Local Author Pens Debut Novel About Post-Graduation Blues

Jenni Fink's Sentenced to Life delves in to life after college and society's unrealistic expectations of post-graduates.

Moorestown native Jenni Fink’s debut novel, Sentenced to Life, reaches out to the millennial generation and assures us we’re doing just fine. “I tried to think about what real life is right now and just put it into words so people can relate to it,” Fink explains. College graduates are all too familiar with the pressure of finding a job, getting married and having kids, but Fink seeks to calm these universal anxieties in her novel.

Sentenced to Life is a story of a young woman who gets a brutal wake-up call after receiving her diploma and moving back home. The book addresses relatable issues like changing family dynamics, rekindling past relationships and facing an uncertain future.

In anticipation of her book reading this weekend at James Oliver Gallery, I spoke to Fink—a graduate of the University of Arizona—about life after college and society’s unrealistic expectations of post-graduates.

How much does Sentenced To Life reflect your own journey?
It parallels a little bit to my own journey, but it’s also a medley of a lot of things. It’s stuff I felt that I experienced. And it’s also stuff that I saw my friend’s experiencing. I think very few people want to admit they’re afraid but everyone is. That is one of the greatest parts of the book. So many people can relate to it and can finally read something that parallels what they’re going through without having to admit that that’s how they actually feel. I wanted to convey that feeling scared, worried and confused is normal.

How much of the story was based on research versus personal life experience?
I think my research, especially with the relationship part, has been like a decade in the making. The book actually started as a book of essays that were mostly just funny clips that were based off my blog. I was just observing what we were all going through and I realized that I’m not doing justice to this story if I don’t go deep and get emotional and if I’m only highlighting the funny parts. Although, there are a lot of funny parts in the book. I didn’t really sit any of my friends down and interview them because, like I said, it’s kind of hard to admit that you’re scared about life. Or that even though you took this job you’re not sure it’s really what you wanted to do and you still feel hesitant. I’m just a huge observer of human interactions and people and I think that works better for me, because I can see the real moments.

In the book the main character, Chelsea, reconnects with a summer fling from the year before. Why did you choose to include a relationship element in a story about post graduation?
I definitely wanted to include some sort of relationship because at this time in our lives, as women especially, there is a social pressure and a natural instinct to have the perfect career. There is the pressure to be making six figures within a few years after graduating. There is pressure to get married and pressure to have two-and-a-half kids by 30. Then you all of a sudden are looking at your life and you feel old. Like you’ve accomplished none of these things and you’re never going to. Which is insane. But we still feel this way.

Now if you choose your career over a relationship, people are like, “Oh, so don’t you have a boyfriend?” And you then have to say, “No, I work 60 hours a week. I don’t have time for a boyfriend.” But then if you say that you are getting married right after college people are like, “Oh, so you just went to college to get married?” And you respond, “No, I went to college to get educated and now I’m choosing to get married.” Society creates a lose-lose situation for a lot of people.

Have any advice on how graduates can stay motivated through job searches and in their journey to find themselves?
The main thing is that motivation comes from within. It took me a long time to realize that. For so long I heavily depended on other people to validate my work. Although you need people to support you, they also have their own lives and their own problems. Their full-time job is not to convince you that you should do something. You have to convince yourself. The [best] way to stay motivated is to set your goals and remind yourself of them constantly.

The second thing, I think, is you have to be realistic with yourself about your work ethic. Because it’s easy to set a goal to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but it also requires a lot of work. The best way to stay motivated is to take a look at yourself and say, “What am I willing to do to get there?” If you can really take a look at how hard you’re working for something and then put it in perspective it’s a lot easier to keep going.

How is all this reflected in novel?
The journey is the best part. In the book I really try to highlight how important this journey is, and how people aren’t necessarily expressing the importance because everyone’s gone through it. You learn so much about yourself and you figure out who you are. It’s really tough to do that. I think if you ask anyone whose just retired what the best part was, they’ll tell you [that it was] when they were first starting out. In the book I just try to make it as real as possible. I tried to think about what real life is right now and just put it into words so that people can relate to it. It’s ok if you don’t really know who you are yet. Whatever you’re doing right now is all you need to be doing.

Sentenced to Life can be purchased at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. The release event will take place at the James Oliver Gallery (723 Chestnut Street) on July 25th from 7-9:30 p.m.