Review: Sophomore Year is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Putnam
Release Date: April 21, 2015
Source of my copy: publisher
Series: n/a
A laugh-out-loud high school adventure set in Greece, perfect for fans of Meg Cabot

High school sophomore Zona Lowell has lived in New York City her whole life, and plans to follow in the footsteps of her renowned-journalist father. But when he announces they’re moving to Athens for six months so he can work on an important new story, she's devastated— he must have an ulterior motive. See, when Zona's mother married an American, her huge Greek family cut off contact. But Zona never knew her mom, and now she’s supposed to uproot her entire life and meet possibly hostile relatives on their turf? Thanks... but no thanks.

In the vein of
Anna and the French Kiss, Zona navigates a series of hilarious escapades, eye-opening revelations, and unexpected reunions in a foreign country—all while documenting the trip through one-of-a-kind commentary.

I really enjoyed Ms. Zeitlin's debut novel Freshman Year and Other Natural Disasters (my review) and her second novel, Sophomore Year is Greek to Me, was just as fun and fabulous.

Zona Lowell is the daughter of two-time Pulitzer winning journalist David Lowell. Following in her father's footsteps, Zona also wants to be a journalist. It had always been just Zona and her dad, because her mom died when she was born. Even though she's not as well off as her private school classmates, she has a pretty good life: she has two best friends (Hilary and Matty), she's the features editor of her school's paper, and she has a great relationship with her wonderful, albeit absentminded (especially when he's on deadline), father.

She is in the middle of her sophomore year of high school when her dad announced that they are moving to Greece for about six months. He wanted to write about the Greek government-debt crisis, but also so Zona could reconnect with her mother's family. Zona never knew her mom and didn't want anything to do with her Greek side of the family, especially after they disowned her mom after she ran away and married her father. But her dad wouldn't budge, and Zona was forced to leave the only life she's ever known to face hostile relatives and a new school in a foreign country. Will Zona survive her sophomore year?

I really enjoyed Zona's character. She's smart, thoughtful, even-tempered, a bit boy crazy, a good student and a great daughter. She wasn't snarky like Kelsey Finklestein was, instead she has a vocabulary I envy (especially when she's upset and she's in her "SAT prep mode") and talks in headlines with her dad. I loved her relationship with her dad. Yeah, he can kind of be neglectful and sometimes Zona is the one taking care of her dad, but he let's her be her own person and when she really needs him, he's there to talk to her. She has a lot of freedom to go about and do what she wants but she doesn't abuse it. Zona has a good head on her shoulders.

I love it when a book takes me to a different country and I am able to travel vicariously through a character. Greece wasn't on my list of places to travel to (like Zona, all I really saw of it was from the movie Mamma Mia with Meryl Streep and I'm not a fan of Greek food), but after reading this novel I just might add it. I really enjoyed seeing Greece through Zona's eyes. It was also great learning more about the Greek economic collapse and having it talked about by a local.

My favorite scene was the one with the geese. I bust out laughing because I could picture the entire scene in my mind and if I were in Zona's shoes, I'd totally react the same way. Some of the situations Zona found herself in when she was with her relatives brought me back to a trip I took with my family when we went to visit our relatives in the Philippines. I was there with her in having to use an outdoor shower and toilet, and having to use public transportation. 

I guess my only minor issue were the newspaper article excerpts that were peppered throughout the narrative. Zona, budding journalist that she was, wrote about her life in news-article-speak as if a newspaper was covering the story (for an example, see here). I enjoyed them for the most part, a lot of them made me laugh and they added an interesting flair to the novel, but sometimes they're put in the middle of a scene and it took me out of the story. I was tempted to skip over some of them and just keeping going with the main narrative and then go back later, but being the OCD reader that I am I have to read the words in the order they come. Anyway, this is a very minor complaint and did not really take away my enjoyment of the novel.

Oh, and if you've read Freshman Year and Other Natural Disasters, Kelsey Finkelstein makes a cameo here, as well as a few of the characters we've met in Freshman Year. It was really fun seeing Kelsey again.

The synopsis compares Sophomore Year is Greek to Me to Anna and the French Kiss, but I disagree with that comparison. Yes, both involved the main character traveling to a different country and attending an international school there, but Sophomore Year is Greek to Me is more lighter in tone and less focused on the romance and more on friendship and growing up. Overall, Sophomore Year is Greek to Me was an enjoyable, feel-good read. There's a bit of everything: friendship, family drama, high school, a light romance, navigating through a foreign country... I really enjoyed it and I basically read it in two sittings. It's one of those books that you read to get out of a reading funk because it's very readable, witty, funny and charming, like a great Disney channel movie. I highly recommend it to teens seventh grade and up, but be aware that there's some teen partying and drinking--it didn't bother me but others might.

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