Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Best years of your life

Now, my general feeling is that if I had to travel back in time and live my teenage years over again I'd probably prefer to be lost in time-travel limbo forever in agonising pain (like Meg tessering with her father) than endure the horrors of life between 13-19.

James Roy, in Town, seems to me to have captured the ghastly horror of teenage existence most accurately. Which makes me suspect that if I were a teenager now (through either time travel or just having been born 20-odd years later than I was) I would avoid this book like the plague. I spent most of my teenage years with the feeling that I was doing the wrong thing. Actually, I think it was two feelings - one that I was doing something bad and that there might be Consequences, or the other one that I was doing whatever I should be doing not very well actually. I never felt the need to turn to literature to confirm that other people felt like this as well. I usually wanted to read books about children or young people saving the world, or otherwise adults having quite other feelings, such as jadedness, awe, pride or prejudice.

Roy's characters have a bijou little story-ette each - a chapter really I suppose. The collection together constructs a version of a country town seen through the unforgiving, but oddly uncritical, eyes of its young. Awful. Each chapter belongs to a month, as well, so its possible to trace the stories of some characters throughout the book, although others clearly have very little impact on the lives of their schoolmates.

In 'October - The Rule of Threes - Warwick' the narrator, Warwick, tells what it's like when three kids at school die. One is the little brother of a class mate, one is a friend of a girl Warwick thinks is 'hot' and one is someone he was friends with in primary school but hasn't talked to in a long while. Warwick notices other peoples grief, he feels the disaster of young people dying, he imagines how his mother would feel if it was him or one of his brothers. It's a moment of emotional sensitivity to other people, but not much awareness of how it changes Warwick himself or how he even feels about what's happened. Roy captures these feelings perfectly. Adults sometimes seem to think these traumas should mature young people, but I think it just messes them up.

The next story, 'November - Rotational Forces - Hattie' jumps to the sister of the girl who died. Earlier we found out that Hattie is smart, outspoken and funny. She seems happy and confident, and her home life comes as a shock. She calls her mother The Mayor and her father The Chemist and they just can't leave each other or their kids alone. One of the naughty boys of the school is half in love with Hattie's poise and intelligence, although he can hardly even admit it to himself.

UQP have published the book, and it's ace. It won a prize in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards. I hope lots of school libraries have bought a copy, because I'm not sure who else would. I suspect it might be a book that adults buy for teenagers rather than one that teenagers buy for themselves. In my experience teenagers were buying Terry Pratchett, stuff about vampires or Penguin Classics and poetry. Very young teenagers certainly bought plenty of YA fiction, but usually romance or fantasy (or both) or adventure novels. Maybe the bookshops I had much to do with didn't attract the right sort of teenagers.

But I hope many people read Town, because it's worth reading. Even if it does give me that creeping, ripply, you're-doing-the-wrong-thing sort of feeling that I thought I'd almost grown out of.

2 comments:

Penni said...

It's VERY real isn't it? I had to shut the book and walk away during Veronica's story, when she's out in the mountains with the boys, though I was relieved at how it turned out when I did sneak back (about five minutes later) and finish it. Like Veronica I acquired a reputation I didn't deserve because I developed early, so I was particularly mortified for her.

Town recently won the inky awards which are voted for by kids. So that's deeply encouraging that kids are actually finding it and reading it.

Penthe said...

Oh that's terrific news. Shame on me for underestimating people.

And yes, very, very real.