Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

Murray_skippyMurray, Paul. Skippy Dies. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.

Genre: literary fiction (for adults) (I argue: YA contemporary)

Summary: Howard (the coward) returns to teach at his alma mater, Seabrook College. Howard never achieved the fame and fortune that is expected of Seabrook graduates. Instead, he muddles through his life and relationships burdened with the secrets that would surely tarnish Seabrook’s reputation if they ever came to light. Before the school year is out, Howard is snagged into yet another school tragedy when the boy everyone calls “Skippy” mysteriously dies.

Critique: This book was not marketed as a cross-over that adults and young adults might enjoy, and I think that was a mistake. I lived in Ireland when this book came out. I saw teens gorging on the 600+ pages. I saw them swarm the author at readings around Dublin as if he were the new Rowling or Meyers!

The text plays (timidly) with fonts to indicate cell phone ring tones, hit songs, and other quirks of digitized teenage life. The point of view cunningly shifts from close third to second person whenever characters slip from sober to high. And Murray’s humor mingles the wry, dark, and tragic. Don’t be surprised if you laugh in the midst of bitter tears.

This book was short- and long-listed for nearly every UK book award, including the Mann Booker. And it’s no surprise why: rather than pooh-pooh the trials of teenage life and love, this book employs string theory, Irish folklore, and the complex mathematics to capture this devastatingly explosive time in all our lives. Suddenly, blazingly, staggeringly, readers realize the human heart is a complicated realm, regardless of your age! Where Murray might have been timid with fonts, he is unreservedly bold with contemporary issues like bullying, sexual molestation, and drug abuse.

Indeed, this book is not for the timid. No. It is for the brave parents, teens, and other readers who acknowledge life is not a safe haven, but a savage garden of good and evil, tragic and jolly. Those who enjoy John Green and A. S. King will adore Skippy Dies.

Advertisements

Chrysalis and Entropy: A Celebration of Adolescence

(Migrated post. Content originally published 10/2013 on jennifermichellemason.blogpsot.com.)

I have a monthly Google calendar reminder to check on several interesting children’s/YA publishing industry related blogs. Actually, I have many calendar reminders set to pretty much boss me around day-to-day and month-to-month. Many of the tasks I set up on a revolving basis are treats. Like writing 2,000 words each day. I love that one and it pops up first thing every morning at 8 a.m.

Others pop up and I scoff and send my eyes in search of the top-most textures of my head. Checking those blogs, I admit, can sometimes be a scoff-task. But this time around, I came across the following video on the Carolrhoda Lab, and it made me clap and cheer!

The footage reveals a large group of very young musicians totally rocking out. And the short blog post accompanying the video on the Carolrhoda site praises young folks for doing intricate, complicated, and spectacular things!

And the post+video made me cheer out loud not only because it is true, but also because it encapsulated my philosophy and methodology in writing for adolescent audiences.

Manymanymany novels out on the retail shelves depict teens coping with, causing, and sometimes solving drastic, catastrophic, world-bending events. And in the midst of all that hubbub, they intermingle elements of the adolescent experience. Puberty. Relationships. Dermatological disasters. Family drama. Love.

Books that exhibit this approach include Those That Wake, The Hunger Games trilogy, or the Divergent trilogy. 

And on its own, that approach sounds perfectly respectable. It certainly hasn’t cost any of those authors any profits. There is, after all, a world with teenagers in it.

But the-world-with-teens paradigm does a disservice to the adolescent experience. From the vantage of a teen, there is, first, exhilarating chaos within the body, then exquisite madness beyond the body. It’s more like there are teens with a world around them. 

Sounds neurotic? Self-centered? Maybe even a little narcissistic? Well, that’s because it is…and what the hell’s wrong with that? The neurology of the adolescent brain resembles a rain forest feasting on Miracle-Gro. The heart is simultaneously shredded and nourished by hormones that swell and crash with more force than a thousand tsunamis.

The lyrics of Tool’s song in the video above encapsulate precisely the teens-with-a-world paradigm. “Change is coming through my shadow….” “My shadow’s shedding skin….” “Change is coming through….”

entropy

The song depicts the itchy, uncomfortable, scabby, bloody process of growing up — that epic war between entropy and chrysalis. The childlike husk of the self erodes while the new but-not-fully-formed shroud of the teen emerges.

I maintain that when it comes to writing YA, the metamorphosis a child goes through while “growing up” is substantially more important than evil forces scheming to take over the world, dystopian governments, or even, the apocalypse! Make no mistake: the primacy of the experience receives no short shrift in a novel like Martine Leavitt’s The Book of Life by Angel or in any John Green novel (include any novel considered kith and kin to Green and Leavitt). But I suspect that a “genre” or “spec-fic” writer is just as capable as the real world chronicler when it comes cocoonto depicting adolescence

When I write, I seek to celebrate the complexity and profundity of teenage ability and creativity. Beyond that, I strive to honor the glory, the pain, the horror, and the beauty of adolescence.