Better stretch those laugh muscles: They're going to get a workout courtesy of this novel's utterly charming underdog Brian Jackson, a working-class nerd itching to remake himself at a snooty British university in 1985. By page 9, you'll be won over: "I want to go to classical concerts and know when you're meant to clap. I want to be able to 'get' modern jazz without it all sounding like this terrible mistake, and I want to know who the Velvet Underground are exactly."
Brian has a lot to learn, but his hilarious adventures in collegeland as he falls for a posh girl, attempts to dance to "Sex Machine," joins the quiz-show team and learns that "acne doesn't rub off" will make you cringe and cheer. Nicholls, who wrote for British TV's Cold Feet (which would be the best show on American TV if Bravo hadn't canceled it), is a master of character and dialogue. This is a big-hearted, flawless coming-of-age tale, as scary and funny as your yearbook picture.