Monday, September 5, 2011

Review: An Off Year

Claire Zulkey
Dutton Juvenile
After going through the college application process and showing up at her college dorm room, Cecily does the unexpected -- she turns around and heads home, leaving her freshman year of college untouched. Without thinking about it or making plans, she ends up taking a gap year as she tries to figure out just why she suddenly felt that starting college was impossible for her.

I have to be upfront and tell you that not much happens in this book. Cecily's year is one of ennui and is broken up by month as she narrates, with her quirky and dry wit, the nothingness that is her life. Her dad is perplexed at why she's chosen not to go to school but, surprisingly, he doesn't try to change her mind. Her older, college-graduate sister is jealous of the time she gets to spend doing nothing, while Cecily herself is about as confused as the rest of them. She hadn't planned on ditching college, but once she does she doesn't second-guess herself. She watches as friends turn into "college clones" and becomes annoyed with the passive-aggressive hints her parents are sending her way about heading back to school the next year. Mostly though, she does nothing.

And yet that doesn't stop the book from being awesome. Cecily -- unsure and bucking what's expected of her -- is refreshing and realistic. There's an honesty here and as Cecily looks at her choices and why she did what she did, the topic of the future and what lies ahead is addressed so incredibly well. Cecily is accused of being lazy, spoiled, and self-absorbed... all of which is somewhat true. But she's also honest in confronting her flaws and unafraid of not knowing what happens next. The secondary characters that people the novel, from her dad to her siblings and friends, are all unique and realistic in their own ways. Her older sister has yet to find her first post-college job while her jet-set mother thinks that the gap year Cecily's taking is absolutely glamorous and that she should do something amazing, like write a book or travel.

But Cecily didn't think that far and she doesn't necessarily want to do something amazing, she just wants to figure out what happens next, which is the overwhelming theme of this book. What happens next? What does the future hold? Where do you want to be and how do you get there? The book explores these themes with realism and humor, making it stand out from the crowd.


  1. This one actually sounds interesting. I think I would easily relate to Cecily. Nagging family. Check. Sense of confusion about the future. Check. ;)

  2. What a great review. Here I thought you were going to say it wasn't your favorite, but within there being nothing there was something! This one definitely makes my TBR list - RIGHT NOW!

    So glad I found your blog!!! I'm new here (if that wasn't apparent)! I do hope you'll stop by my place, I love meeting new people!

  3. I haven't seen this one reviewed very much, but I definitely enjoyed it! I think a lot of teens could relate to Cecily's fear of the unknown and uncertainty about the future.

  4. Jenny
    I definitely recommend it.

    Jen Daiker
    Yaaay, glad you found (and like!) the blog. !! And I really hope you read/like this book. It's fantastic.

    Yep! And not just teens either... I'm 21 and totally relate. I think people of any age, if they give it a chance, could probably relate.