Dan Josefson’s debut is a good recommendation for teens who enjoy puzzling out unreliable narrators, who enjoy boarding school depictions, and those who like reading about troubled teens. Not to mention troubled adults!
Adult/High School–In Josefson’s debut novel, Benjamin narrates the events at a severely dysfunctional “school for troubled teens” in which he has been enrolled after multiple suicide attempts. The school is run by a leader of cult proportions named Aubrey, whose increasingly idiosyncratic methods are simultaneously resented and reveled in by students and teachers alike. What makes this novel stand out from obvious influences such as Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Viking, 1962) or Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Miramax, 2006), is Josefson’s radical experiment in unreliable narration. Benjamin describes events before he entered the school, events he could never have seen, and the innermost thoughts of several other characters, including their dreams, in vivid detail. Indeed, until the final two chapters there are scarcely any references to Benjamin’s own thoughts or activities, with only a few notable exceptions. In the face of the blatantly contradictory and strange behavior narrated, it is then left to readers to decide whether Benjamin is grossly exaggerating the capriciousness and violence of the school, because he could not as a teen understand the good it did him; or its positive attributes, in an attempt to ease his mind of the trauma that occurred there. Either way, despite the relative lack of material about Benjamin himself, the novel is clearly a portrait entirely of his own mind, and how he saw the world as a “troubled teen.” As such, it is an incredibly daring experiment in characterization, and one that will surely reward many rereadings.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA