing either, but her roommate is excited about it, so she’ll join in. But even if she does get some wonderful sisters, will her diabetes get in the way? Or will everyone see her as “Sick Jenna” like they did in high school?

When the three girls meet during recruitment, they become close friends and ultimately enjoy going through the process. But what happens at the end of recruitment? Will they find themselves separated? Or will they even get into a sorority at all?

Arguably, this is not the book we’ve been waiting for. It’s been out for over ten years. So why do I ask this? Well, because other stories I’ve read about Greek life weren’t very, um, promising. One of them, The Alpha Bet, was a lot of rotten girl drama. Another, YOLO (an otherwise good book) featured hazing practices of the 70s and 80s in a modern environment and mostly trashy partying. This was a refreshing take on sorority life without the Hollywood cliches. Consider Zeta or Omega the YA version of Liane Moriarty…before Moriarty was even writing. You have the three girls whose lives intertwine with a dash of emotion and even a slight hint of suspense. It sounded fun, and when combined with that fabulous cover, I knew I had to pick it up. This was seven (!!!!!!!!!!!) years ago at my local library. Excuse me while I go consider that one for a moment….

Fair warning: this is an escapist book. If you don’t like those, this may not be for you. Translation: it’s lots of fluff. But is that a bad thing? No. In fact, it’s more accurate to the college experience that way. It shows the process of rushing a sorority and I almost wonder if this book was written purely because the author had good memories or because she wanted to show girls what it was really like.

The book itself is something totally new. It’s a YA book about college students, which we desperately need. There are no missing fathers (yahoo!), but there are some difficult parental relationships, particularly with Roni. There are no love triangles; in fact, there’s barely any serious romantic drama at all. Golfer Tiger and star football player DeShawn are the two most prominent male characters and yes, they are pretty much dream guys who are a little too perfect. (I liked how there was an interracial romance included without the author making a fuss about it. It just was.) Actually, I’m just now realizing that all 3 love interests were athletes so maybe a little more variety could have been present, but whatever.) But the main characters are not perfect. There are no chosen ones or “standard” MCs with one best friend and categorized as lower middle class. These things win points for me right away. It’s also very diverse, with the exception of the MCs. Most importantly, it doesn’t stick to movie cliches like hazing and partying. The sorority members seem to care deeply about one another and there is a sense of sisterhood simmering in the pages. I’ll admit: I got teared up at this one, especially during rituals and as everyone is accepted into their sorority of choice. I was not expecting to, thinking that the love would get a little corny. Okay, so maybe it does a little, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a feel-good feeling.

College life is also presented as an improvement. Harmon gives many examples of things like , “her friends acted like this in high school, but in college, everyone was much more accepting!” It can be a little preachy, but there’s an interesting reason for this: Zeta or Omega has a very easy reading level. Save for some inappropriate material, a fourth-grader could easy read this and the way the sentence structure is, it might have even appealed more to them. Because of that, middle schoolers will find themselves enjoying the books as well. Because of the material, though, I recommend eighth grade and up. There are the beginning of boy relationships, roommate spats and more, and all sorts of little things that will give high school readers a taste of college. It follows three girls’ lives but does it very well.

The character development is phenomenal, especially over the course of the series. (If you plan on reading Zeta or Omega be sure that you’re invested in the rest of the series and maybe even have Book 2 at the ready.) You’d never know that Roni started out somewhat reserved, or that Lora-Leigh once stayed in touch with her high school BFF if you’ve only read Book 3. It may seem like Harmon is forgetting about details that she drops throughout the novel by not coming back to them, but in reality, things change. You may not be able to find that cute guy on a college campus again right away, and you may drift away from high school friends. Side characters evolve, too. I’m thinking in particular of Jenna’s roommate. I also love the personalities of the three leading ladies. They’re not cardboard cutouts, but they’re all authentic in their own way. We watch as they break away from their parents (Roni), open their minds to new ideas (Lora-Leigh with sororities), and realize that they can trust their new friends and even some cute new boys (Jenna). I especially felt for Roni whose parents barely even seemed to love her; they were too busy showcasing her as part of their fancy family.

Now this is a fluffy novel, so is it a little predictable? Yes. You know what’s going to happen right off the bat, especially knowing there are two novels ahead. Does everything go a little too perfectly? Yes. Everyone meets and hits it off with a love interest immediately, for example. But is it an entertaining read? Very much so. It’s a nice break from the catfights and drama often found in YA. I did find that a sorority filled with rich girls was a bit of a stretch. Omega Omega Omega, Lora-Leigh’s mom’s sorority, is full of women who love money and even do credit checks on Roni’s parents. They are also said to “rule the campus.” I didn’t really feel the need for a cliched popular group of girls, especially in a college setting. Nor did I like that Roni fit the almost perfect, pretty, rich girl stereotype. But to the book’s credit, that’s pretty much the only stereotype present. Though of course, the Zeta Zeta Tau girls are all nice, unique, and different.

