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Monday, August 15, 2016

YA Review: Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters

Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin

Published: March 1st, 2012 by G. P. Putnam's Sons, with the edition I read released in 2013 by Speak.
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 282
Part of a series? There is a companion to this called Sophomore Year is Greek to Me, which I will be reviewing net week. That is not a direct sequel, but does take place the year after this one, and has a few spoilers for this book.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Kelsey Finkelstein is fourteen and frustrated. Every time she tries to live up to her awesome potential, her plans are foiled – by her impossible parents, her annoying little sister, and life in general. But with her first day of high school coming up, Kelsey is positive that things are going to change. Enlisting the help of her three best friends — sweet and quiet Em, theatrical Cass, and wild JoJo — Kelsey gets ready to rebrand herself and make the kind of mark she knows is her destiny.

Things start out great - her arch-nemesis has moved across the country, giving Kelsey the perfect opportunity to stand out on the soccer team and finally catch the eye of her long-time crush. But soon enough, an evil junior’s thirst for revenge, a mysterious photographer, and a series of other catastrophes make it clear that just because Kelsey has a plan for greatness… it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is in on it.

Review: This was absolutely hilarious. The running gag about the school newspaper publishing horrible pictures of Kelsey is probably one of the funniest things I've read in a long time. There is a lot of humour, and it was a really good decision to read this while I'm still a little fuzzy from being sick. (Getting better. It probably doesn't matter by the time you read this, since I'm probably going to post stuff out of order.) For the most part, this is light and sweet and funny, and I enjoyed it a whole lot. Definitely pros and cons, but we'll get into that in the later bits of this review.

Plot Talk: Basically the plot is Kelsey Finkelstein's freshman year at high school playing soccer and growing up and fighting with friends and stuff. There isn't really a huge event that everything builds up to, but I quite enjoyed that. It's just a year in a girl's life as she gets used to being in high school.

Characters: Kelsey is really funny, but she can be really annoying at times. She is very, very fourteen, and it is a very honest fourteen. Fourteen is a terrible age, let's be real. Kelsey is an incredibly dramatic girl at times who takes everything very seriously a lot of the time. Her parents are terrible, the hot guy she likes is basically a god, bad pictures of her are a disaster. Part of the book's arc is her growing, but there are definitely moments where my notes just say, "Poor baby. Your life is so hard." And that's about things like not being allowed to use her mother's credit card freely, or text in class.

Kelsey's friends, and Kelsey herself are mostly upper-class, slightly-spoiled, probably white girls. (Nobody is really well-described - I honestly have no idea what anyone looked like.) Kelsey is Jewish which is awesome, and absolutely lovely to see in YA. But she is also very privileged, and so are her friends. They can be a little mean and judgemental, and that is somewhat addressed. Realistic because they are very privileged fourteen year old girls. But I did like seeing their friendship, and the struggles they go through as they grow and spend their first year in high school.

Another thing I appreciated was that I don't have to say everyone is straight. There were non-straight characters, and mostly they weren't stereotyped or anything. (The music teacher and drama teacher being queer and dating is kind of cliche, though, but it's treated mostly as a rumour/not especially interesting, so, you know, not a huge deal.)

The characters are strong in this. Some of them can be surprising, even, and go against who you would expect them to be. Like the super hot, basically perfect, blonde, soccer star is... actually really sweet. There's a whole book/cover Aesop.

PG-13 stuff: Probably a little more than you'd expect considering the character's ages, but they do live in New York. For the most part, I think it's realistic and well-handled. Not all consequences are life-ending, but there are consequences for most things. Like, getting careless with alchohol gives you a headache, and maybe some injuries you have to deal with. I am not a fan of underage drinking because of the issues it can cause in adulthood, but in the book, it's mostly handled well.

Kelsey thinks about sex a lot, and I really like the way it's handled. It's realistic for someone her age to be curious about it. All in all, this would probably be fine for kids Kelsey's age, around thirteen or fourteen.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: The mean girl thing and girl hate bothers me. There's a bit of slutshaming here and there, and that is really uncomfortable. It would also be nice if they'd mentioned that, you know, gay and straight are not the only options. There's also some really uncomfortable moments that are... kind of racist. Kelsey and her friends dress up as the Village People for Halloween and there's more than a few lines about her friend being an "Indian Princess", wearing makeup and a headdress, and that is not cool. If it weren't for that, this would probably be full-rose rating higher.

Nobody in this book is fat, as far as I can tell, and there are some cracks that I don't really like. What's wrong with weighing three hundred pounds, Kelsey?

Last, it's predictable. Not as badly as other books I've read recently, but it's a lot like other books in this genre. Certain tropes are exactly what you expect them to be. It's not the worst thing ever, but it's there. It's more fun than anything, I think, to have those familiar tropes, but if that's a thing than bothers you, now you know.

Cover comments: It is so cute. It's perfectly suited to the book. The colours are gorgeous, and the little clouds and rain drops are just perfectly adorable.

Conclusion: This is really cute, and hilarious. It's a lot of fun to read, but the cons I mentioned did bother me both while I was reading, and afterwards. I would hesitate to recommend this to certain kids (First Nations/NA kids do not need that stereotype thrown in their face), even though it is really fun. It's really fun if you know that those things are going to make you cringe, not hurt you. If those things would hurt you, don't worry about passing. So. Mixed review, mixed recommendation. I really enjoyed this because it was cute and funny, but that comes from a place of privilege in some aspects, so take that into consideration.

This is going to lose a rose for the racism (and it is only that Halloween scene), and the girl hate, so this is coming out at three roses. I am, however, very much looking forward to starting the other book by the author that I have.

Other notes:

- There may have been a guy named Ned who gets called Nedward and I can't tell if it was a joke or serious.

- What phones are they flipping shut in 2012? Like Blackberries or something?

- There's a moment with a strong anti-rape culture message, and I kind of appreciated that.

- Favourite character: Valentina.

I think that's it!

Peace and cookies,

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