Freshers by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

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Freshers by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Reviewed by Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Summary: A near perfect encapsulation of the uniquely wonderful, and occasionally terrible, chaos that is student life. You'll be hard pressed to find a funnier YA book this year!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: August 2017
Publisher: Chicken House
ISBN: 9781910655887

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Away from home. Away from friends. Leaving behind parts of the person that you were growing up, in the hopes of finding more of the person that you want to become. Going to university is a monumental transition. For some, it's an escape. A chance to start anew. A freedom of the sort that you'll rarely have at any other point in life. An opportunity to make lifelong friends and memories that will stay with you forever. However, student life can also be a double-edged sword. There's a fine line, after all, between the opportunity to meet new people and the pressure to make new friends. With great freedom comes great responsibility. In the hands of new young adults, just leaving the nest, it's something that can get very messy, very quickly. Phoebe and Luke went to the same high school, but never really floated in the same circles. But when the two collide in the madness of Fresher's week, little do they realise that they're about to get pulled into each other's worlds for a messy, intense and hilarious term that neither of them will ever forget.

Ah! This was just what I needed. In the midst of revising for yet another set of exams, I picked up Freshers hoping for a fun distraction from the medical textbooks. And boy did Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison deliver! I don't think I've read a book that has had me laughing out loud this frequently since, well…. the previous book I read by the same duo. I was a huge fan of the hilarious antics of sixth formers desperate to lose their virginities before going off to university in Lobsters, but I think this one might be even funnier. With richly relatable characters, consistently entertaining dialogue and sharp, intelligent plotting, Freshers is an absolute joy to read and simply impossible to put down!

Phoebe and Luke are entertaining narrators but it's the vibrant cast of friends, housemates and other students they bump into on campus that really brings the book alive. We get personalities that range from the marvellously mad and funny, like Frankie and Arthur, to wonderfully kind and reliable, like Negin and Josh. We get lovable idiots like Connor, as well as some less lovable idiots, ones through which the authors shine a glaring and well-deserved spotlight at the nasty sexism and misogny that underlies the so-called 'lad culture' still prevalent in so many unis. On top of that, there are the various hilariously nick-named characters that float around on the periphery, like scarily charismatic Bowl-Cut, super chilled Thrones, and Interesting Thought Boy, that help round out a superbly varied cast.

While the obviously unacceptable behaviour is rightly lambasted, Freshers otherwise shows a wonderfully non-judgemental and varied portrayal of campus life. Through the eyes of Luke and Phoebe, and their various groups of friends, we get to see university life from multiple angles: from lectures and seminars and nights spent in the library, to drunken bops and balls and clubbing, to sports ranging from football to Quidditch. It's a superb portrayal of the student experience that is both universally relatable, and filled with rich nuance and diversity. It had me feeling achingly nostalgic about the weird and wonderful antics I got up to, back in my first year at uni. I would challenge anyone who has ever been a young adult at university to read the book without finding some element that resonates richly with their own experience. And it's this heartfelt honesty, the way in which the authors have crystallised the universal chaos of those first few weeks of student life, that makes the book so special.

As much as it shines a light on all the excitement and opportunity of student life, Freshers doesn't sugar-coat the challenges and downsides either. In particular, I loved how honest and realistic the portrayal of relationships was. For every person that's lucky enough to meet a long-term partner on the first week, there are plenty that struggle to hold together long distance relationships, or find themselves wading through a series of unsatisfying or unhealthy romantic encounters. Just as new friendships can form and develop at accelerated rates, so will rivalries and jealousies and conflicts. Some old friendships will stay strong, rock solid anchors that will always have your back. Others might not stand the test of distance, dissolving away without you even noticing. As much as the book had me heaving with laughter in places, there were plenty of other times that it really struck home on the emotional front as well.

Characters make unexpected decisions, relationships come together in surprising ways, and the plot moves in unanticipated directions. While the authors have a superb grasp on YA and popular culture, they also twist and turn past some of the more standard YA tropes in pleasantly surprising ways. Importantly, even when the characters do stupid things that had me banging my head on the desk sometimes, when you take into account the intense pressure cooker environment of campus life, their actions and emotions always remain relatable or understandable in some way.

Freshers is easily one of the funniest books I've read in years. In particular, there's a scene involving a misplaced condom that might just be the single funniest chapter that I've ever read. On top of that it's also a wise and heartfelt portrayal of university life, that has reminded me just how appreciative I should be of the wonderful friends I've had the good fortune of making over the last couple of years. Five stars and a top-notch recommendation from me!

My thanks to the lovely publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag!

If you enjoyed Freshers, you'll have a lot of fun with the aforementioned Lobsters by the same duo. Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando is another brilliant portrayal of how friendships can form, develop and break during the crazy jump between high school and university.

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