Isabel Rosen, a senior at Wilder College in 1998, wants to be a writer but isn’t sure if she has the goods. When she makes it into a prestigious workshop, she’s thrilled until she learns the esteemed professor is going through a divorce and won’t be teaching it in Isabel’s final semester of college: a replacement arrives in the form of R.H. Connelly, and his presence shapes Isabel’s life in My Last Innocent Year. As a reader who is the same age as the protagonist, I am without a doubt the target audience for this novel. Isabel’s staunchly feminist friend Debra, with whom she runs the campus magazine bitch slap, felt deeply familiar as did the background references to Bill and Hillary Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, and the complicated landscape of dating in college. When Isabel has an encounter with a classmate that she isn’t sure how to process, Debra steps in and sets a series of events in motion that leads Isabel to question what she understands about what she wants. All of this plays out as she also grapples with her father’s dreams for her and the absence of her mother who passed when Isabel was only fourteen.
The loss of Isabel’s innocence isn’t solely tied to sex; it is a greater and more lasting loss that has stuck with me since I read the brilliant My Last Innocent Year.