Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Freshman: Tales of 9th Grade Obsessions, Revelations, and Other Nonsense


Like most freshmen, Annie is nervous about the beginning of her first year in high school. Her older, geeky brother has gotten it into her head that this year will define the rest of her life, so she is worried she will make bad choices.

And she has to make lots of choices to deal with shifting circumstances. Her old friend Beth has become distant, almost surly, and is avoiding her. She has to come to terms that she is not a very good field hockey player. She makes friends with Katrina, who is a great field hockey player, and her brother Luke, whom she thinks is just dreamy. Seeking an alternative to sports, she goes on to score a part in the school play and then has to deal with cast drama as well as a conniving rival. And these are just some of the things Annie tackles over the course of the school year.

The premise of Freshman: Tales of 9th Grade Obsessions, Revelations, and Other Nonsense may seem familiar to many. But the execution of this graphic novel makes this possibly cliched tale into a vivid look at adolescent life. All in all, I felt that these were very realistic and relatable scenarios that made me think of my own time in high school without cloying, nostalgic overtones. I appreciated the episodic qualities of the story, and I liked how it was divided up according to the seasons. It gave the sense of gradual progression, letting the characters develop over the course of the book. As we get to know them, they take lives of their own, and their individual personalities become more realized.

This graphic novel was created by Corinne Mucha, whose work I have to admit has been a recent obsession of mine. Her comic book The Monkey in the Basement and Other Delusions made me laugh out loud so much I visited her site and bought everything she had for sale, including this book. Her work is largely autobiographical, with her unique focus on specific episodes and social situations. I think her observations and admitted hangups are simultaneously hilarious, insightful, and provocative. Her comics are the best kind of comedy, the kind that is both funny and thoughtful.

Reviews I have seen of this book have been very positive and receptive. Snow Wildsmith at the School Library Journal praised, "Mucha brings to life the pain and the joy of freshman year. She writes with an immediacy that doesn’t feel like an adult reminiscing about her teen years." Jennifer de Guzman wrote, "What is refreshing about Mucha’s work is that it captures all the charm of a John Hughes film without what have become teen movie cliches... Mucha depicts adolescent life for what it is: baffling, messy, and, at times, unexpectedly awesome." Ricki Marking-Camuto summed the book up as "fresh, fun, and totally realistic."

This graphic novel is published by Zest Books, a publisher focusing on adolescent nonfiction and that seems to pay careful attention to their Teen Advisory Board. There is a preview of the book at Amazon.com.

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