catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 3 :: 2011.02.11 — 2011.02.24


Running the freshman gauntlet

My first day of high school was awful. My locker was jammed shut and refused to open. The schedule they’d given me seemed to span across a whole other lifetime. Nobody knew my name. Every teacher I came across told me to hurry to class, and I spent a whole month’s worth of lunch periods eating salami sandwiches in a bathroom stall. I was completely alone! But what did this first year teach me? That if people were ever going to make it in life, all they had to do first was make it through their freshman years of high school.

Do you remember how frightening your first day of high school was? Seniors rotten enough you’d get cavities just looking at them. Piles of homework that kept you in on the weekends. Really, really bad food in the cafeteria. Go ahead and say it. Awful.

This is Scott Hudson’s world in a nutshell. He is a shiny new freshman at Zenger High School and struggles to get a firm grip on a tumultuous reality. He is in love with his childhood best friend Julia, a girl who seems to have forgotten Scott even exists. And, of course, Julia just so happens to be dating the biggest (and dumbest) senior in the school, Vernon. His Musketeer-like companions — Kyle, Mitch, and Patrick — have disappeared, each into his own new place in society. Wesley Jr., a really, really big guy, steals his lunch money every day and the weird new girl, Lee, has perfected a way of embarrassing him. Oh, and to top it all off, his mother is pregnant. So much for being the baby in the family.

How is Scott supposed to handle all of this? By writing lists — lists having to do with the benefits of getting beat up, which foods in the cafeteria are the dangerous ones, and why joining the wrestling team is a very bad idea. He keeps a journal for his unborn sibling, whom he calls “Smelly,” warning him about the dangers of high school and what the best options are for surviving it. Scott also takes a certain liking to Tom Sawyer and the way Mark Twain explains Tom’s adventures through his particular writing style.

As the year progresses, Scott begins finding out who his true friends really are. He wonders what more he could have done to help a grieving friend and learns that while accepting people who are different from us is hard, each person has something special to share with the world.  And hey, it just might be a good idea to keep the school’s biggest bully in your back pocket.

Some themes that travel throughout the novel include family life, friendship, youth, cases of and reactions to suicide, taking risks, identity and first romances. I’d recommend this book for students entering high school, students currently attending high school, teachers, and anyone who is interested in reading a seriously funny and sentimental novel.

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