Author Kate Weinberg is a UEA graduate. This comes as no surprise to readers of her 2019 debut novel The Truants, which is largely set on the UEA campus and follows a quartet of freshers who build an unlikely friendship. Protagonist Jess Walker is an English Literature student, quietly intelligent and longing to get away from her large and stifling family. It isn’t long before she befriends Georgie, another English Literature student living in her halls, who is her exact opposite – popular and sexy. Georgie falls hard and fast for South African journalist Alec, who has come to study at UEA, while Jess catches the attention of Nick, a loyal and likeable science student.
A fifth figure soon overshadows the group. Professor Lorna is known for her work on Agatha Christie, but most notably, her enticing and engaging teaching, and brilliance that makes every student fall in love with her. Even before the two interact, Jess has read her books and is in awe of her expertise and talent. The Truants is packed full of the fears and experiences that come with being a fresher and hits the reader with tumultuous moments that throws their expectations off-kilter. However, as the narrative progresses further, Lorna and her links to the four students are slowly revealed.
I really enjoyed the first half of the novel. The chapters were short, the characters were engaging, and my intrigue kept me turning the pages. I appreciated how Weinberg quickly drew me in and brought the not too far gone concerns of first-year back to the front of my mind. I immediately found myself impacted by the emotions of Jess – her inner monologue is frequently relatable, and I began to deeply sympathise with her even when she was in situations I hadn’t experienced.
Unfortunately, I feel like The Truants lost me halfway through. The depictions of seminars were extremely unrealistic, and whilst I could overlook this at first, it began to irritate me. Once the initial enjoyable discussions of university faded, all that was left behind was an unrealistic relationship between a tutor and student, and a soap opera-like series of events. I always felt like I understood the actions of the characters and the decisions that they were making, but the events of the novel were too farfetched, and I could no longer find a way to really believe in what I was reading. This was such a shame, as the beginning was so promising, but ultimately, I feel like Weinberg took some turns that didn’t align with my personal likes in literature. It was still lovely to see some UEA representation in the text as well as in the author, and I would still encourage students to give it a go!