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!


  1. Awh I'm sad you didn't enjoy this one as much as I did!! I thought it was absolutely hilarious, and while I was experiencing a lot of this stuff (I started drinking in 8th grade! Yikes! And I had my first real kiss when I was 13! I KNOW!) so I wasn't surprised by how they were acting at all. I think the best way to view this book is as just a funny book about a confident teen who takes life in stride. I really thought Kelsey was pretty awesome! THAT SCENE IN THE PLAY WITH THE BEARD! OMG I WAS DYING!!!

    Anna @ Literary Exploration

  2. I have this book for review.. Thanks for your thoughts on it. It will probably bug me that she is so awful to her mother but I'm excited to see if it's as funny as everyone says it is.

  3. Great review. I've been debating on whether or not to get this one. I think I may just pick it up from the library.

    Regarding the drinking, and the hooking up . . . depressing as it sounds, those are, in fact, rather common nowadays. I am fourteen, a freshman in high school, and I know that somewhere around half of my grade (if not more) has drunk at some point, and many do it on a regular basis. As far as hooking up, many people will hook up with someone after knowing them for less than a day. It's sad, and there are still many people who stay clean and only kiss people they care about, but it's unfortunately rare.

  4. WOw children grow up so quickly. You worry about infectious diseases and so on because I imagine if we're talking hooking up what stops it from being full on sex when done so illicitly. I would also think twice about giving it to my teen child (son) if he were into this genre. It just reminds one just how important is to keep the communication lines open. What Lexie says is a wake call to anyone who thinks it would never happen to with my children.

  5. I keep seeing this EVERYWHERE!

    I know what you mean though - some books marketed for early teens seem to be a bit... I don't know, inappropriate? I'm all for communication and making teens aware, but there's a difference between that and actually PROMOTING it.

    I don't think this is really for me, but it's a great, in-depth review :)

    1. As a 9th grade teacher, I know that even though the perception is "everyone is doing it" - it just is not always true. I think my bigger beef with this book was that in it, it WAS true, everyone really WAS doing it... and that it was okay.
      At 13, 14, yeah, I expect people to have their first kiss, or maybe have their first drink or even maybe first time getting tipsy or drunk...
      But in this book, they are lying to their parents about going to an upperclassmen party where everyone is drunk and/or stoned and furiously making out with each other. I REFUSE to believe that is common and normal for the majority of young teens. Do I live in a fantasy world? Maybe. But the opposite is too depressing to consider.
      It is more the fact that it was portrayed as totally acceptable to act that way. To me, it isn't. And I would not want a 13 or 14 yr old thinking it is okay to be drinking at that age or hooking up with strangers. Gross. :/

      Did I find this book funny? I don't know, I have I strange sense of humor. I find LIFE hilarious and am constantly giggling over the idiosyncrasies of people just being people. Maybe I would have found this more amusing if I was not off-put by the partying.

      I ought to mention though that I have very strong opinions about underage drinking and alcohol in general. My dad is an alcoholic, and statistically speaking, the earlier you have experiences with alcohol, the more likely your developing body will become accustomed to it, leading to greater incidence of binge drinking and potential addiction later in life.

      Maybe I am just a party-pooper. :)



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