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Freshman: Tales Of 9th Grade Obsessions, Revelations And Other Nonsense
posted September 15, 2011
Zest Books, softcover, 112 pages, 2011, $12.99
Corinne Mucha's latest is a largely enjoyable but extremely slight book, made that much wispier by the author's choice to work through her characters' entire freshman year rather than focusing on a single aspect or period of time. Mucha displays an admirable sense of timing scene to scene. Many of the character moments are odd and affecting and therefore funny, and there are only a few, brief times when the pacing seems forced or that the reader feels hurried from one event to another. The downside to this laconic approach is that the characters' year as a whole seems largely devoid of major events -- a curious approach to a period in life trumpeted as a dramatic, novel, and important enough to carry an entire book. I would suspect that most pre-teens will go through more drama in a two-month period than these kids experience Fall to Spring.
Mucha's also clearly working with benign characters and situations that are... well, far from complicated. Lead character Annie's worst problem seems to be that the boy she likes doesn't like her back; initial co-lead Richie can't find anything extracurricular about which he feels passion. Even then, everything works out for each teen by story's end. There's a significant element of wish-fulfillment and benign fantasy to Freshman
; it makes Zits
look like Over The Edge
. My understanding is that all-ages material featuring a specific age group tends to be read by kids younger than the kids depicted, as those are the readers curious about what's to come when they hit the older age. In that way, I can see Freshman
as a sort of kindly letter of reassurance. I'm not sure that message is portrayed in dynamic or realistic enough terms not to be whitewashing the news. This is the Freshman year we wish for all of our young people: a largely painless enterprise in a rigorously decent world. I didn't buy it for a second.