Today we have a coming of age, debut novel. This one stands out for its narrator, who despite a dark & angry point of view, charms the reader with his witty, smart turns of phrase and way of looking at the world.
Adult/High School–In “the armpit of North Virginia,” 17-year-old Jacob Higgins is serving time in a juvenile detention center for committing armed robbery. His account of the “Olympic trials of boredom and grudging acquiescence” begin with all the reasons he hates it there. His searing sarcasm and spot-on observations of life’s absurdities simultaneously mask and express his heartbreak, rage, disappointment, and despair. Jacob’s sardonic descriptions of interactions with the JDC staff and inmates contrast with those of his mom and her abusive boyfriend, the latter revealing a sensitivity and vulnerability that Jacob tries to hide. He would rather not have to despise “normal people,” who “all live in town houses next to the mall or the Metro… [are] all thirty-five and use the same products and have really intense cellphones” because he ultimately wants to get out of “this Rubik’s Cube of misguided intentions” and lead a normal life. Much of his time is spent contemplating how to relate to others, how the world should be, and how he’s supposed to be in it–just what all adolescents are trying to figure out. His romantic encounters with fellow inmate Andrea are surprisingly sweet. The intentionally loose plot reflects the aimlessness of Jacob’s life, and the conclusion is satisfyingly realistic and open-ended. Those who loved Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (Little, Brown, 2007), and are ready for the next step, will find the same humor and truth in this convincing debut novel.–Amy Chow, The Brearley School, New York City