The agonies, and occasional ecstasies, of the sensitive young
The central character of this first person narrated book, is a young man, on his 18th birthday.
It has always seemed to me that teens are a time, curiously, of great conservative conformity – the group conformed with of course being one’s peers. It’s a time of not really being sure of who you are, and the trying on of all sorts of masks to see which ones might fit. Peer pressure at this time is intense. Pretty well everyone is mask wearing, but some seem happier with wearing the same masks as everyone else than others are
The sensitive, and those who are least comfortable with the accepted mask, whatever that is, will have a particularly hard time of it
And our narrator is one such. He has grown up with an absent, disappointing father, and a mother who is unusually self-obsessed and forgetful of her child. He is highly intelligent, thoughtful, disturbed, self-reflective, wry, mocking, sometimes unintentionally witty, and forms a few, unlikely, friendships with other rather odd people – an elderly neighbour who watches Bogie and Bacall films, a thoughtful, humanitarian teacher attempting to make his pupils think rather than be fashion-thought sheep, and a boy and a girl of his own age who, for different reasons, are also outsiders.
At times this book is almost unbearably dark and hopeless. In fact, most of the trajectory is towards violence and destruction, the gradual revealing of the sources of despair.
And yet – our narrator, fractured, damaged and suffering though he is, has this ability to connect with the other side of sensitivity and empathy – which not only brings an awareness of pain – but also of joy.
The author, Matthew Quick, on a video on Amazon’s .com site, talks about his rationale for writing the book, being to demonstrate to those on that difficult place between childhood and adulthood, that there is a little bit of hope which makes life worth pursuing, however dark that place of transition may be.
The hope in this dark and also at times darkly funny book (as our angry, pained young man is also mordant in his humour) is provided by imaginative writings, where he projects into the man he might be, and imagines the people who might be in his better life, writing letters to him, and about him, to help the boy of today be healed. His ability to imagine is not only his cross, but also his salvation.
At times within the book there are slightly strange games played with typography and arrangement. Real book readers won’t be phased by this, but initially, Kindlers might be, as till you realise this is integral and intentional, you think your ereader is about to expire! I would recommend the ‘real’ rather than the Kindle/ereader format – interesting footnotes are scattered throughout the text, and though the links work perfectly, I think books with footnotes are easier to navigate on paper.I received this as an ARC. It is marketed as children’s and Young Adult fiction – it’s the latter. I would suggest 14 and up. And definitely for adults too.