My first year of college was probably the unhappiest time of my life. At Illinois State University, I went from living eighteen years in the great city of Chicago to being holed up in a dorm room in Normal, with no friends and a witless weightlifter roommate. I took the bus home on a lot of weekends, if only to be around the record collection I couldn’t cart with me. While I don’t regret anything, if I had to do it over again, I definitely wouldn’t have chosen that path. The heroine in Claire Zulkey’s young-adult novel “An Off Year,” released this past summer, decides not to go to college her first year after all, and watches her friends do so with varying degrees of success. (Her parents wind up sending her to a shrink.) Zulkey captures the confusing, unique tension of the time, when a teenager faces leaving home for the first time to either fulfill some goal or, more often, live up to some expectation, as it’s often not considered deeply enough the emotional difficulties of being just post-high school. Zulkey knows that kids don’t grow up at a snap of the fingers, nor at the reception of a diploma on a stage. (Tom Lynch)
December 17 at Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln, (773)293-2665, at 7pm. Free.