by Dani Oden
Release Date: August 4, 2014
Kindle Edition: 216 pages
“College freshman Jill Holloway takes one look at the stuck-up girls going through sorority rush and nearly returns her borrowed dress and heels. Against her best judgement, she ends up falling for the prestige and parties, and snagging a bid from a top house. After moving in, she quickly grows skeptical of her too-perfect sorority sisters. She tries to ask questions, though no one will take time from their busy social calendar to give her any real answers.
Jill wastes no time digging for everything she’s not supposed to find, and soon comes face-to-face with a big and bloody secret hidden in her sorority’s basement. She knows she’s in over her head, but taking off so soon would raise the perfectly-plucked eyebrows of her suspicious new sisters. She’s stuck until she can make a smooth exit.
But the closer she gets to leaving, the more it becomes clear that it won’t be as simple as she hoped. A tempting fraternity guy, a best friend who needs her, and new details about what has really been happening in the basement have her questioning what her next move should be, and whether or not it’ll be worth the risks.
Handpicked is a New Adult Coming of Age, with elements of suspense and romance.”
The minute I realized that Handpicked was about a girl in a sorority, I knew I wanted to read it. I’m a sorority girl and I was interested in reading a novel about suspense and college romance within sorority life. I’m more into romance novels than suspense, but based on the book description, I figured it wouldn’t be a scary read, just suspenseful.
“I never thought I’d be a sorority girl.” Reading Handpicked was particularly fun for me because I pledged a sorority my first semester of my freshman year of college. Pledging a sorority was a wonderful four year experience that led to life-long friendships; I’ve already been to four Delta Gamma weddings and will probably have a few more in the next year or so.
Oden’s novel was spot on when it came to describing recruitment and the way that different girls experience rush events. From navigating the houses and enjoying the rush parties to trying to decide where you feel most comfortable when filling out your Preference card, recruitment can be a time of excitement, anxiety and unfortunately for some, lots of tears. Jill’s Pref Night experience made me laugh and brought back memories of my own exciting experience.
“Did you always know you were going to join a sorority?” Lindy asked as we helped our new friend hang up clothes in her closet. It was a common question from rush week, actually. Apparently sorority girls loved talking about their decision to join a sorority.” This made me laugh because I originally wasn’t going to go through recruitment and rush a sorority. Though, with the encouragement of my mom I decided to give it a try. It was the best decision I ever made and I am grateful to her words of encouragement. To this day, if you meet someone that is in a sorority, they will be able to tell you why they decided to join a sorority, and can generally tell you which houses they went to on Pref night. They are also probably still close friends with at least a handful of their sorority sisters and will tell you that joining a sorority was one of the best decisions they ever made.
One thing that got me, something I’ll never understand, is that in books and movies, pledges all move into the sorority house upon pledging. My sorority had the biggest (physical) house on campus, and it fit less than 25 girls. You didn’t have a chance to move into the house until second semester and that’s if a spot opened up. I don’t know if there are actually large sorority houses somewhere in the world that can house that many girls, but I don’t know of a single one. It’s a cute idea and it played a fundamental role in the story; if the girls didn’t all live under one roof, the dynamics of the story would not have been as impactful.
Handpicked is a short novel about sorority life and a twisted secret that lies within the basement of Jill’s sorority house. It’s filled with fun events, friendship and the wonderful world of dating fraternity boys. It will hit home for anyone that went through rush, whether they pledged a sorority or were denied the house they genuinely wanted. Pledging a sorority is an experience that I would recommend to anyone that is interested in getting involved and making lasting, life-long friendships. However, there’s an underlying theme that there’s more to life than getting a bid and pledging a sorority. It’s a quick, easy read and worth a few hours of your time.
Side Note: Usually when I read a novel from NetGalley, the book hasn’t been published yet and there aren’t reviews to glance through to get a feel for what other readers thought. Prior to reading the book, I decided to read a little about the author and to see the reviews that had already been written on Amazon and Goodreads. There were mixed reviews about Handpicked; some readers raved about it and some absolutely hated it! Intrigued that one novel could inspire such drastic reactions, I knew that this would be an interesting novel, regardless if I liked it or not. As it so happens, I enjoyed reading this book. I found that I prefer to not read the negative reviews and only look at the positive ones. There’s always going to be people that don’t like a book and want to complain about how terrible it was or that they didn’t connect with the characters. I think it’s more important to look at the book description and the higher ratings, but to also look at why a reader enjoyed it; that will be a better indicator of how much you will enjoy reading a specific book.
Dani is also a proud mom and wife to a bearded filmmaker. When she’s not writing novels as her baby sleeps in her lap, she can be found sampling Washington wine, road tripping, and daydreaming about DIY projects way above her skill level.