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

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Is J.K. Rowling a Bad Author For Not Including Enough Representation?

I’ve been seeing this one all over Pinterest/Tumblr posts. J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world is so big, so vast, that many wonder: why aren’t LGBTQ issues discussed? Why aren’t there people of different sexualities? Unfortunately, these thoughts tend to turn into hateful remarks about Rowling herself.

So I’ll answer this question right now:

No.

Here’s why.

We already know Rowling is a tolerant person.

This may be irrelevant, but I don’t care. She speaks out against Trump, even though she’s not from the U.S. She donates a considerable part of her salary to charities. Her books speak volumes about the importance of coming together (more on that in a bit). We know that she’s a good person politically, so I’m not sure why the vile comments about her are necessary to begin with.

Some of these topics weren’t talked about much when the books were published.

Some gen-z Tumblr users may not even be aware that the first few books were fare of the 1990s. This wasn’t a hot-button issue yet. .Would it have been nice for the LGBTQ community to feel more respected in the 1950s, or the 90s, or whenever? Yes. But the truth was that it just wasn’t talked about very much, so you weren’t going to see it in a lot of literature. You can’t always blame people who grew up in a different time. Because it wasn’t a hot topic, you can’t really expect it to be written about. Rowling can’t just grab a Time-Turner and rewrite everything to accommodate. If these books were just being published now, though, it wouldn’t surprise me if there wasn’t a need for this argument.

It’s unfair to assume high expectations and politically correct things from authors whose novels were published in a different time. Take the time period with a grain of salt. Even so, there are enough messages about tolerance and equality here that I don’t think complaining about the lack of certain groups is worthwhile; the message in these books obviously spreads to all minorities. You just can’t expect to hold published authors to the standards of your day–that’s like criticizing a non-offensive 1950s novel for having the main character be a housewife. Maybe it wouldn’t fly today depending, but as a product of its time, it’s fine. And if the character is a good, well-drawn character, who cares if she’s not Wonder Woman even if it was written in 2010?

The books’ themes already heavily deal with topics of love and tolerance.

This is literally everywhere. Voldemort’s entire regime revolved around racism, or the idea that “pure bloods” (wizards from strictly magical families) were much better and “purer” than “half bloods” or “mudbloods,” wizards coming from families including non-magical people. In reality, this makes no difference just as white people are no better than those who are black. Additionally, there are characters of many races mentioned. As seen in early debates over the Cursed Child play, just because a character’s race isn’t stated doesn’t automatically make them white– Hermione could easily be black if you wanted her to be. There are many more instances of togetherness too…encouragements by side characters for the houses to get along; teamwork in the Triwizard Tournament; I could go on forever. Just because an author doesn’t discuss one particular facet of diversity, this doesn’t automatically make her a bigot and nowhere is this more obvious than in the Harry Potter series. I feel strongly about equal rights. So you wouldn’t call me a bigot for not writing about it in my last novella, would you?

Quite frankly, given that Rowling is presumably straight herself, the Tumblr community would probably be jumping on her for “getting things wrong” anyway. Either way, you’re looking at an argument.

Finally, it’s not like everyone is white and middle/upper class. Just a few diverse characters in the series for anyone who needs reminding: the Patil twins, Hermione (perhaps), Cho Chang, Dean Thomas (and arguably Seamus), Anthony Goldstein, and Angelina Johnson.

Not all authors delve into issues that aren’t their own.

Many writers tend to write their MCs from their own experiences. This can often be because they just don’t know what it’s like to be of a different race, country, or sexuality. I feel like many bloggers or authors would probably have a problem if Rowling tried to make one of her main characters gay and got details “wrong” (see previous paragraph). Also, considering the time period, doing research might have been trickier. On the other hand, equality in general is a longtime issue relevant not just to everyone in the real world, but in the books as well.

There wasn’t enough time to delve into romance issues to begin with–which is fine, because that’s not what the books are about.

Even with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, romance is barely touched on. (Keep in mind that most of what we see of the Harry/Ginny relationship are aspects expanded on by the fandom. There’s really barely anything between them in the novels.) And then there’s other characters. I really don’t want to be seeing Dean Thomas’ love affair with a Slytherin seventh-year male when I could be reading about the fight to defeat Voldemort. Similarly, I’ve also heard complaints about not enough Jewish wizards. Schoolmate Anthony Goldstein is indeed Jewish, but it would be distracting and irrelevant if Rowling focused too much time on a minor character’s religion (or even Harry’s, as it’s not relevant to the book at all). Some Tumblr folk might say that this could be as easy as dropping a detail, like two boys kissing in a corridor, but that can be distracting if you hear about it all the time. As a book blogger, I would probably call an author out on this type of thing for constantly distracting us with pointing out the sexuality or background of random characters. Doing so feels forced. A recent novel I read did a bit of this and rather than necessarily being diverse, it was kind of a distraction. You can’t cover every issue in books this size. However, what they do cover about acceptance, they cover well.

Still, we wonder: are gay characters ever going to become the majority? Maybe not, because it’s unrealistic…most of the world’s community identifies as straight. However, it’s also not realistic to not include people of other orientations. We’re a big world, and we should strive to get to know each other and showcase each other a bit more. I personally would like to see more books around LGBTQ characters where the focus isn’t their sexual orientation. But there are many more books for that.

Mostly I’d like to add that the vile, insulting, hateful comments towards a clearly well-meaning author that I’m seeing online completely erase the meaning of what the angry blogger is trying to say about tolerance. Authors’ failure to address a certain issue in their work doesn’t mean they are evil villains perpetuating privilege. Common sense 101: not everyone can talk about every issue in every book. If bloggers are writing spiteful things about well-meaning authors, the issue lies with the blogger, not the book. So-called social justice warriors would do well to make sure they are not accidentally practicing what they are protesting. As Dumbledore put it, accidental rudeness still occurs alarmingly often. I hope that we don’t give up on these great, important stories because a few internet bloggers decided that there weren’t enough minority characters to their liking.