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Archive for the ‘teen angst’ Tag

Get Lost   Leave a comment

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Watch Me Disappear is disappointing. Sorry. There’s no hemming and hawing on this one. Yet, I read all 300-plus pages waiting for some redeeming elements. Some surfaced only to quickly fade. It wasn’t exactly a slog, but it was far from a nice walk in the woods.

There is a hike, though; at least references to one, which is part of the story.

Jonathan and Billie Flanagan, with Olive their 16-year-old daughter, live in Berkeley. By all appearances they’re a happy family. He’s a workaholic for a hi-tech publication, Billie is an out-doorsy bon vivant, stay-at-home mom occasional graphic designer with a past, of course. Olive is a bright introvert at a private school.

The narrative follows the grief-stricken father and daughter dealing with the presumed-dead Billie who, nearly a year earlier, goes missing while on a solo backpacking trek on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Jonathan quits his job to write a memoir about Billie, the love of his life. Interspersed among the chapters are pages Jonathan has written. They reveal as much about him as about Billie. Meanwhile, Olive begins having visions of her mother offering hints as to her possible whereabouts. Thus, the two begin separate searches to find the missing woman.

Part of the problem with Janelle Brown’s novel is that it’s predictable; the few surprises are just that, too few. It doesn’t help that Olive is the only appealing character or that the ending – and this reveals nothing – is very tidy.

Watch Me Disappear
Two-and-a-half Bookmarks
Spiegel & Grau, 2017
358 pages

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Sometimes it Takes More Than a Village   Leave a comment

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Fredrik Backman hit the bestseller list in the United States with A Man Called Ove in 2013. (Several of his books are reviewed here on The Blue Page Special). Beartown, his most recent, is as engaging and character-driven as his previous work. Yet, in many ways, it’s also a departure.

The small, isolated town of the title is cold and bleak, where hockey reigns, followed closely by poverty. This is a story about fitting in, motivation, pain, teen angst, adult misperceptions and misplaced loyalty. It lacks the blatant quirkiness of some of  Backman’s earlier novels and teeters near the edge of predictability. Its salvation lies in the strength of the characters. Some fall into the cliché category while most are remarkable and credible, if not always likeable.

The first sentence is a grabber; actually, it’s more like a full body check: “late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.”

The town’s economy depends on the success of its junior ice hockey team winning a championship. It’s well positioned to do so thanks to the group of players who have been together for years and the exceptional talents of a particular player.

However, as Backman describes the players, their families, fans and town residents, it becomes evident that all is not as it appears. This is about secrets, self-identity and the drive not just to succeed but to survive.

Beartown
Four bookmarks
Atria Books, 2017
432 pages

Under Construction   Leave a comment

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Bawdy, excessive and slightly unbelievable are my first impressions of Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl.

Set mostly in Wolverhampton, England, Joanna Morrigan is a 14-year-old girl going on 35 who is certain she has outgrown the life into which she’s been born. Joanna is intelligent, funny, overweight and practically exudes anguish since she is still a virgin; in fact, she’s never been kissed. There’s also an awkward, embarrassing moment when she’s on TV. So, she does what most teenagers attempt: she reinvents herself. This involves a new name and a career; that’s right, a career. As a music critic.

At first, Joanna, now known as Dolly Wilde, manages to remain true to herself while projecting a much more confident demeanor. However, the need to fit in eventually overwhelms her and her journey of self-discovery leads to predictable consequences – especially since it involves sex, drugs and rock and roll.

The Morrigan family relies on government assistance to get by. When Joanna innocently mentions this to a neighbor she worries this could mean an end to their life on the dole. This is, in large part, the reason she decides to pursue a career, so she can help financially. This, of course, means quitting school.

Moran’s writing is vivid, albeit at times also lurid. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but not enough to compensate for the exasperation Joanna/Dolly causes.

My initial reaction to the novel doesn’t change much by its end.

How to Build a Girl
Three Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2014
341 pages

Observing from the Sidelines   4 comments

Perks

I’m probably not alone in my preference to read the book before I see its film adaptation. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was no exception. I am now anxious to watch the movie.

Stephen Chbosky’s novel is told through letters written by Charlie, an insecure 15-year-old, to an unknown recipient. Charlie’s letters are brutally honest in their reflection of his life as the youngest of three children in a traditional family. It’s clear from the outset, though, that he is far more sensitive than most teenage boys. Sure, he faces teen angst like most kids, but his sensitivity and intelligence set him apart from his peers. Through what can only best be described as chutzpah, he introduces himself to Patrick and Sam (Samantha) – step-siblings in their senior year. Charlie is a freshman, but his new friends don’t seem to mind and welcome him into their circle.

As Charlie becomes more involved with his new friends, he discovers that he is not the only teenager with problems. His letters reveal more and more about himself and those around him. It’s evident that his issues are intense: misplaced guilt and an ability to keep a family secret he shouldn’t be burdened with. Lingering in the background are topics of sexuality, identity, and perceptions.

Charlie may never be a popular boy, but he has friends and family who care deeply about him. Even for those of us long removed from school days, it’s still possible to appreciate the value of those intangibles.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Four Bookmarks
Gallery Books, 1999
213 pages

Unrequited Life   2 comments

Virginsuicide

First published twenty years ago, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides remains poignant and rich with dark humor. The account of the Lisbon sisters, whose mere existence – and ultimate demise – captured the attention of their entire community, is told in a plural form of the third person voice representing the neighborhood’s teenage boys. It’s not quite the “royal we” but is an interesting technique nonetheless.

Eugenides’s narrative takes place in a quiet Detroit suburb. Seasons are noted by references to fish-flies, fallen leaves and holiday lights. For the Lisbons, however, there are complications. The narrator(s) rely on observation and references to interviews conducted with other neighbors, teachers and clergy. Mention is also made of several “exhibits” which include medical reports and photographs.

The five sisters range in age from 13 to 17, and the youngest is the first to kill herself. It’s clear not just from this suicide which takes place early in the novel, but also from the title, that the others will follow suit. The narrators share this sense of the girls’ impending self-destruction. Eugenides masterfully creates tension, and toys with the reader suggesting the possibility that, perhaps, the girls will be unsuccessful.

However, this is not a work simply about teen angst with no way out. It is a coming of age chronicle and a love story. The narrator(s) are forever changed by their connection to the Lisbon family, but the impression is that would have been true even without suicide as part of the tale.

The Virgin Suicides

Four Bookmarks
Picador, 1993
243 pages