Finally, the ending, too, is somewhat sudden and it just stops. This book assumes that you are going to continue the series. I recommend doing so because, not only does book 2 pick off where the first one ends, but also because this first book only covers recruitment. Readers will definitely want to learn more about sorority life and will be wondering what’s next.

This should not be a five-star novel, but then again, books don’t have to be classic literature to be enjoyed. I don’t see why girly novels tend to get lower ratings just because they’re not deep; reading is supposed to be fun, right? I recommend Zeta or Omega to students who are considering rushing, or teens looking for an easy, fun, lighthearted beach read. It’s criminally underrated and if you’re looking for some fun and real characters, pick it up. Be sure to also pick up The New Sisters and The Formal. Of course, I was also the target audience…people who like deep, philosophical, non-chick lit (or who just are anti-Greek) will be better off elsewhere. But for what it is, I give Harmon a round of applause.

4 stars

RUNDOWNS OF THE FOLLOWING BOOKS

The New Sisters: Jenna, Lora-Leigh, and Roni have been accepted into ZZT and with that comes new member meetings and all of the activities. Jenna, a member of the marching band, suddenly worries that she can’t handle all the stress and activities. Lora-Leigh, on the other hand, is suddenly a big fan…but her mom is more than a little unhappy she didn’t choose Tri Omega. This book is even richer than the first. Loose plotlines from the first book are expanded upon and readers get a peek into true college life. 5/5 stars

The Formal:As the second semester gets under way, the girls are knee-deep in sorority life as regular members. Roni is put in charge of planning the formal, but not a lot seems to be going right. Meanwhile, Jenna and Lora-Leigh are experiencing relationship problems of their own as Jenna wonders whether to take the next step with Tiger and as DeShawn considers leaving Latimer. A rich, solid conclusion with one complaint…I wish the series went past freshman year. 5/5

articles

Stories of My Childhood: Go Dog Go

What is the book about?

Good question…what is the book about? To put it simply, it’s about colorful dogs having fun. There are tall dogs, small dogs, yellow dogs, one dog, two dogs, red dogs, blue dogs…so many dogs! They boat together, they travel together, and they even sleep together. But the following day, more adventure awaits. Where on earth are the dogs going? An entertaining side plot also shows one female dog attempting to impress a male cohort with her choice of hats, and struggling to succeed. But with a little luck, maybe she’ll find the perfect party hat.

How did I discover it?

This was one of those “I Can Read All By Myself” books with the Cat in the Hat logo near the top. I believe that many of them were mailed to our house, and that’s presumably how Go Dog Go got there as well.

What do I love about the book?

The illustrations are just as fun as the story, what little there is. But does that really matter? Not in the slightest. The colors are really saturated and well done, and the ending pages explode in color in action. It makes one want to join the cast of characters, at least, it did.

Digging deeper into the fandom

This just doesn’t have a fandom, but I did find a fascinating article a couple of years ago. In a letter to the female dog who tries on the hats, the author encourages her to be herself and not worry about what the other dogs think. This message is still true for adults today! I posted the article on Facebook a few years ago and a couple of people spread it around. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who enjoyed this book.

Favorite memory involving the books

There is an end scene where all the dogs climb a tree and have a great big party, standing on what is apparently a very sturdy layer of leaves. Colorful dogs are everywhere..napping, partying, whatever. One afternoon my mom and I sat on the living room floor and acted out the positions of the dogs. There was one dog being shot out of a cannon that was tricky to pose as, but we managed. Dogs that were lying on the ground were easier obviously, though another tricky one to imitate was a dog swinging.

How did the books inspire me?

There isn’t a lot of storyline here except to wonder where the dogs are going in the second half of the book. I guess, in a way, this book introduced me to the concept of “escapist” books, or books that simply plunge you into a world to escape to without a ton of storyline. I have tossed all my “escapist” storyline ideas for now, but I’m sure I will write one someday.

My thoughts on the books now

I think that Go Dog Go is a classic and highly recommend it to anyone with kids. It’a a colorful and fun classic for any dog lover, and it ages pretty well too.

Have you ever read Go Dog Go? What did you think?

