Sunday, 21 August 2011

42/111 – Grow Up by Ben Brooks

I went on a bit of a shopping spree recently. I was feeling the urge for a new book, and I ended up buying a few within a few days of each other. They just so happened to all be published by Canongate, who I like quite a bit. Their fiction always seems to be a lovely mixture of quirky and disturbing and touching, and I also think they do fantastic book design. There’s just something about their books that makes me want to pick them up and touch them. The three that I picked up all have a kind of matt texture, and a bit of folded inwards cover with the blurb on it. There’s probably a proper word for it, but I don’t know it.

I decided to start off with Grow Up. I was not too thrilled with the endorsement from Noel Fielding, because I hate The Mighty Boosh, but I thought that he probably didn’t really read it anyway.
The story follows Jasper, a teenage boy, who should be studying for his A-levels, but instead spends all his time thinking about Georgia, taking drugs and thinking of ways to prove that his stepfather is a murderer. The whole novel is told from Jasper’s point of view, and the narrations has a Curious-Dog feel to it in that Jasper clearly views the world in a very different way to most people.

I really liked this, and there were a lot of moments that made me laugh, which is a little unusual for me in a book. Brooks has a way of phrasing things that I found genuinely delightful, so for your enjoyment I’m going to list a few of my favourite phrases:

“They spill out over the top like the foreheads of curious children.” – referring to someone’s breasts.

“I can only hope that the future will tame the wild horses in my eyes.”

“Get an abortion, Abby, or else I will put a horse head on my head and come into your room late at night.”

There’s not a great deal to the actual story – Jasper is obsessed with Georgia, but gets Abby pregnant after a one-night stand. The action revolves around a series of parties and drug-taking incidents, and in his clumsy way, Jasper tries to take care of his friend Tenaya, whose parents are alcoholics and who self-harms after her boyfriend cheats on her. All pretty standard teenage drama and white-people-problems.

As I said, my main enjoyment from this book came from the phrasing and the internal narration of Jasper’s thoughts. I kind of wish the plot had had a little more going for it, but I don’t think that was really the point of the book. I enjoyed it a lot, but had the book been any longer, I think I would have eventually lost the drive to continue to read about characters I didn’t really care about. The writing is excellent, though, and the book's atmosphere feels really genuine. Which would make sense, considering that the author is only nineteen himself, and already has several other books in print. I would even say that his age is a credit to him, because even though I’ve heard people making comparisons between Grow Up and Skins, there’s none of the over-privileged nastiness in there. Jasper is a moron, and sometimes insensitive and cruel, but I couldn’t help develop a little soft spot for him.

Grow Up is a great little quirky coming-of-age novel, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more Ben Brooks in future.

Next: Go To Sleep by Helen Walsh

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