A powerful coming of age story told by ‘Blue’, now nineteen, who gives a no holds barred account of how he survived a close friendship with two boys whose deviant ways knew no bounds.
Why would you read it?
For its highly visual, dramatic narrative that explores a beguiling and dangerously evolving teenage world virtually hidden from the adult world it runs parallel with.
What starts as a typical story of boys struggling to get a steer on their hormones and the changing world they find themselves in slowly descends into a nightmarish account of kids committing sex crimes against other kids, of one boy’s sexual fantasies veering dangerously and, finally - fuelled by a cocktail of loneliness, pornography and parental neglect, fatally - out of control.
Approx 90,000 words
JUST BOYS by Nic Penrake
Content and Storyline
Though the education side of it is probably not what Enlightenment German writers had in mind, this powerful and compelling story is a kind of Bildungsroman, taking the protagonist and narrator through a difficult patch of adolescence towards a degree of maturity and understanding, and it is strong meat.
The author’s view seems to be that - to a greater or lesser extent - the onset of male puberty takes the form of a psycho-sexual pathology and, given the number of examples that can be pointed to, I don’t know that I’m going to argue with that. The crucial question in a work of fiction is, of course, is it convincing? In this case, I think the answer is, unquestionably, yes.
The events, as they develop and escalate, and the dynamics of the relationships between the narrator and Simon and Nick, have the right feel about them, that air of authenticity. The blowing hot and cold in the friendships, the wholehearted immersion in various projects, the morbid, obsessive curiosity and concern with sex, the experimentation with drugs and drink all ring true. In fact, I found myself wondering just how much of this was autobiographical. (Though, of course, we can all cast out minds back to our teenage years and come up with versions - some milder, some not – of Simon and Nick.)
I don’t wish to imply in any way that this looks at the characters as specimens, or as patients in some psychoanalyst’s casebook, though. It doesn’t. It tells the story of some, perhaps more than averagely complicated, teenage boys.
This is very readable and more than competently written. Again, though, I wondered if a little more attention to the narrator’s voice might not be of considerable benefit. His background is such a complicated one that I would have thought he might have a slightly more idiosyncratic style. This works quite well as it stands but I just thought the voice could have been a touch more distinctive. (The great novels of teenage angst - The Catcher in the Rye, for instance - have that very distinctive, instantly recognizable voice.)
There’s no question that this is publishable and tells a strong tale. I suppose that it is aiming at the more literary market (the editors should be thinking early McEwan). However tough the market, it only takes one editor to fall in love with it…