Book Review: Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters

Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin
Release Date: March 2012 
Pages: 288 

So far this year isn’t going the way she planned but it is undeniably memorable. Kelsey Finkelstein is starting her freshman year of high school and she’s determined to begin with a clean slate. Her arch-nemesis moved away this summer, finally giving her the chance to stand out on the soccer team and possibly catch the eye of her long-time crush. But things don’t go as smoothly as Kelsey hopes and she finds herself navigating a series of increasingly hilarious situations. From mortifying pictures in the school paper to an unconventional lead role in the musical, all while avoiding her soccer captain’s bad temper, Kelsey has her work cut out for her if she’s going to survive freshman year.

Short of it: A cute read that would be perfect for anyone looking for a fast-paced, funny read.

Plot: Seriously, can I just say poor Kelsey? It seems a cruel fate for such a string of unfortunate events happen to one person in one school year. Of course, some are merely coincidental, like the newspaper pictures, while others are more deliberate. I wish I knew more about soccer to know if the switch of positions was a reasonable one. The change felt odd to me since her skills would essentially go to waste, but I’ve been to exactly one soccer game in my life and have nothing to base this feeling on. However, being a theatre geek I did laugh pretty hard at the closing night scenes. While nothing that big ever happened to us, we did have a few good blunders over the years. Of course, they were limited to a scene or two meaning the whole play was not lost. I’m pretty sure I would have been sobbing had I been the director (or an actor) and my production of Fiddler on the Roof turned into a comedy. And they very well may have been, but the play wasn’t all that important to Kelsey and the way she shrugged it off was pretty spot on.

I do want to mention a couple of things that kind of bothered me. I’m not stupid and I know a lot of High Schoolers (or younger) drink or smoke, but it felt as it was a “no big deal” thing here. Beyond the one incident there are no consequences and even the parents shrug it off to “Typical Teenage Behavior”. I know this is my age, or maybe my own personal background, showing, but I hate when illegal behavior is treated so nonchalantly. I know it makes the book more true to life, but it still gets under my skin when I think about it. It’s hard to teach teens not to do it when it’s constantly in their faces as something teens are just going to do.

The other part that has been nagging at me is the whole LGBTQ plot line.  Had Kelsey not repeatedly told me this character might be gay, I would have never realized it. There was one comment that made me go huh-maybe, but nothing that would have clenched it for me. I do like how Zeitlin doesn’t have them force the person out, but allows them do it on their own terms. That earns a big gold star from me. Perhaps this is simply one of those “stepping into a long time friendship” situation, but considering how it plays out it’s all just a little too convenient.

That being said, I did enjoy the plot line. It’s one full of teen angst and missteps that most teens will be able to relate to.

Character: I liked Kelsey. Yes, she’s a bit self-centered, but what teenager (or adult) isn’t? She does seem to really care for her friends and gives them the support when they need it. What really makes her relatable is how normal she is. She gets mad at her little sister, falls in loves with boys from a distance, feels betrayed a best friend, hold grudges way longer than needed, and dreams of making a splash at her new high school. Sounds like the typical, average high schooler doesn’t it? I know I felt almost all of those and more when I was Kelsey’s age.

The other nice thing is that she learns to roll with the embarrassing and less than stellar situations she ends up in. She has her freak-outs and OMG moments, but the more things happen the more she’s able to shrug it off. It’s a nice look at how horrible luck isn’t the end of the world…and in Kelsey’s case leads to a bit of good luck in the end.

Romance: Most of the romance is happening around Kelsey and not to Kelsey. There are a couple kissing scenes and several flirting scenes, but nothing that goes to relationship status. There is a potential that looks like it’ll lead to more, but the future on that one is up to the reader.

Writing: I have no issues with Zeitlin’s style. While there are moment of predictability, that could be said about any book falling in this genre. It’s more about the life experiences than the surprises. It’s great debut novel that is funny, fast paced, and full of heart.

Librarian-Mode: There are so many great pairings to put with this book. It can easily be given to anyone who likes chick-lit, especially Dessen fans. I would also give it to anyone who liked Little Black Lies by Trish Cohen, Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials by Rosalind Wiseman, and A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker.

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