Friday, October 24, 2008

Like freaks and geeks?

If you liked Paul Fieg and Judd Apatow's short-lived but critically acclaimed series Freaks and Geeks, then chances are you will enjoy Kate Evans's new novel, For the May Queen. Peppered with nostalgic homages to the late seventies and early eighties, this debut novel follows lost but liberated Norma Rogers through her freshman year at Sacramento State.

Norma comes from a loving home, not unlike the Brady Bunch's quirky suburban enclave (sans four siblings and a maid), yet her sense of self is fragile at best. Fresh from reading her mother's copy of Fear of Flying, Norma shows up at her freshman dorms ready to put her sexual liberation into practice. She quickly falls into a rabbit hole of recreational drugs and bed-hopping, leaving little time to actually attend classes.

At times, I wanted to reach into the pages of Evans's book and stop Norma from climbing on top of yet another nearly anonymous partner. When Norma finally finds "somebody to love," (Queen lyric reference intentional), he remains painfully elusive and Norma must confront the question at the center of the novel: If no one loves me, then who am I?

I might have hated Norma if I didn't identify so much with her college-years angst, teenaged lack of self esteem, misplaced belief in empowerment through sexuality, and her desire to be defined by someone, anyone.

But Evans brings Norma's growing sense of self along nicely, giving the reader the satisfying feeling that Norma just might make it after all, while never giving in to the temptation to give her heroine the happy ending you might expect from a first time novelist. Instead, the happy enough ending Evans gives us satisfies even more.

And though the themes in the book are deceptively dark, Evans keeps the tone of the novel light, weaving in pop culture references that are spot on reminders of times gone by--some we remember fondly, and some that we'd rather forget.

--Anne J. Paris
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