Cover of Fresh by Margot Wood. A red Solo cup spills the title spelled out in a bright liquid

About the Book

Title: Fresh
Published: 2021

Cover Story: Meh
Drinking Buddy: Drunken Whoop
MPAA Rating: NC-17 (explicit sex, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, language)
Talky Talk: Fourth Wall
Bonus Factors: Sex Positivity, Roommates
Bromance Status: Freshman Crush

Cover Story: Meh

The red Solo cup kind of sums up the college experience, but doesn’t draw the eye, even with those colors.

The Deal:

Elliot McHugh has just entered college as a freshman, and she’s off to take the world by storm! She’s going to take fun classes, party, make friends, and enjoy the many fun experiences college has to offer.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. She kind of forgets about the academic side of college, and her grades reflect this. The sex is mostly unfulfilling. She meets lots of new people, but learns that friendship is a two-way street. To make things worse her RA, Rose, seems to have it in for her, enforcing the rules and insisting that Rose take classes that challenge her and maybe, you know, choose a major. Is the great adventure over before it begins?

Drinking Buddy: (Drunken whoop)

Two pints of beer cheersing

Elliot was an incredibly likeable character, the sort of friend you’re still telling stories about years later. A laundry detergent snob, a breakfast cereal aficionado, and an all around exciting person, anyone would want to cultivate her friendship. Heck, I wish I’d known her when I was a freshman; she might have convinced me to get away from my computer more. We might have even ended up making out after a party, and here I am thinking that we really connected but the next day, while I’m pondering what to say when I call her, I spot her holding hands with another guy who’s much better looking than me, and she gives me a look like ‘please be cool about this,’ and I just laugh it off, but I’m kind of dying inside, Heidi. I mean Elliot.

MPAA Rating: NC-17 (explicit sex, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, language)

As this is not a YA book, but a new adult novel, the author pulled no punches. Elliot sees her classmates like a Whitman’s Sampler, and wants to have a taste of everything. She even uses a college project as an excuse to bed a half dozen men and women. Elliot enjoys sex for the pure pleasure of it, completely devoid of emotional attachment. Unfortunately, she doesn’t mention this to her partners, and ends up hurting a lot of people who thought of Elliot as more than a romp in the sheets.

Talky Talk: Fourth Wall

Elliot talks directly to the reader, going so far as to ask for a positive Goodreads review. She also uses footnotes, which I’m a fan of. It was like sitting with an old friend who’s telling you an extremely long story, but you don’t say anything because she’s really engaging. The author really captured the worldly yet completely clueless narrator.

Bonus Factors: Sex Positivity

Emma Stone giving a thumbs up for sex in Easy A

So can sex be positive? Can sex be devoid of attachment? Is there anything out there that is just kind of strange? Elliot, at eighteen, has experienced a lot: bondage (both as dom and sub), menage a trois, polyamory, etc. And she is an adult, so no one can fault her for enjoying herself to the fullest. But, like I mentioned above, just because you have no feelings for your partner, doesn’t mean that goes both ways. And Elliot gets into a dicey situation where a guy assumes that consent is an automatic given with someone like her (this book really hammers home ‘no means no’).

Finally, the book kind of glosses over STDs and pregnancy. I know they’re not the issue they once were, but with SCOTUS taking away women’s rights, it’s something to think about.

Bonus Factor: Roommates

Brian and seven of his male college friends at a BBQ, 1997

So Elliot’s new roommate, who she never met, is a girl named Lucy. Will they get along? Become friends? Become besties? Elliot plans an elaborate friendship courting ritual for their initial meeting, involving a dance number, glitter, and Cheez-Its. And you know what? It works. Of course, when Lucy finds a boyfriend, and that boyfriend is kind of a jerk…well, it can get on one’s nerves, can’t it?

Bromance Status: Freshman Crush

While this book quickly overwhelmed and intimidated me, I’m going to be recalling it fondly for a long time.

Literary Matchmaking

How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater

Marc Acito’s How I Paid For College really captures the same spirit of this book.

Let’s Talk About Love

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann also deals with unconventional romance.

One True Loves (Happily Ever Afters #2)

Another girl tries to define her future and her romantic life in Elise Bryant’s One True Loves.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor cheap beer for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.