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College senior Natalie Bloom worked hard to get into the University of Connecticut. Having transferred from a local community college, she thinks she has finally made it. Although attractive and ambitious, she is insecure about her working-class family and intimidated by her classmates. She’s awkward at friendships with girls, and even more inept at relationships with boys. Still a virgin at the age of 20, it is the topic of sex that most baffles her. So she sticks with what she knows and spends most of her time at the library hidden behind stacks of books. That is, until she meets Patrick. Cultured, intellectual, and oddly attractive, Patrick seems to be the guy Natalie has been waiting for.
But the more time they spend together, the more Patrick seems to bring out the worst in Natalie. As their relationship escalates, Natalie must figure out who she is and take the steps to reclaim her sense of self, her confidence, and her ambition—before she loses it completely.
Patricia Weitz has worked for The Nation, The New Yorker, and the Los Angeles Times. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, director and screenwriter Paul Weitz, and their two children.
- When we first meet Natalie she describes her appearance, something that she returns to frequently throughout the book. Why do you think her appearance is so important to her? How does Natalie’s reaction to her appearance reflect her emotional state throughout the book?
- At one point in the book, after arguing with her roommate, Faith, about her boyfriend, Natalie reflects on why she has never had a boyfriend, “Something about the rituals surrounding male-female attraction revolted me. I didn’t want to be looked at. I didn’t want to be touched. And I didn’t know why” (p. 27). Why do you think Natalie feels this way toward male-female attraction? How does this affect how she interacts with the men in her life? Do you think her attitude has changed by the end of the book? Why or why not?
- Patrick seems different than the other guys on campus to Natalie: “I felt certain that he wasn’t like the other guys who had hit on me over the years—the ones who had clearly only done so because they liked something about the way I looked. Patrick, I could tell, was reacting to my personality” (p. 68). Do you think this is true? Why do you think Natalie reacts to Patrick this way?
- While Natalie is inexperienced and uncomfortable about sex, her neighbor Sasha is the complete opposite. How do you think Sasha’s behavior and openness about sex affects Natalie? At one point in the book Natalie allows herself to be “transformed” by Sasha and Faith for a night out. Do you think that night helped or hurt Natalie in the end? If she had not gone out that night, do you think her relationship with Patrick would have progressed as it did?
- The reader doesn’t learn that Natalie’s brother, Jacob, killed himself until the novel is well underway. And Natalie does not elaborate on it again until page 91, when she compares his death to her relationship with Patrick: “I wasn’t ready for Patrick to become real in the same way that I wasn’t ready for my brother to be dead.” What does she mean by this? How do you think Jacob’s death has affected Natalie over the years? Why do you think that she is dealing with his death now in a way that she has never before? She is the same age Jacob was when he killed himself—do you think that that has something to do with it? Does Patrick have something to do with her reflection?
- Even though Natalie is uncomfortable with her appearance, she continually describes herself as an attractive girl—that is, until she decides to cut all of her hair off. “I didn’t want to see any beauty at all, I wanted my reflection to be as ugly as I felt, but it wasn’t and this angered me” (p. 189). After she cuts her hair, she can only describe herself as ugly. Why do you think Natalie wanted to be ugly? How does this fit into Natalie’s pattern of behavior throughout the novel?
- Gwen proves herself to be a true friend to Natalie. Why does it take Natalie so long to open up to her? How is this behavior similar to how Natalie treats the other characters in the book?
- Many people notice the change in Natalie, including Professor Anderson, who has just lost his wife. His advice to Natalie is that “you have to compartmentalize the distractions. Otherwise, how would anyone ever achieve success? We’d all be wallowing in our own personal morasses if we couldn’t cope” (p. 142). Gwen offers a similar piece of advice saying, “Why should dating [Patrick] put your grades at risk? One shouldn’t exclude the other. You just have to learn how to balance the two” (p. 132). Why do you think Natalie has a problem doing this? What in her past can explain this difficulty?
- In the beginning of the book, Patrick seems just as enamored with Natalie as she is with him, though by the end this has changed. He admits this toward the conclusion, explaining that after they started dating Natalie “shriveled up and acted like he was a god” (p. 323). Do you think that is true? What part of Natalie’s behavior do you think he is referring to? Is there a specific point in the book where his behavior towards her changes? Do you think that Patrick is in some way responsible for Natalie’s breakdown? How?
- Discuss the difference in Natalie’s character in the beginning of the book versus her character by its conclusion. What do you think was the turning point for her? Was it the night in the cemetery with Patrick or was it after that? How do the other people in the story help Natalie to become the girl she is when we say goodbye to her?
- College Girl addresses several themes and issues: love, relationships, self-worth, acceptance, suicide. Do you relate to this story? Is there a time in your life when you would have related more to Natalie? Do you think there is a lesson to be learned?