Book by Tom Wolfe
Review by Jennifer M. VanDeWoestyne
Senior Academic Advisor
Temple University, Philadelphia, PA

As academic professionals who have been through the undergraduate college process already, we may forget what it means to be a student. The demands and pressures we once faced are a distant (and sometimes fond) memory, but to the students we work with, they are often daily and all-consuming. I Am Charlotte Simmons provides insight to the mindset of the college student.

Many advisors will be able to relate to the various characters in Wolfe’s book: Charlotte Simmons, the small-town mountain girl who has been told all her life that she is the best and brightest amongst her peers, but carries a chip on her shoulder as she compares herself to those who appear to be better off than herself; Hoyt Thorpe, the stereotypical fraternity man, assured of his future based on who he is and who he associates with; Jojo Johanssen, the student athlete who comes to realize that he can be more than what his coach and peers believe he can, that is, something other than a basketball player. Each of these students arrives at Dupont with the idea that they are of the elite, and that the world is theirs.

Primarily this book deals with a theme that is common among college students: the struggles that students face in their adjustment to college life, whether as an incoming student or one who is established. This book encompasses the many types of students that we see on a daily basis – those who feel entitled to academic liberties, those who set themselves on a high, often unattainable pedestal from which they almost inevitably fall, those who feel invincible because of their status among peers, and those who are afraid to let down their families. 

From an advising standpoint, this book serves as a reminder of what college is like, and could prove to be useful in trying to understand why our students do what they do. Wolfe’s novel reminds us that students develop morally, emotionally, and socially, at vastly different rates. Indeed, reading this book brought Arthur Chickering’s Seven Vectors to mind.

Overall, this book is more suited for leisure reading than as a guide or resource for advising. At times, it was frustrating to read, as it was difficult to get past the character’s self-serving attitudes. In addition, readers should be prepared to read copious amounts of foul language. While the book was clearly written in a style that the author believed would be appealing to a wide audience, and true to life for students, it was often difficult to maintain the level of interest needed to finish reading and find value in the work.

I am Charlotte Simmons: A Novel. (2005). Book by Tom Wolfe. Review by Jennifer M. VanDeWoestyne. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 752pp, $15.00. ISBN # 978-0-312-42444-2
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