What would it feel like to find your middle-aged self suddenly living back in a college dorm room? Four faculty members at Prairie State College in Minnesota are about to find out after their administration comes up with a bizarre strategy to improve graduation rates – The Faculty Dorm Dweller Program.

While the idea seems promising to the administration, it doesn’t take long for problems to arise—problems which readers will find appallingly funny, situations they’ll find stimulate both empathy and snark. As Johnson says, “It’s not so much a fish-out-of-water scenario as it is an older fish returning to a pond she’d lived in years ago.”

So Juanita Jane Ruckler, a fiftyish English professor, proves that she’s not old by having an affair with a nineteen-year-old student. Lyla Benson, recently divorced and thirty-eight, runs into her old college flame and finds herself searching: is there something more than ashes left in that relationship? Bert Rojas, a math professor, is using the program to escape a boring home life with a nagging wife—the woman he’s married right after college, back when youth had seemed eternal. As the FDD crew gets to know one another, they provide balance, experience, and understanding to one another. Even fresh-faced and naive young Joy McPherson, assistant professor in Political Science, can sometimes teach her older colleagues—though her own choices seem inexorably wrong. And the students? They’re teachers too, in their own inimitable ways.


Review blurbs

When a small Midwestern university thinks the key to retention is to have a small cadre of faculty live among its students, dormitory life becomes the blueprint for carpe diem gone wrong. As hedonists collide, commingle, and sometimes collude, the dorm becomes the place where the awkwardness of adolescence meets head-on the awkwardness of middle age, and both groups learn lessons along the way.  Gretchen Johnson’s Young Again slyly reminds that, while we’re young only once, we can be immature forever. 

Jerry Bradley, author of Collapsing into Possibility


Is youth wasted on the young? Does experience breed wisdom? In Gretchen Johnson’s Young Again, four Prairie State College professors interrogate these and other notions about youth and maturation as they wrestle with nostalgia and regret, contemplate old mistakes and embark on new ones, revisit dreams deferred and resolve to seize the day anew. Throughout, Johnson employs humor, compassion, and insight to guide Lyla, Joy, Juanita Jane, and Bert on their separate quests to finish becoming the people they’ve always desired to be. While the college students sharing the dorms with the FDD crew may be setting out on their maiden voyages of self-discovery, Young Again reminds us that growing up is the work of a lifetime and that second chances can sometimes set us back on course. 

 Katie Cortese, author of Make Way for Her and Other Stories and Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories