November 2003

Liz Miller


Please Don't Kill the Freshman by Zoe Trope

The reason I didn't keep a diary in high school was because I didn't have much interest in writing what other people weren't going to read. My portentous teen angst still found purchase, though, mostly in long letters to friends, melodramatic personal essays for class, and the occasional spurt of Really Bad Poetry. Along the way, writing became my way of attempting to understand the world and what I was supposed to do in it. Writing was necessary, then, because I was a teenager, and I had no fucking clue.

Zoe Trope isn't very sure, either, and her small-press-gone-big memoir makes sure to remind you of that fact every page and a half. Scattered among the feisty recountings of Zoe's daily life are guilt, arrogance, self-loathing, and above all else confusion, the sort of ramblings best scrawled into battered composition notebooks with punk rock stickers on the cover. At times, it's frustrating to read the self-pity of a young woman who has so much going for her, surrounded as she is by friends, books, and the talent she unleashes at poetry readings and contests. When her mother buys her expensive shoes, all I can think about is the last time I could afford Payless. But I keep remembering that I was fifteen too, once, and there is much bad poetry proving that I understand.

Of course, when I was fifteen, I didn't say it nearly half as well. I'll be the first to admit that this girl got game -- the way her words stumble onto the page so exactly captures the confusion that comes with membership in the adolescent demographic. Her metaphors may be a tad crude ("Birthday parties are the results of broken condoms"), but some paragraphs reach out and bitch-slap you right back into own pubescence, trapping you in memories you'd hoped you'd forgotten. At times, you reach your angst saturation point, and I could get hung up on the metaphors and the four pages of character introductions that serve only to enable Zoe's maddening tendency towards incoherence. This is a diary, but what attempts Zoe makes to hold together the narrative of her life end up falling apart, leaving the reader puzzling at the very large spaces between the lines, wondering what the hell just happened. But then she's onto the next thing, and there's no choice but following along.

There is some sense to be made of it all, however. The first half of the book is rife with her insecurities as a writer, her insecurities as a daughter, her insecurities as a person. But the place where it actually gets interesting is when the original text of Please Don't Kill the Freshman ends and a new chapter begins, wherein we learn of Zoe's recent success in the small press market. Her book published via Powell's, Zoe finds herself at readings and concerts and all sorts of events publicizing the slim little chapbook that grew up to be the memoir in question. She meets her girlfriend via her growing notoriety, makes the acquaintance of authors like Thea Hillman and Chuck Palahniuk. And as Zoe seeks to align the various parts of her life -- confused fifteen-year-old, bisexual in love, published author, SUCCESSFUL published author -- the odd mix of maturity and childishness that personifies adolescence is brought into sharp focus. She doesn't find answers, in the end, but no one has the answers at age fifteen. As she continues to remind us, she's behind the wheel of a car, but she has no idea how to drive it.

In five years, I want to read about where Zoe Trope is. I want to see whether the adolescent weaknesses of her writing have blossomed into confident command of the English language. I want to know if she found some way to make peace with the talented writer she is.

I don't want to know if she's found all the answers to her questions. But it'd be interesting to find out if she finally learns how to drive.

Please Don't Kill the Freshman by Zoe Trope
Harper Tempest
ISBN: 0060529369
304 Pages