I am not really sure where or how to begin this review for Louise Collins’ novel, The Freshman. When I picked this one for the 2019 Reading Challenge Month as my choice for Older/Younger Hero Week, I had no idea what I was heading into. Holy smokes, this story redefines the idea of a slow burn. Also, I’m not sure I would call it a romance or even go as far as to say there is a happy ever after, but more of a happy for now considering the circumstances under which the two main characters finally get to be with one another. I will tell you that the HFN is very rewarding in a slightly psychotic sort of way. Oh how I wish I could give you more information, but that would give away everything this novel is all about and you need to read this one with a clear mind free of spoilers.
The story is this: Alfie is only eighteen and in his first job as a corrections officer at Larkwood prison. Having been in the foster system most of his life, Alfie is desperate to be loved and cared for even though he would never admit that to himself or others. When a vicious psychopathic killer, Nate Matthews, is brought into his wing, Alfie tries to keep his distance. But the nightly cell checks and hearing Nate’s seductive voice calling him “freshman” begins to wear on Alfie and make him lust for things he shouldn’t want. Despite everyone, from his colleagues to his best friend, telling him to read the file on this guy and understand how evil Nate is, Alfie can only make himself go into the records so far—not really wanting to know the full details as that might reveal that Nate’s attentions toward him are nothing more than seduction aimed at harming him.
But Alfie feels himself slipping further and further into a fantasy world where he and Nate become lovers. The feelings that this evokes in Alfie are so wanted, so needed, that he loses his mind and throws caution to the wind and may find himself trapped in Nate’s web.
There is so much to this novel, so many layers of emotion and arousal and waiting—endless waiting that made me nearly crazy until the author decided to let the dam burst and the story rocket forward to a crazy, yet oddly satisfying end. If any novel warrants a sequel, it’s this one, but I think to do so would somehow mar the magic that this tale weaves around the reader. It’s as if we are hypnotized just as Alfie is, pulled into the seduction that takes place willingly, yet always aware that this could not end well, but again, somehow it does. Honestly, Louise Collins writes a brilliant story here.
I read this in one go—I couldn’t put it down. I just had to know if Nate actually meant all he said to Alfie—if poor young naïve Alfie was going to ultimately get hurt or find salvation and love in the arms of a killer. This book had me on tender hooks the entire time. Is The Freshman a romance? Yes, in a way, it definitely is. Is it a psychological thriller? Yes, in a way, it is. Is it a happy ever after? Again, for many, that answer would be yes, in a way, it is. But to categorize this novel as any of those three definitively might be a mistake, I think. What The Freshman by Louise Collins is can be summed up by two words: READ IT. I think it will become one of the best novels of 2019 and get many accolades. I know one thing, for those looking for a slow burn and a unique romance-esque thriller, The Freshman is a book I would highly recommend to you.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Older/Younger Hero Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of FIVE $20 JMS store gift cards from JMS Books! Commenters will also be entered to win one of our three amazing Grand Prize book bundles. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Older/Younger Hero Week here.