by Zoe Trope
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Dec 19th 2003
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
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
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."
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.
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
© 2003 Christian Perring. All
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.