Freshman Year

Little, Brown/Christy Ottaviano. Feb. 2024. 288p.  $24.99. ISBN 9780316401074; pap. $17.99. ISBN 9780316401173.
Gr 9 Up–This slice-of-life story follows Sarah, a recent high school graduate who is spending the summer before college in Minnesota, hanging out with her friends. Her boyfriend Ben tells her he loves her and wants to stay together even after she leaves for college. Unsure about a long-term relationship and about majoring in English, Sarah, who presents as white, spends the summer preoccupied, but tries to enjoy each moment. While her mom, who uses a wheelchair, helps her with moving into the dorms, she alerts Sarah to all the things that can go wrong as a college freshman, leaving Sarah feeling woefully uninformed. Luckily, her roommate, who is grounded and makes friends easily, brings Sarah along for college clubs and activities. Readers follow Sarah as she embarks on her freshman year in college: her classes are an intense blur, she tries veganism, bleaches and cuts her hair, and considers art school to cope with the stress. Eventually, Ben breaks up with her and Sarah spirals into self-doubt and depression, even with a new group of friends, including some boy interests. She eventually confides her existential worries to her mom and happily connects with her family and friends on her 19th birthday—her last teen year. A variety of story blocks make each page flow differently, and the grayscale art is realistic. College-bound high school readers will appreciate Sarah’s cluelessness, feelings of being overwhelmed, and existential self-searching with this stage of life.
VERDICT A solid addition where realistic graphic fiction is in demand.

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