‘Fresh’ review: Margot Wood retells ‘Emma’ with a new spin

Fun and earnest, Fresh by Margot Wood is a coming of age story with a very big heart. It retells Jane Austen’s Emma and updates it for the modern audience–adding crisp dimension to an already iconic story. 

Fresh follows college freshman Elliot McHugh, who is a little bit indecisive about her future. Her new life at university is bright and shiny–so she gets distracted by it all. But it’s not all fun and games! As pressure begins tug at her mind, she realizes that she might need to make the very decisions that she was putting off.

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For those of us that have already graduated university, this book will immediately transport you back into the world of dining halls, dorms, and pesky finals. It’s an ode to the precarious first year of college and the growing pains that come with it. It’s a coming of age story that falls outside of the normal high school age range that YA loves to live in. By doing this, the book allows our characters to engage in situations and circumstances that feel complex, yet utterly relatable.

This is one of the most exciting highlights of the book. The setting feels vibrant and “fresh” (no pun intended). Because of this, the challenges that Elliot faces stand out against the genre and make the book soar to great heights.

Besides this, Fresh loves to break through the fourth wall. We are constantly getting little snippets from Elliot’s point of view where she talks directly to the audience. This cut some of the tension in the book and adds to its funny charm. Still, this break may be disconcerting for some and take them out of the narrative as a whole.

Part of the reason Fresh feels so refreshing is because of how it deals with sex. It’s not afraid to take us along the ride with Elliot. We discover all of her questions and answers alongside her in a way that doesn’t feel demeaning. It’s great to have a protagonist who is allowed the space to grow and explore.

Fresh arrives to audiences at a very unique time in history. Most teens that are entering their freshman year of college are doing so after a year of being indoors. What does this mean for the college experience? How does this change the interpretation of the book? It’s hard to tell.

Books like Fresh that examine the messiness of that first year come at a very crucial time and feel very timely. As the new school year begins, books like these will really help alleviate some of the fears that incoming students may have. It’s scary to completely change your environment — it’s even scarier when there hasn’t been a transition to it. Elliot is in a very vulnerable stage of her life, teetering on childhood and adulthood. It’s the first time in her life she has been in control of her own agency in full and audiences will love to relate to all of her messy glory.


Fresh by Margot Wood was published on August 3, 2021.


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