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If You Can't Be Good, Be Careful

How do you remember the 80s?  Bulky personal technology? George Michael? Women breaking the glass ceiling?  The 80s were a lot darker than nostalgia would have us believe. In Of School and Women  by D. S. Marquis, we see just how often that darkness bubbles to the sunlit surface as we follow two older co-eds in their quest to get a degree. I had a blast reading this detailed and exciting account of life in the Florida panhandle during a decade of great change. 

Lynette and Marie are both carrying baggage of past lives when they land in Tallahassee to pursue their collegiate dreams. Old romantic relationships, shadowy childhoods, and previous poor choices all seek to hold them back.  In addition to being older than their classmates, they must work evenings and weekends to support themselves, all while living in a dingy off campus apartment complex. As the girls strive to build new lives, first apart then as friends and finally as roommates, we witness their fight to grow both socially and emotionally. 

This is a well written and well edited book that is fun and easy to read. It’s told in separate POVs for each protagonist with a few other characters’ POVs sprinkled in. The narrative flow follows the school semesters and presents slice of life scenes linked by the common characters, shared locations, and eventually a solid friendship. All of which are overshadowed by the very real possibility of missing school marks, violence, and death.  While these scenarios are scary, the protagonists lighten the mood with wit, grace, and the love of a good time. Lynette and Marie both have complete character arcs as do a few of the secondary characters. This is all conveyed in vivid prose that does an excellent job of commemorating the landmarks, establishments, and scenery that probably do not exist in this form anymore, if at all. 

Lynette and Marie learn similar lessons, but in ways that match their personalities and approach to life. They are young women taking advantage of the changing mores that allow for shameless sex outside of marriage, women who are the head of their household, and even women in college for actionable degrees and not just the MRS. As such, they are haunted/hunted by the men around them. From peeping toms to drug lords and every type in between, these ladies cannot catch a break. Even their schoolmates approach them with ulterior motives. Unfortunately, they must wield their beauty and sexuality to attain jobs and assistance. They do so with aplomb, but occasionally this lands them in hot water. 

My favorite part of this book is Lynette and Dillan’s love story. I loved seeing it from both sides. It is well paced and sweet yet grounded in the reality of time, place, and social position. The author did a  great job at completing the arc of their relationship within the arc of the overall story.  

I also like how some of the major events of the 80s impact their lives in more subtle ways. 

Lynette and Marie are very dynamic together and apart, but I wish the narrative was more detailed about their time together as roommates. Or perhaps those tales were too adventurous for the page. 

Of School and Women is  a great read and I give it four stars. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants a peek at what life was like for many young women in the 80s. 



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