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Youth Wasted On The Young?,
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This review is from: A Certain Age (Paperback)
Disturbing and ultra-realistic, this book will remind many adults of their own adolescent yearnings to fit in and be accepted by their peers, even to the point of doing things that they really don't want to do.
The fourteen-year-old un-named narrator (who I shall call X throughout this review) is the focus point throughout. What she sees, what she thinks and how she behaves is the sole viewpoint throughout the book. There is graphic sexual content and Rebecca Ray calls it as she finds it. Written when Ray was eighteen, the immediacy, intensity and powerless frustration of adolescence is brilliantly depicted. X experiments with sex, finds she hates it, but sex is the only currency by which she can achieve a measure of acknowledgement, and a certain skewed status. This book is equally uncompromising and unflinchingly observant of family dysfunction. X's parents are floundering in an unhappy, often abusive marriage, her only friend is the clingy Dawn, who makes periodic phone calls to X's father to tell him what is going on, but Dawn is incapable of understanding much beyond her own feelings of jealousy and need.
When X becomes involved with Oliver, a much older man (he is 31), there are episodes of physical abuse, welcomed by X, who later subjects herself to self-mutilation, which is described in graphic detail. Self-harming gives X a measure of relief from the dreadful, endless bickering of her home life and the emptiness of her sexual adventures. The book ends in a Christmas argument when Oliver attacks X's father.
As I read this book I felt a number of temptations. To stop reading it was only the most frequent, but at the same time I found myself recognising some of the intensely painful despair of adolescence. One is never going to be beautiful, one is never going to be special, or clever or even very likeable. Everything around one is fake, dross, rubbish. Everything one really wants is unattainable. These sensations may not be uniformly lasting or strong for most people, and obviously, not everyone ends up in the blind-alley of self-harm, but this book does depict the alienation and often self-punishing detachment (powerlessness degenerating into self-hatred?) from what is going on in their own lives that many adolescents experience. X is unlucky in her family, who are incapable of helping her much, though her tired mother does try. Almost everyone in this book is locked into their own solipsistic nightmare.
In terms of readability, this book is often quite pedestrian, especially towards the end, but this also reflects the banality of thinking that many adolescents embrace - the "Am I bovvered" generation, perhaps? It is inch-perfect in its depiction of the powerful contradictions of this "certain age", but the truism that youth is wasted on the young was never so aptly demonstrated as in this book.