Thursday, February 19, 2009

First Semester

We interrupt the princess thing for something completely different...

The title: First Semester
The author: Cecil B. Cross II
Publication: Kimani Press, 2007
Got it from: Library

James "JD" Dawson grew up in the hood, but left a life of violence three thousand miles behind to make something of himself at the University of Atlanta. But when the freshman got off to a fool's start-kicking it with his new homeboys, showing up late to class, not studying and checking out the shorties-JD was assigned a tutor, the luscious Katrina Turner. She made studying real fun. But if JD wanted to get with a girl like Katrina, he'd also have to learn to grow up.

I can't really talk about this book without revealing some spoilers, so be warned.

I read this book as a kind of extension to last year's New Year's resolution to expand my reading scope. When JD's friend dies in his arms after being shot at a party within the first chapter, I knew this was definitely not going to be like other books I've read.

I liked the premise of this book, and also the aims of the publisher: to "address the triumphs, issues and concerns of today's Black teen audience with candor, wit and realism." They weren't kidding. There's so much slang in this book, it was almost like reading another language. Whenever I couldn't figure something out, I assumed they were talking about either a) drugs; or b) sex.

This book definitely had a strong beginning. JD is from the hood, he wants to get out and make something of himself. At first he's overwhelmed by his new university in Georgia, but he quickly makes friends and becomes accustomed to college life.

Unfortunately, after the excellent set-up, the book kind of petered out. I felt like the author was introducing all sorts of characters who had subplots that went nowhere. Maybe that's real life, but it seemed unnecessary. Towards the end one of JD's friends died and I couldn't even remember who it was. It was set up to be this big shocker, but everybody gets over it and we never even find out what happened with the guy.

My biggest problem with this book overall was JD's character development. He started out as sympathetic but turned into a Level A asshole. It should have been the other way around. At first he seems to genuinely care about the guys he meets at school, but as the story goes on he just keeps laughing at their misfortunes. True, they're all idiots who treat women dispicably, but aren't they supposed to be his friends?

Then there's the problem of his continual cheating on his tests and essays. One of his professors takes an interest in him and tries to turn him around, and to some extent JD does try. But he never seems to learn from his mistakes. He doesn't see any problem with cheating and when he's caught, he lets his roommate take the rap like the jerk that he is. Even at the end of the semester, when he's supposedly learned the value of studying and working hard, he boasts of being the master of cut-and-paste. Like we're all supposed to be proud of him for hard-earned grades.

The worst part about how JD acts concerns his new girlfriend, Katrina. She serves as little more than a cardboard cutout of every guy's fantasy, a hot upper classman who brushes him off at first but then inexplicably lets him in her pants. Considering she's a big safe-sex advocate, I find it hard to believe she didn't check to see if JD was wearing a condom. The fact that he didn't wear one was the turning point for me, and his behaviour went completely downhill after that. Although he professes that nothing's worse than an insecure woman, he's immaturely jealous of Katrina's relationship with her ex-boyfriend and refuses to trust her.

The end comes like some sort of afterschool special. Katrina finds out she's HIV-positive and JD completely flips out at her. Instead of being kind, sympathetic and caring when she's crying that she needs help, what does he do? He smacks her to the floor because he's angry that she may have given him AIDS. Dude, YOU were the one who was stupid enough to not wear a condom. Even though he finds out he's not positive himself, he still refers to Katrina as "that bitch." What a nice guy.

I'm sorry that this book was so lousy, because I really thought it could be funny and a good story. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that a book about a young man going to an American university would be pathetic, but I had high hopes that it might be different. If it actually had a heart, and if JD hadn't been such a self-centred &$!*@^, this review would have been kinder.

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