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Published: Sunday, 7/30/2006

Chick lit goes to college

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

SECRET SOCIETY GIRL: AN IVY LEAGUE NOVEL. By Diana Peterfreund. Delecourte Press. 296 pages. $23.

The world has changed.

Chick lit has now moved into the territory covered in murder mysteries, short stories, and detective novels - as in Diana Peterfreund's debut novel, a tell-all book about secret societies at Ivy League schools.

We learn about how students are "tapped" to be members, about the secret tombs where members meet and the rituals that occur within, and about how the rumors of powerful members in high places tend to be true. It's all seen through the eyes of a young woman who works with words like contumacious - she's also an English major - and is fresh. (For the record, contumacious means rebellious.)

Think The Da Vinci Code meets Bridget Jones.

Secret Society Girl: An Ivy League Novel pries into the world of one of Eli (Elite) University's ultra-exclusive secret societies, Rose & Grave. Rumors swirl that it is controlled by industry tycoons and past U.S. presidents.

Oh, and it's for guys only.

So when junior Amy Haskel, editor of the university's literary magazine, receives a letter bearing the Rose & Grave seal, she can't quite figure it out.

But although she likes to think things out before jumping in head-first - sometimes perhaps over-think - she accepts the cloak-and-dagger invitation and becomes one of the first women ever initiated.

She'll tell you about it, but then she'll have to kill you.

"I hereby confess: I am a member of one of the most infamous secret societies in the world."

A Yale University alum, Peterfreund isn't making this stuff up. (I checked with friends who are also Yale alums. They confirm the power and prestige of secret societies.)

And anyone who's seen the Universal Pictures thriller The Skulls - based on the Yale secret society Skull and Bones - knows a thing or two about these groups. But although secret societies have become the subject of movies and rumors alike, books about them usually are not wrapped in a bright pink cover.

That's what makes this story so much fun.

There's the best friend and friend-with-benefits who can't know anything about Amy's new life. There are the gorgeous men who already belong to the society - let's just say there are buildings on campus named after these guys. And there are the Rose & Grave alumni who oppose the decision to tap women into the society and are determined to ruin the lives of the students who disobeyed.

The author brings to life a heroine who is instantly likeable. She's strong-willed, sometimes unsure of herself, and often finds herself with "diarrhea of the mouth."

Most importantly, she's, well, normal.

She isn't among the uber-elite at the school. She works hard to get where she is. She makes mental lists every time she finds herself with options or making explanations.

And yet, she is chosen from among hundreds of students. And despite some misgivings about the importance of the society, she admits a change of heart.

"I hereby confess: I eventually grew to like it."

And it's easy to understand why. Somewhere between skulls being used as sconces and pomegranate juice stained a deeper red to look like blood, the unfamiliarity of the rituals is replaced by the loyalty of the members.

They're friends now. They care. And quite quickly, so did I.

Which is why I was pleased to see a promise on the book jacket of a second in the Secret Society Girl series to be released sometime next year.

But I also read the prologue, where readers are warned that secret societies run the country and that even the media fears them.

So, as for the truths revealed in Secret Society Girl: An Ivy League Novel, you didn't hear them from me.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-724-6076.



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