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Freshman Dorm revisited

June 28, 2011

I meant to reread Freshman Dorm ages ago, when my book club was doing Nostalgia Month II.  Like so many other things *cough* I just didn’t get to it.  So instead I took it on vacation with me and finished it up this morning at home.

I find that this book, like the first Sweet Valley High, exceeds expectations and, at least partially, stands the test of time.  Unlike SVH, it’s not mired in class issues and ’80s superficiality that makes the older series feel so dated.  This could be my partiality for the nineties speaking, I’ll admit it, but I find that the book’s references to computers are casual enough to make it feel like it could be current, although of course it isn’t.  There are no huge descriptions of big, ridiculous, ’80s- and ’90s-era clothes, too, which really helps.  Also, the characters have actual depth, although of course they play a little toward the stereotypes to begin with.  But it’s the very breaking down of these stereotypes where I found that Freshman Dorm excels over other series of the ’80s and ’90s.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Like SVH, Freshman Dorm probably takes a turn for the worse after a few books–in fact, looking at a list of the titles and seeing that the last one is about, of all things, murder, I’m going to go with a OH GOD.  But this first book?  It works.

Faith, KC, and Winnie are your semi-stereotypical good girl, overachiever, and flake, respectively.  Having been besties all through high school, they are now attending the same college and are a little worried about what this new experience will do to their relationship and themselves.  Faith’s Good Girl-ness is personified by her jeans, boots, and overall Country Girl demeanor, and yet…another book would take this too far.  Faith would always listen to her country music, reference country icons, etc.  She never does these things.  Instead, she’s is in love with the theater, which means one thing in high school and another in college.

Winnie is the funky flake, a smart girl with no impulse control who dresses casually–not the overdressed costuming of Claudia Kishi or her spiritual sisters–and works hard to make mistakes.  She’s the child of divorce, with a psychologist mother whom Winnie seems to respect for her ability to be open with her, but resents for making her feel like she’s being boiled down into “teenager.”  Not that the book is ever unsubtle enough to go that route.  The book never says that Winnie’s mother is the typical psychologist parent who just doesn’t get her teenager.  It would never do that.

Finally there’s KC, a go-getter from a family of hippies, sort of a cross between Alex Keaton and Raven from Who Killed Peggy Sue.  KC does not seem to feel the usual family shame that stereotypically comes with being different from one’s family.  Another aspect of her go-getterness that seems very new to the genre is that she’s incredibly at ease with her go-getterness.  There isn’t that usual tension in her to succeed, succeed, succeed.  The book does a fine job of showing that she and Faith are both secure girls who likely became secure over their high school years–which makes it a great set-up for the college tear-down.

The book is surprisingly realistic in its depiction of alcohol and sex in college, and of course Winnie is the one who drinks, but she doesn’t end up in some horrific, that’s-what-you-get/kids-have-you-learned-this-lesson scenario.  It’s also true to its characters, even when the characters are ill-defined.  Faith doesn’t shake up her world and end up having learned a great life lesson.  She shakes up her world for the sensation of shaking it, for the nervous energy that comes with making a change.  For the possibilities.  KC ends up hurting Faith’s roommate in her desire to head straight for the top, but the book points out that this is because the roommate is a stranger.  KC doesn’t sacrifice her friendships on the altar of Success, but rather makes an error trying to figure out where she’ll draw her line.  Because this book is about personal growth, that makes perfect sense to me.  KC is never a mean girl–she’s only trying to figure out how much she needs to play with mean girls to achieve her goals.  This feels like a metaphor for her future career choices: how often are you willing to swim with sharks, if at all?  Alex P. Keaton WAS a shark.  Raven set herself up to stand in front of them.  But KC’s still figuring out her place.  Because she’s 18 and not everyone knows their place that young.

Anywhoo, I need to wrap this up because I need to get ready for work, but I just wanted to throw some of that out there.

In closing, does anyone remember this:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103419/

Was it based on the book?

Also, I found this for some continuing reading.  Spoilers through the first 14 books:

http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/winter95/Litton.html

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