First year at college can be a wild ride, and it is also a time to try new things. This is the premise for the novel “Fresh” by Margot Wood, released Aug. 3, 2021. The novel centers around Elliot McHugh, a freshman at Emerson College, originally from Ohio. She has no idea what she wants to do in life or what she wants to major in. All she knows is that she wants to have a fun time. She wants to take random classes because they sound cool. She wants to go to parties and have wild times. She also wants to sleep with many people, as she believes in the hookup culture and that life is about taking chances. While she does have some fun, there are also mistakes that are made. From fights with friends to doing poorly in classes to not knowing how to find closure with people she sees, Elliot messes up quite a few times. This is what makes her human, and it makes her feel very real.
As a freshman myself, I felt connected to this novel. While I’m not having the wild, crazy, sexy times that Elliot is having (not yet at least ;)), I relate to Elliot not knowing what she wants to do. She is figuring it out as she goes and is just taking classes that could lead to potential interests. As someone who is currently undeclared, I am doing this as well as I figure out what I want to do in life. Elliot and I are both making new friends, trying not to get homesick and exploring all that college has to offer. These are problems like making sure no one steals from your laundry machine, taking advantage of sugary options in the dining hall when you should be eating healthier, stressing about classes and all of the work, figuring out how to make a move on a hot stranger, etc. I loved the character of Elliot with her quirks and flaws. I liked her goofy roommate Lucy, her charmingly nosy friend Micah, her serious yet fascinating residential advisor Rose, her crazy hookups, her weird family and any other character that is introduced. I believe that it is a sign of great writing when all of the characters can draw you in.
This novel takes place in first person with the occasional fourth-wall break. It feels like Elliot is just telling this story to someone, which is a great way to draw the reader in. She does this by either saying her thoughts, giving catch-ups to events between chapters, giving necessary background information or giving jokey little hints about what will happen next. She also does humorous “choose your own adventures” where one choice takes someone to the next sentence and the other leads to a hilarious footnote. That brings me to another aspect I enjoyed about the novel: there are humorous footnotes at the bottom of several pages, about 90 footnotes in total. These can give background on a certain detail, say if Elliot is lying or just wants to give her general thoughts on a conversation. Anything from “I will soon learn that not only is there a cereal bar, there is also a motherfucking WAFFLE STATION. I love college” to “It just occurred to me, just now, right this very moment, that I am incredibly thankful that I don’t get boners.” I find them to be a fun addition that makes the novel unique.
The novel spans across Elliot’s entire freshman year. From the day she moves in to the day she moves out, the reader knows what is happening. During this time, there is not really one overarching conflict. There is tension—between her and her residential advisor, Rose, friends she is trying to help out and figuring out what she wants to major in—but there is no main problem that she is trying to solve. In a way, the novel could be split into two parts, one for the first semester and one for the second semester, divided by her trip home for winter vacation. While the characters remain the same, she has some different issues to focus on each semester as she grows. She finds solutions to problems in the first semester as she transitions to the next one. Then there are new problems in store. The novel flows very naturally with this procedure. While some people may not like that there is no major action, I actually liked this. It made the book an easy and comfortable read that I could go right through. She just wants to survive college, which can be a large enough struggle for many people, and that is her problem.
I would highly recommend this novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe if I read it a few years ago, or in a few years, I may feel differently about it then I do now. I am at the same point in my life as Elliott, and that has made me connect to this book and love it a lot. It shows that everyone has their own struggles in college, but there are some problems that are universal and that can make a person feel not so alone. I was able to finish the 338 pages of the novel in one day—it had been a while since I started a new book and this was a book I just had to keep reading. This is an exciting story with quirky characters, witty writing, unique storytelling, fun twists and so much more. Even if this is not your typical genre, it has great humor and important lessons that anyone can find valuable. Pick up a copy of “Fresh” today and see your college experience through someone else’s eyes.