The Clasp by Sloane Crosley These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

American Fraternity Man by Nathan Holic

Friday, February 21, 2014

Publisher: Beating Windward Press LLC
Format: Kindle Edition
Rating: 4/5

Charles Washington, former president of his fraternity and graduate of Edison University, is on a mission. A mission to save fraternities across the land and restore them to their original purpose of safe spaces promoting brotherhood and good citizenship. However, everything from his vision to his relationships to his very moral fibre is challenged and tested as he travels the country, meeting his brothers - young and old -, and uncovers what is beneath the surface of his beloved fraternity and the Greek system as a whole. 

I didn't really know what to expect when I purchased this book (at a bargain price I might add). I can't even remember how I came across it. Perhaps on a Goodreads list? Anyway, my only encounter with Greek life has been ABC's short lived series Greek. American Fraternity Man is quite different to the TV show, which is very light hearted. There are some complex themes and a depth to this book that I was pleasantly surprised by. 

The story is mainly about that first year after college - the transition to adulthood. At one point, Charles quips “Finally, my life was feeling like an Outlook calendar, not a Facebook page.” (pg 83). We’ve all been there, haven’t we? That point where you suddenly feel like you’ve grown up. Then again, this 'transition' to adulthood rarely takes place within the first year of graduating because it takes more than a year to figure out who you are and where you want to go. I suppose it could be argued we are making this 'transition' constantly but...this isn't the place for that kind of discussion. 

There's a great deal of thought provoking sociological discourse on the 'Millennial Generation' throughout the book. Most prominently is the thought that Millennials are pushing a compassion boom meaning they (we?!) are eschewing high paying, (formerly) high status positions in favour of poorly paid work for non-profits or organisations seeming to want to make the world a better place. Some of the theories suggest this is because Millennials have nothing to prove, per se. There was also an interesting discussion between Charles and a professor of the ‘Millennial Generation’. The professor claimed Millennials want to join every society, team, and fraternity/sorority because they “crave programming” (pg 343) thanks to helicopter parenting. In the end, for me, the debate boiled down to the Millennial Generation being, as the professor says, “A Hero Generation, capable of changing the world” (pg 338) or a directionless, lost generation run out of steam. Burnt out by 25. Unsure of what work is because a 9-5 pushing papers just isn’t fulfilling, is it? And everything else up until that point, every team, club, exam, whatever, has been for a reason - to get into university, to boost your overall grade, to put on your CV for the job...the job that turns out to not seem to have a purpose in the grand scheme of things? Or your supposed grand scheme of things. I don’t know - I’m not a scholar in this subject but that’s how it feels to me and this is my generation so... 

Anyway, back to the book itself and the characters within: Charles was not your typical, flawless hero. He tried too hard and made some dodgy decisions but ultimately he felt like he was doing something he believed in and managed to dredge up enthusiasm from goodness knows where for, what seemed like, a pretty hopeless cause. I really liked Jenn because despite being physically absent throughout most of the story, she was always there in my mind. Perhaps because I’m a female reader and identified with her to a certain extent? As for Charles’s motivational speaker manager, well we could see his true nature from the very beginning, which made it even more tense when Charles figured out the long game. There were many, many supporting characters - after all, Charles had dozens of fraternities to visit - so it was clever to keep them all in check and make sure they were distinct but also keep the same types cropping up in each fraternity - the one’s like Charles, the really fratty types, the always second-in-command types, and so on. 

As I said before, I didn’t know anything about Greek Life other than what I’d seen on Greek, so I cannot say whether or not this was an accurate, authentic depiction. However, the fact that I was a newbie didn’t mean the story was inaccessible to me, which is definitely a positive. Considering everything mentioned about the Millennials, it would be interesting to know if Greek membership is up or down. 

There was some great stuff on social media and how it just seemed to explode. One minute people were tapping away on Livejournal and ranking friends on Myspace (which I forgot about, how mean was that?!) then BOOM Facebook arrives for the masses and Twitter and everything else. Remember how everyone had a Blackberry or a normal phone and then you blinked and suddenly everyone, including your grandma, had an iPhone? Nowadays, we all (supposedly) know what we can and cannot put out there on social media if we want to maintain our integrity but this story points out how difficult it must have been for the graduates during this time. They didn’t know their employers were onto this whole Facebook thing, so a lot of what should have been private probably ended up being seen by people who had no business looking. Charles had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Facebook. How does he keep up with his friends - and his long distant girlfriend - but also remain professional and set apart from the fraternity members he’s lecturing? If the President-to-be has Facebook, why can’t he? In this respect, the book reminded me a bit of Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, where the characters are dealing with the Millennium Bug and emailing at work. 

Overall, I found this story really intriguing (can you tell by how long this review is?!). It was kind of on the long side - maybe some of the visits could’ve been cut out but then I suppose Charles’s unravelling wouldn’t be as believable. A minor complaint either way. This is definitely a read for anyone interested in Greek Life or the Millennial Generation or if you just like a good college based novel. We keep saying we need more of them, don’t we? 

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