A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a compelling coming-of-age story, but its content and subtle storytelling make it a better choice for mature teens. There is a fair amount of swearing and many sexual references (including the main character's possible homosexual orientation), but no sexual activity. There's also drinking and a lot of product name-dropping. James is a relatable narrator who is funny and insightful -- and the feeling he has of being alone in the world is a pretty universal one.
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What's the story?
This book by adult novelist Peter Cameron has no real plot, but here goes: James, recently graduated from high school, is accepted at Brown, poised on the edge of adulthood, and not at all happy to be there. He doesn't want to go to college; he wants to buy a house in a small Midwest town, where he can avoid dealing with people, whom he doesn't understand and who don't understand him. His mother has just split with her third husband -- on their honeymoon. His father is a powerful but detached lawyer. His parents, both fairly self-involved and clueless, are worried enough about him to send him to a psychiatrist. In between sessions he works, or pretends to work, at his mother's failing art gallery, and wonders how he can be a part of a world that makes him sad and uncomfortable.
Is it any good?
James will touch the patient reader with his desperate sadness, discomfort, dark humor, self-awareness, and fear. Like Holden Caulfield, James is a bright, financially well-off New Yorker who has had a breakdown of sorts, stemming both from a general sense of disconnection from humanity and from a specific traumatic event that is only gradually revealed. Like Holden, his inner monologues and way of looking at the adult world will sound familiar and ring true.
The adults in James' life, including his ineffectual psychiatrist, care in a distant sort of way, and readers may long to shake them out of their narcissistic stupors. The ending, such as it is, comes abruptly and doesn't really resolve anything. Perhaps it's this all-too-realistic touch, along with its sophisticated verbal style, that makes this funny, moving novel seem, like James himself, not to belong to its peer group.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why this book is compared to Catcher in the Rye. Do you see any similarities? Why are alienated teens appealing to YA readers?
This author is known for writing for adults -- and this is his first book written for a teen audience. Does it read like most teen novels, or is it better for older readers?
Our editors recommend
For kids who love coming-of-age stories
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