This was a heart-warming coming of age story that made me laugh, smile and find meaning in the ‘student life’. Set in the anfractuous 80s, “First Years” was a cheerful read infused with a convivial, conventional vibe.
The book follows the story of Jonathon, a 19 year old student who goes off to university in Derby. Though initially worried about leaving home, he quickly gets into the swing of things and soon learns to embrace the trials (and parties) of university life.
I thought that Jonathon was an utterly adorable protagonist. As a timid, somewhat pedantic teenager, he commented on the mishaps of life with an amused to the point of cynical air. His funny observations and blunt statements of the truth (which he rarely repeated out loud) certainly made me smile.
The romance in this book was really intriguing to read about. I loved the mystery of who Jonathon was going to end up with, and how he would get with the girl of his dreams. Despite being a typical ‘boy meets girl’ story, “First Years” was unique in its cultural background. The 80s setting formed a vivid backdrop to the events on the page. In today’s modern society, everybody has different memories of the 80s – as a teenager myself, I have no memories at all. “First Years” was therefore a refreshingly funny, educational experience for me and I think that learning the meaning of the word “Showaddywaddy” only added to my overall sense of enjoyment. (Showaddywaddy was a pop group from Leicester formed in the 1970s, if anybody’s wondering!)
I especially loved the quaint atmosphere that this book seemed to exude. It was a genuinely pleasing read that made me laugh out loud on occasion. The pacing of the prose was slow but utterly methodical and I thought that this was very successful. Explaining a humorous event like a ‘war’ between two student houses in meticulous detail was necessary, I think, to achieve maximum comical impact. Jonathon’s personality was also explored to an admiral degree, and I found myself falling in love with all his strange little idiosyncrasies. A personal favourite was the way Jonathon compared every romantic event to football. When he kissed a girl, he felt as though Villa had won 6-0. A more endearing character I have yet to meet!
The only aspect of this book that wasn’t quite so successful was the cast of supporting characters. The two protagonists, Jonathon and Helen, were beautifully crafted to live in the student world of the 80s, but I found that the other boys in Jonathon’s house were very two dimensional in comparison. This was rather disappointing – though considering that there were six other boys in the house, it wasn’t very surprising. It isn’t possible to develop every single personality in a story, but as a character development hungry reader I would have preferred it if the boys had each been more unique and special.
That aside, I thought that “First Years, Piranhas in the Bedroom” was everything a romantic comedy should be: funny, heart-warming, sweet enough to be smile inducing. It certainly made me laugh, and despite the bittersweet ending I was left with that warm, fuzzy feeling one gets after finishing a first rate book. I would definitely recommend this story.