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by Zoe Trope
HarperTempest, 2003
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Dec 19th 2003

Please Don't Kill the Freshman

Please Don't Kill the Freshman is a diary by an Oregon high school girl, "Zoe Trope," of fifteen months of her life, from March 2001, when she is fourteen, to June 2002.  As she points out, this is not her real name, but her first name really is Zoe.  The diary of the first six months was originally published by a small independent press, Future Tense, in 2001.  Part of the drama in the subsequent story is precisely about Zoe's feelings about being a published author, the small book tour she does to promote her first publication, getting to talk to some well-known authors, and subsequently being courted by major publishers for her next work.  She reports that HarperCollins paid $100,000 for this book.  But most of the diary focuses on her relationships and in particular her romance with a person she calls "Scully."

These days hundreds of teens have "blogs" online and publish their most intimate thoughts in web journals for the world to see.  So what is it about Trope's writing that would make a publisher expect the public to pay for this book?  Maybe it is the sensationalist aspect of the first hand experience of teen lesbians, for indeed Zoe does have a relationship with another girl who then, confusing everyone, turns into a boy, and so turns Zoe straight, to use her phrase.  But it's not as if this could serve as erotica, and the tone of the book is mostly PG13.  There are some references to sex, but it's nothing very explicit.  Much of the content Zoe's diary is somewhat predictable angst, much the same as most people experience during what is for many of us an agonizing time of life.  Comparing it with some of those other teen diaries and blogs available online, one really gets an enhanced sense that Zoe is an interesting writer in her own right, independently of the content of her writing.

Apart from being a member of a sexual minority and not being thin, she doesn't seem to have many burdens in her own life to make her miserable.  It's just that time of life.  Her closest friend, whom she calls "Linux Shoe," is gay and sometimes makes her cry, which maybe makes her a little unusual.  The fact that she is in the school marching band, is however, more surprising.  Trope's style is sarcastic and alienated in pretty much the way you would expect any literate and sensitive teen to be.  What is unusual about Trope is her ability to create some nice phrases and to express ordinary ideas powerfully. 

"When I microwave water and press the faded white buttons for a minute-forty-five, I realize that two minutes are slipping away.  Then nine minutes.  And then I get my degree and marry some boy and I am scooping up sand off the beach with my fingers wide open and everything is slipping through."

At other points, her prose keeps it mysterious exactly what happened, and it's not clear what she feels about it, except some kind of confusion.

"Today I kissed a boy I need more than anything.  His lips were very dry and he wore a baggy tan sweatshirt rolled up to his elbows.  I tried to crawl inside him where it was warm and safe, but I couldn't get that close."

A few days later, it seems that it is her friend "Curry" who she is kissing.  She writes a letter to him:


            I hope you really loved our kiss today.  My tongue in your mouth, tasting your teeth, sucking our your breath.

            I  hope you really loved it.  I hope your fucking eyes were closed.  I hope it was the best kiss.

            It was the last one."

Of course, it isn't the last one.  But it ends between them eventually, and she is soon kissing other boys.  Then comes Scully, a girl who read her first publication.  Scully is the first girl she kisses as a girlfriend.  Soon Zoe is in love.  She struggles with categories like bisexual identity, because she is a thoughtful and she wants to know what she is.  She also wants to tell her parents who she is.  She describes her further confusion, and the developing relationship.  Scully remains a mysterious figure, and it's especially bewildering when Scully decides to be a boy.  Zoe copes with it though, and this suggests that today's teens have a postmodern conceptual flexibility that previous generations lacked.  By the summer, it looks as if the relationship is fading though, and the diary entries become more meandering and meditative, saying less. 

Oddly enough, Please Don't Kill the Freshman is a book that repays repeated reading.  Going through the pages a second time helps to clarify how it all fits together, and the blur of characters starts to resolve into clarity.  As with most diarists, Zoe is self-obsessed and it takes work to get clear on who the different characters are.  On second reading, the book seems better because the reader does not feel as confused.  It's an original depiction of modern teen life. 


© 2003 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.






Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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