Also be sure to check out the other books in my yearlong Childhood Stories series by clicking the tag below.

articles

Stories of My Childhood: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

What is the book about?

This series of books is about Peter Hatcher (originally in fourth grade) and his little brother Fudge. The books typically consist of mini-stories, but it’s in a chapter book format with an overlying theme to tie it together.

In the original book, Fudge is a two year old known for throwing tantrums and just being an embarrassment to Peter. They have many entertaining days, including Fudge spoiling a school project, bribing Fudge with Oreos to be in a commercial, and many more. In book 2, Superfudge, the family moves from NYC to Princeton for a year. In Fudge-a-Mania (maybe my favorite), the family, plus Peter’s friend Jimmy and arch-enemy Sheila, goes to Maine for three weeks. In the final installment, Double Fudge, Fudge becomes obsessed with money. While on a trip to DC to see how money is made, they run into long-lost family members and life is turned upside down. I’m unusual in that I think that the last two books are my favorites.

How did I discover it?

My mom purchased the book for me. I was drawn in by what was a colorful cover (and the Comic Sans summary on the back!) but flipping through the text, it seemed boring and slow. I eventually got over it and very much enjoyed the book.

What do I love about the books?

They’re fun! These books are what I call “escapist books.” There’s not necessarily one plot problem to be solved except for Fudge; mainly it’s about stepping into another character’s world for a while and looking at their life. These books can be hit-or-miss for me, but the Fudge series hits a home run. The family dynamics are perfect and are a realistic as you can get. They’re also funny without being too out there. Everything in these books could happen in real life. Book 3 reminded me of my own family vacations, and I wasn’t even sure how since it took place in a different location.

Secondly, they age incredibly well. These are the best-aging books I’ve ever seen, though I think Harry Potter will have done well too. Save for the very occasional reference to a record player or a Harry Potter book on tape, these could take place in any generation. The first one was written in the 70s, but you’d never know it to read it today. Normally if the first book in a series took place in the 70s and then the final one wasn’t written until the 2000s, you’d know right away. With this series, you’d never know.

I love the characters, too, well-drawn without over-the-top effort put into them. I especially love seeing the three families get together in Fudge-A-Mania. Grandma and Buzzy Senior for life–incidentally two of my favorite characters. 

Digging deeper into the fandom

When I started doing my old college blog, I had the idea to do a post on Office Scranton vs. real life Scranton, meaning that I would note the locations used in the show and compare them. I found out so many interesting things. For example, Lake Scranton could never actually be used as a place for team building, nor would Michael be able to drive a car into it.

I did the same thing with Fudge-a-Mania. Many places mentioned are real, right down to the library (even the exterior is the same as described in the book!) to the harbor. I even spotted a couple places where their vacation house might be. Meanwhile, I also explored New York City in Google Maps to track down places mentioned in the other books. There is a scene in Double Fudge where Peter is telling Cousin Howie how to get to the vet’s office. After tracking down the family’s apartment (I actually believe that they would be very close by to the Hobbs family in Elf), I followed Peter’s directions exactly and…ended up at a vet’s office. Hey-o! Judy Blume’s sense of detail and direction is evident in her books and I think that’s awesome. Now not every place is real (I still can’t find a Tico-Taco or a Harry’s shoe store, unless they went out of business or something), but you would be amazed at how many locations you can track down. It really introduces you to the setting, and also shows dedication by the author.

I never did a post on this, but I would like to, so keep an eye out. If your current book takes place in a real location, I encourage you to get out Google Maps and see what you can discover! And while rereading it, your powers of visualization will be awesome.

Favorite memory involving the books

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing taught me the perils of looking ahead. It’s very tempting for many of us to peek ahead and see what happens. I really try not to do this.

Anyway, I did this for the first book and discovered the ultimate bad thing that Fudge does with Peter’s turtle. I was bummed, as it would be more shocking if I found it out when I was supposed to. My mom had asked me if I had finished yet, and when I said no, she said, “Wait until you see what Fudge does at the end!” I was disappointed that I already knew. After that, I never peeked ahead in a book again…that’s a lie.

I also recall times when I liked to read while I ate my lunch at home. These books were some of my favorite “lunch reads.”

How did the books inspire me?

I did try to write a few “escapist” stories starring a group of three friends, but that project has been tossed aside for now. 

My thoughts on the books now

I still love them and think of them as comfort books. I’m not ashamed to admit that when I was in college, sometime I’d use them as my bedtime reading. And maybe even still now! I enjoy being in a different world for a while and I love each character, not just Fudge. 

Did you read this series as a kid? What did you think?