I went to a small liberal arts college in a small town in Iowa and I enjoyed the beginning of this book and the family ideals and I could definitely understand the exclusivity of the family vs. the town. However, I thought Brown took characters that could be subtly different and interestingly unique and forced them into stereotypical cookie cutter forms. We know Rose is the organized one who feels responsible for everything and we expect on page 3 that she will relax a bit in the end and give up some of her control. Do we really need to read every description of her through this lens? Does Bean always have to be the whore? And Cordy so irresponsible? And really, how weird are these sisters who are (after all) just three of the students attending the Coop. Aren't other professors kids equally weird when compared to the townies? Certainly in the small college town that I know this is the case. Overall I thought there was some promise here and some compelling ideals but the end product felt fake and over done.
I was also highly disappointed that the family had to be so religious. In my experience, most educated people are not religious and in fact can quite quickly and obviously point out the standard parallels between Jesus and Santa Claus (both fictional characters in my mind). It did not mesh with me that the parents were avid church goers or that the three daughters were happy to fall in line. I thought Bean's good vs. evil internal quest could have been much more moving and poignant without the religious overtones. Ultimately, though the fact that she did not end up happily in a relationship with Father Aiden was a surprise (I was convinced on page 30 when we met him that he would be "THE ONE" for her), and one of the few plot choices that the author made with which I agreed.
My favorite scene was probably the night that they crashed the car after going out for ice cream; I thought that chapter as a short story probably holds the whole point of the novel. They are each characters and defined by their own limitations, but they are capable of branching outside themselves in an effort to experience life and their relationship with each other.