Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters

Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters
By Meredith Zetlin
Published on March 1, 2012
Published by GP Putnam
Source: From Publisher for review

Summary taken 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.

Kelsey’s hilarious commentary throughout her disastrous freshman year will have you laughing out loud—while being thankful that you’re not in her shoes, of course…

Freshman year and other unnatural disasters has some highlights and some decidedly low points, though I cannot say that the lows are necessarily a reflection of the writing.  Let me explain!
The author, Meredith zeitlin, does a fantastic job of capturing the schizophrenic mind of the average 14 yr old.  At one moment, the main character Kelsey is floating on clouds, and a paragraph later is ready to self-impose a life time grounding for the perceived social faux pas that have befallen her.  Recalling my own freshman year, yes, life was like that.  I remember thinking everyone would see the tiniest pimple and that everyone had a boyfriend but me.  I remember shopping with my mom and her wanting to buy me "cute" things like sweaters with kittens on them and Jean jumpers that looked "just adorable" when I wanted to shop at Gap and American Eagle.  I think the author also does a nice job showing the ups and downs of complicated teenage girl relationships and the fact that 9th graders can be incredibly selfish and self-centered, yet very emotional and loving.  I remember friends who hated you suddenly because you accidentally unintentionally hurt them and the requisite teary drama of making up.  The story progression seems natural, and watching the mini dramas that occur are pretty realistic - for the most part.

So here we get to the part of the review i feel awful writing, but I have to be honest about.  Kelsey is absolutely horrible to her mother.  I would never dare speak to any human being the way she speaks to her mom, and the mom seems to take it in stride like all girls of that age are naturally wretched.  Kelsey and her friends drink and get drunk on a regular basis.  What?!  At 14?!  Maybe I am out of it at the ripe ole age of 30, but I refuse to believe that it is normal and okay for 14 yr olds to drink routinely.  When I was in 9th grade, those were the bad girls, but that is not how they are portrayed here.  Again, this is written as though it is the norm.  I teach 9th graders and i can say with conviction that most of them are not doing this.  Kelsey struggles through her first make out sessions, but never really talks about how she feels about them, other than total embarrassment.  How is it okay to hook up with someone you just met?  At 14?!  My first kiss (in 10th grade) was agonized over and meticulously analyzed before, during, and after.  Kelsey just blows it off like it was unimportant after the fact.  I think the problem I find with this YA novel is that it is written in a way that suggests this sort of behavior is not only normal, but common and okay.  It simply is not okay.

Call me old-fashioned, but I would not, in good consciousness, let my daughter read this.  Although it is well-written and the conversational style feels very natural and not forced, and although it does a great job of depicting other drama of the age quite well (mean girls, friend betrayal, public embarrassment, school activities), I would not want my own child thinking that amidst all of this other normal stuff that it is also normal to get drunk with your friends, lie to your parents, and make out with strangers.  That is the double-edged sword of this book - it feels so natural and right and some of it is very not.  I would not want my child thinking that everyone is doing all of this illicit stuff at such a young age.  Honestly, although so much of the tone of the book is accurate to the age, these girls are being thrust into situations that are more common for juniors and seniors and college freshmen.  I can't imagine what they will encounter the rest of high school.

On the whole, this book was interesting and engaging, but I would recommend that a parent consider the maturity level of their early teen before they are allowed to read this.  I think it could be a good tool for some parents to bring up topics like this with their kid, especially if they are unsure of how to start a conversation about drinking, drugs, or sex.  One thing is clear to me: my future progeny better not act like this, or they are going to be in a world of unhappiness when I get through with them!

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