Ah, freshman year of high school. I remember it too: picking out the perfect first-day outfit, thinking you’ll rock the fall play auditions, experiencing a rude awakening with the classwork amount, navigating the ruthless jungle of the cafeteria, etc. Although, I didn’t quite have plans to make it grand, like Kelsey Finkelstein in Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters. I was in more of a survival mindset than she, though that didn’t stop me from having a good year in the end.
Though of course, I will say that Kelsey had an infinitely more disastrous (and hilarious) school year. After all, her school year was devised by a YA author, and they know exactly how to torture and wring all the misery out of the cheeriest high school girls.
Kelsey Finkelstein cannot wait to start high school. She has plans to make it an absolutely unbelievable year alongside her loyal group of friends. As she quickly learns though, not everyone will be on her side for the year. She must deal with ruthless soccer team captains, crazy teachers, and guys that are only after one thing. One disaster after another piles up for Kelsey, and it looks like it won’t be such a great year after all. Still, nothing can completely go wrong with a great group of friends and a sense of humor, right?
There’s no hard plot to this book. It just follows Kelsey as she jumps from one high school activity to another. We see her go from her disastrous soccer season to her hilarious tryouts for the musical to her awkward encounters with boys. Almost nothing about the school year goes in her favor, and it’s kind of funny watching her try to make the best of it, only for yet one more thing to go wrong.
The best part of the whole thing is seeing Kelsey grow. For example, the cousin of her biggest soccer rival joins her team, and Kelsey thinks the new girl will be just as awful as the first. But she turns out to be super sweet and becomes one of Kelsey’s best friends by year’s end.
Kelsey also finds herself in some friendship drama that seems irreparable at first. It’s sad and frustrating to watch, but something tells you it will all work out.
But again, even if something appears at first to go in Kelsey’s favor, something screws it up. Kelsey auditions for the spring musical with her friends, which at first goes well. But something happens during one of the shows.
Kelsey tries out for soccer, only to end up in the least coveted role on the team.
Kelsey tries to go school shopping, only for her mom to push her into getting the ugliest clothes.
I shall not spoil too many of the disasters because some of you might actually want to read this and not have everything spelled out. That’s part of the fun here: watching the disasters unfold and poor Kelsey trying to deal with it.
Something interesting is that this book was published in 2012, but Kelsey’s high school seems stuck in 2005. The kids all have flip phones and there is still a functioning home ec classroom. Nothing wrong with that: it was just something that caught my eye. It’s been a while since I’ve read a high school story where iPhones and social media don’t exist yet and the kids are not in a digital spotlight unless it’s their picture in the school newspaper (like it incidentally happens to Kelsey a few times).
Besides, the book perfectly captures the frustration freshmen feel when teachers and upperclassmen underestimate them because they’re so young and inexperienced. All the juniors and seniors get the best stuff, while the freshmen get left in the dust. Kelsey finds herself a particular bully who completely disregards her as a freshman, but luckily, it only makes Kelsey more determined to prove herself.
In the end, it’s a heartfelt, well-written story. It hits many of the classic high school story beats, but it does so deftly and entertainingly. Certainly nothing groundbreaking, but definitely something to help pass the time.