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Freshers by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison - Review

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it on Kindle a few weeks ago, it was cheap.

What's it about? The story is told from two people's points of view. Phoebe and Luke have just arrived at the fictional York Met University, having been to the same school in London. For the past seven years Phoebe has had a huge crush on Luke. Luke has been with Abbey for three years and has basically never noticed Phoebe. 

On their first night on Freshers they end up sitting on a bridge by the lake together having rescued a fellow drunken fresher, and start a friendship. Luke has sort of broken up with Abbey, and he and Phoebe have a nice conversation and agree to go to Freshers' Fair together the next day. 

Phoebe makes friends with two girls in her flat, Negin and Becky, and a girl called Frankie who is the most hilarious part of the book. Luke tries out for the football team and has to undergo their initiation rites to get on to the first team. The two of them are doing the same degree and end up in seminars together. There are tons of twists and turns along the way in Luke and Phoebe's relationships and there are lots of important messages throughout the book as well as it just being really funny and intriguing. 

This book took me right back to being a Fresher myself way back in 2002. I went to York St John university, which isn't the main university but a smaller one, but obviously I know York well so it was lovely to read a book set there. I had friends at York university and the fictionalisation of it here seems pretty true to life. York Uni does have lakes and ducks and is campus based, so the novel was really believable from that point of view.

I was a pretty miserable Fresher myself; I didn't make many friends and felt very alone. I did eventually make friends but I could understand Luke's loneliness all too well. I love my dorm room at uni - I lived in a little house rather than a flat but I had an upstairs room and it was really cosy and 'mine'. I spent a lot of time there and really missed it when I had to move out - I loved the bed especially! I think that there's a lot of pressure on 18 year olds who are mostly away from home for the first time to have an amazing time as a Fresher and in the first term and maybe even the first year of uni, when actually it can be pretty daunting and scary, and I felt like Lucy and Tom did a really good job of showing that. 

Phoebe is a great character and I loved her friends. I liked a lot of the incidental characters like Ed, and yes, I even fell a bit for Luke. He is a bit of an idiot at times and most of his problems would be cured by just talking about something instead of assuming, but I did fall for his charm in the same way Phoebe did. 

This book is also really, really funny. I'm not someone who laughs out loud a lot at books, but I did for this many times. As I said, Frankie is especially hilarious but I think they all were at points. The authors have a real gift for comedy and I really liked that. I'd like to read their other books now.

I'm interested in how they co-write. I saw Lucy and Tom on a panel at YALC in 2015 but it was about sex in YA I think, so I'd be interested in hearing about how they co-write. It must be so difficult but maybe really rewarding? They probably bounce off each other a lot. It must also take a lot of pre-planning too! I would like to know more. 

Lastly, I think the sex scenes represented in the book are really realistic and show both the good sides and the bad sides of sex. I love it when sex is written so realistically like this. Especially when there are condoms and frank conversations involved! 

What age range is it for? 16+, I think. There are quite a lot of mature themes. 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No, I wish there had been if I'm honest. 

Are any main characters people of colour? I think Negin is a person of colour but I'm not entirely sure. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, lots. It is portrayed, as I've said, very realistically, and also for the most part very positively. No one is shamed for having sex, and when people try to shame others, it's shut down. It's a pretty big part of the novel and one which I felt was done really well. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? There are a couple of characters who smoke weed but that's literally it. 

Is there any talk of death? No 

Are there swear words? Yes, lots. I think it's really realistic of how teenagers speak, but your mileage may vary. 

What criticisms do I have? Okay, first of all I did like the book and I hope that comes across in this review. However, I wanted to edit some of the dialogue because it bothered me, and I also think that the word 'said' will do most of the time. In one part, someone screams, someone shouts, and someone bellows, all within about two minutes of each other and it was just too much. You can just say said! It's fine! Said is good! You can show that someone is speaking loudly without using a word like 'scream'. Do people generally scream a lot? It bothered me. 

Secondly, I felt like there were a couple of plot lines that just got forgotten. For example Phoebe signs up for Quidditch and there's supposed to be a match against a different university, but it never happens in favour of other plot lines. It happened a couple of times and the completist in me just wanted to know what happened!

I also didn't entirely feel like the book was set in the late 2010s, eg 2016 or 2017. It felt earlier than that to me, and the use of social media wasn't shown as much as it would be for teenagers starting uni today.

These were seriously just niggles against the whole of the book though.

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. If you've ever been a Fresher, read it now. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I knew I wanted to get to it soon after buying it. 

What other books is it like? You know, I really don't know. I don't think I've read too many YA novels set at university and I'd really like to read more. 

How many stars? I gave it four out of five on Goodreads, but it's really more of a four and a half. Very close to being a five. Delightful book and so funny. 

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