David Nicholls, Author . Villard $23.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6181-5

This entertaining first novel by an English television writer tells the story of Brian Jackson, an unworldly but affable college freshman whose main ambition in life is to compete on the BBC quiz show University Challenge (a Jeopardy -like game show in which schools compete against each other; in the U.K., the show is a national institution). Between securing one of the four coveted spots on his school's team for the show, Brian chases after two girls: Alice, a beautiful but aloof actress who is also on the squad, and Rebecca, an artsy intellectual who thinks Brian's ambition to be on the show is silly and bourgeois. A visit from Brian's hometown pal Spencer brings the class tensions roiling beneath the novel's surface to the fore, but Nicholls is more interested in comedy than pathos. Some of the humor is very British ("I'm sharing my house with a right pair of bloody Ruperts"), and Nicholls waxes overly nostalgic for his 1980s setting, but the writing is often sharp and funny (number four on Brian's list of New Year's resolutions: "Become lightly muscled"). Unexpected developments at the final University Challenge match bring the novel to a rather unlikely conclusion, but readers will root for hapless, engaging Brian as he struggles his way out of adolescence. (Apr. 13)

Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
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