Cover of How I Paid for college. Funky font on orage background, with a Buddha and a fedora

About the Book

Title: How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater
Published: 2004

Cover Story: You Too Can Ace the SAT Test!
Drinking Buddy:
Stranded at the Velvet Rope
Testosterone Level:
Insert Generic History of the World, Part I Sex Pun Here
Talky Talk:
And Opie Taylor Grew Up to be a Drag Queen
Bonus Factors:
LGBTQ, 1984, Big is Beautiful, I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up
Bromance Status:
That Idealized Bunch of High School Friends

Cover Story: You Too Can Ace the SAT Test!

For an awesome book, this cover smacks of some sort of nonfiction educational thing with stories from teens JUST LIKE YOU!

And it’s got a Buddha on it.

The Deal:

It’s the 1983-84 school year. New Jersey native Eddie Zanini is counting down the days until he can leave for Julliard and the world can appreciate his dramatic talent. But here’s the problem: Eddie’s father, whom he lives with, will only pay for (horrors!) business school. To make things worse, his dad is about to marry a young, Austrian artist who seems to be a little too perfect.

Eddie must come up with the thousands of eighties dollars it will take to fund his education, with the help of his zany pack of friends. There’s Kelly, Eddie’s too-hot-for-him girlfriend. There’s Paula, his overweight female bestie. There’s Doug, the hot football player, who Paula really wants to lay. Unfortunately, Eddie secretly wants to lay Doug too. There’s Ziba, Doug’s smokin’ hot Iranian exile girlfriend. And Natie, the awkward computer guy.

Pay attention. They all end up in bed together at some point in the book.

Drinking Buddy: Stranded at the Velvet Rope

Two pints of beer cheersing

Eddie’s friends have a ‘so nerdy they’re cool’ vibe going on. When they’re in New York, they go to a gay bar. Not because it’s a gay bar, but because it’s a bar. And when they realize Natie is too baby-faced to get served, they dress him up like a girl.

This is just the way they are. Running through life at a mile a minute, not caring what anyone thinks, and yet getting into all the private rooms and exclusive clubs, while I stand at the entrance, not allowed in because I’m wearing sneakers.

Testosterone Level: Insert Generic History of the World, Part I Sex Pun Here

Lot of sex in this book. A lot. None of it graphic, all of it awkward, and all of it hilarious.

Eddie is openly bisexual. He’s torn between his amazingly gorgeous girlfriend, his amazingly handsome buddy, and…well, his buddy’s father. And brother. And his English teacher. And his girlfriend’s mom. Hell, a cast of thousands.

Did I mention this book was about raising money for college? There’s lots of crazy schemes as well: dressing up as a priest, taking compromising photos of a senator’s son, drugging Eddie’s stepmother, and applying for scholarships.

Talky Talk: And Opie Taylor Grew Up to be a Drag Queen

While LGBTQ teens are experiencing a wave of acceptance undreamed of by other generations, it’s not like they never existed before 2000. That’s one of the many reasons I liked this book. It takes place in the uptight eighties, when no one was out and proud. And yet Eddie has no problem admitting his attraction to Doug. And Doug is flattered (though uninterested). True, it’s New Jersey, but it’s nice to imagine that Eddie never once had to hide in the closet. Yet another good LGBTQ book about people, not lifestyles.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ

Pride flag being waved in a parade

Eddie is bisexual. He likes both women and men. This is kind of a slighted sexual orientation, especially among male characters. I like that Eddie was so comfortable with his sexuality, though completely awkward in every other aspect of his life.

Bonus Factor: 1984

Cover of Orwell's 1984, featuring a large eye

No, not that one…

1984 calendar

This one. That totally tubular to the max year. I still deeply resent my father for coming of age in the late sixties.

Bonus Factor: Big is Beautiful

A woman's belly with a tape measure around it

Eddie’s friend Paula is a large girl. They make no bones about it. She’s also badass, funny, and talented. Unfortunately, she falls into the trap of dating a jerk, just because he’s into her. Fortunately, this is the eighties, so she gets her after school special/very special episode life lesson, same as everyone else.

Bonus Factor: I’ve Fallen, and I Can’t Get Up!

Man tumbling down stairs

So Eddie starts having doubts about where things are going with Kelly. That’s about the time she wants to take their relationship to the next level. And at game time…

Oh, black horror…

Hey, it’s not like he can’t. Doug always makes him stand at attention (as does his proctologist, unfortunately).

Eddie has to deal with every man’s worst fear, and Viagra’s a good ten years away.

Other Bonus Factors: Crazy High School English Teacher, Muslim Does Not Equal Terrorist, Evil Stepmother, The Cat’s in the Cradle

Bromance Status: That Idealized Bunch of High School Friends

Hey, remember when we stole that Buddha statue? And when we accidentally got Paula’s aunt arrested? And when Frank Sinatra stole my scholarship money? And when we met Matthew Broderick?

Yeah, neither do I. My real high school friends were boring. At least compared to these guys.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor Zima 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.