Please don't bury us with useless hype
Review by Brenda Fine
There's something maddening about people who embrace their flaws and cryptically dismiss their would-be detractors as a means of immunizing themselves against criticism.
Seventeen-year-old author Zoe Trope's next book deal could very well be the textbook on those devices. Trope is the author of "Please Don't Kill the Freshman," the much-praised journal that commanded a six-figure advance from her publisher, HarperTempest. Both the book a series of diary-type entries about an alienating and harrowing high school experience and its promotion (part of it paid by HarperTempest; the rest supplied free by her fans), play up the fragmentedness of the author's writing, its many inconsistencies, and its "rawness" qualities that most writers strive to avoid all while suggesting here and there that anyone who prefers their writing more refined just doesn't get it.
This is no exaggeration: in a Salon.com interview, Trope praises her menntor, Kevin Sampsell, for introducing her to "experimental writing writing that doesn't have to be coherent or make sense." Sure enough, "Please Don't Kill The Freshman" is incoherent and doesn't make sense, but that's part of its charm, see? Sampsell even says so himself.
The book is a cacophony of images and contextless remarks which, we're told, are brilliant precisely because of how contextless and cacophonous they are. Despite the author's constant insistence that she's different from everyone else her age (no other fourteen-year-old, she ridiculously postulates, reads political magazines), on the back cover of this book she melodramatically proclaims that the writings inside are actually about you yes, you.
But that contradiction isn't a flaw of the book it's an incisive glimpse into the headiness of being fourteen, one that her readers have apparently devoured like so much nutrition-free candy. It's also a subtle suggestion: if you're special, like her, then this book is about you, too. If you don't see yourself in it, or if you take any issue whatsoever with the writing style (which isn't wholly without value there are some nice images in it), you're a typical high school student. Or a boring adult. Indeed, review after review promises that intelligent people will recognize Trope's genius. The implication is obvious.
Contentwise, "Please Don't Kill The Freshman" is, for the most part, banal. The book itself contains reams of self-referential blather on the subject of "OmigodIgotaBOOKDEAL," including some invective directed at an editor whose stylistic suggestions Trope takes personally: this book is about HER LIFE, she writes (the block caps are hers); to impose upon it such mundane considerations as proper sentence structure is to coopt her life story. Honesty and complete sentences are apparently mutually exclusive, so if you value the former, don't remark on the dearth of the latter. And so on, and so forth.
Still, every now and again Trope gets into a rhythm that's altogether enjoyable to behold. Unfortunately, this happens rarely, and when it does it's almost entirely in the first hundred or so pages and the best parts can be found in excerpts here and there online. (One of the better ones is on Salon.com, and it's far from brilliant.) Nevertheless, this "memoir" is extremely fragmented, more or less devoid of reflection, and riddled with incoherent images ensconsed in flowery prose. And that's not a good thing, despite the author's, and her fans', subtle suggestions that this book is such a groundbreaking work of prose that such faults should be not overlooked, but outright praised.