Leaving for your first year of college brings a bunch of different emotions, which will only continue as you go through the year. Freshman year brings a variety of new experiences that can be hugely different from anything you’ve ever experienced, which can take a lot of adjusting. Sometimes, the best ways to deal with new situations is through the media we consume, so here are eleven books that are perfect for various experiences and emotions you’ll have during your freshman year.
1. When you miss your family: The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta
Melina Marchetta has written some incredible books about family relationships, but for me, The Piper’s Son will always be her strongest. The novel follows Tom Mackee, a young musician and school dropout who returns home to live with his pregnant aunt, as he tries to mend his relationships with his parents, sister and old friends. We also follow Tom’s aunt Georgie, whose brother died in a train station bombing a year before the start of the book. The Piper’s Son shows the complicated relationships between families and how they change over time, but how they endure in spite of challenges. If you find yourself missing your family at college, this book is guaranteed to make you feel closer to them and remind you of the strength of family relationships.
2. When you’re not sure if home is school or your hometown: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Namesake begins with the story of Ashima Ganguli, who leaves Calcutta with her new husband to immigrate to America. She has a lot of trouble adjusting to life in America, away from her family, a struggle that many college students will relate to as they adjust to life at college. The next half of the book follows Ashima’s son Gogol on his journey through college, employment and relationships and trying to figure out where he belongs in the world: at home with his family, in his new adult life or somewhere else entirely. For college students who feel like they’re leaving something behind every time they leave home or leave college, this one’s for you.
3. When you’re starting to find your friend group at school: Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
The first book in Tamora Pierce’s expansive Tortall world, Alanna: The First Adventure follows nine-year-old Alanna of Trebond as she begins training to join the King’s Guard of Tortall (while disguised as her brother, as girls aren’t allowed to be knights). While there, she forms close friendships with her trainees while navigating the world of knights and royalty. If you’re finding your close group of friends at college, you’ll definitely relate to the family-like group that Alanna finds, as well as her adventures as she adjusts to a brand-new setting. The rest of the Song of the Lioness series follows Alanna’s work as a knight up through her early twenties, so if you find yourself as in love with the Tortall world as I am, there’s plenty more to read.
4. When your relationship doesn’t work out: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
Also perfect for days when you just need a good cry, History is All You Left Me follows Griffin, a high school senior whose first boyfriend, Theo, has just died unexpectedly in a drowning accident. The two had broken up before Theo left for college, and the book follows Griffin’s attempt to deal with his grief while he reflects on his relationship with Theo. For everyone whose first college relationship doesn’t work out, or who finds themselves ending a long-distance high school relationship, this book is the perfect reminder of everything that’s messy and complicated about relationships, and is guaranteed to make you cry, but also make you hopeful.
5. When classes get too stressful: What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
When you’re drowning in homework and need a book that’s going to relieve some stress, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is the perfect way to go. This collection of short stories is full of magical realism, perfectly weird plot lines and well-developed characters, and is the perfect escape from the stress of schoolwork. Who cares about calculus when there are talking puppets to read about?
6. When finals have got you down: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Every Heart a Doorway is set in a home for children who have accidentally crossed into magical, otherworldly realms and returned to the mortal world, only to be faced with a world that doesn’t believe where they’ve been. The story follows several of these children as they adjust to normal life while missing the worlds they crossed into, and contains some incredibly original worldbuilding. It’s a dark but ultimately uplifting book that’ll engage you and cheer you up during finals.
7. The first time you realize that living alone is really hard: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
Afterworlds is two books combined into one: It tells the story of Darcy Patel, a young writer who moves from her parents’ home in Ohio to New York to begin her writing career, and also contains her manuscript, a young adult paranormal book. Darcy’s story is one that most college students can understand: In addition to adjusting to life on her own and missing her family, she struggles with work, financial struggles and her first relationship with another girl. It perfectly encapsulates how hard it is to move out and live on your own, making Darcy an incredibly relatable protagonist.
8. When you miss your friends from home: The Year of Secret Assignments by Jacyln Moriarty
The Year of Secret Assignments is a book written in letters, that follows the pen pal correspondence between three girls from Ashbury High School and three boys from the nearby Brookfield School. Fun and witty, it’s the perfect reminder of how great high school friendships can be – and may motivate you to get in touch with some of your friends from home.
9. When you don’t feel like you belong at college: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl is the book that got me through freshman year. It follows Cath Avery, an introverted student from Nebraska, as she navigates her freshman year of college through problems making friends, a divide with her twin sister, relationship problems and struggles with her writing. The one constant in her crazy year is the fanfiction she writes for the Simon Snow series (her world’s equivalent of Harry Potter). Perfect for days when you’re doubting every decision you’ve made that got you to college and every one you’ve made while there, Fangirl is guaranteed to cheer you up.
10. When you’ve realized that you’ve changed and can’t figure out if it’s for the better: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Told entirely in verse, Another Brooklyn follows August, who returns to Brooklyn as an adult for her father’s funeral and reminisces on her childhood growing up there. The book shows August’s friendships and her evolving relationship with her family, but it also deals with themes of poverty, race and grief, as August also copes with the childhood loss of her mother. It’s a beautiful book about change and growth, and when college inevitably changes you and you’re left wondering how it happened, it’ll definitely provide some comfort.
11. When you’re wondering if you should have left in the first place: The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
The Year of the Runaways follows four Indian immigrants who come to England in search of work, while also diving into the backstories that made them leave India in the first place. At its heart, it’s a book about home and belonging, and trying to build a new life for yourself after you’ve left one behind. If you're going far away for college, you’ll likely find yourself wondering whether you belong in your new home or if you should have never left, and The Year of the Runaways will definitely help you through that struggle.
Even though college is busy, taking some time to read for fun can be more than just relaxing: It can also help you process your freshman year experiences a little better. If you find yourself experiencing any of these emotions this year, give one of these books a try. They just might help.
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