The Tragic Age by Stephen Metcalfe is being identified by reviewers as a Catcher in the Rye for the new generation, and that wouldn’t be far from the mark. Guaranteed to be controversial, this book will probably be banned and protested. I’m not sure if it is worth all the fuss — adolescent cynicism and it’s usual manifestation is still a thing, and it will be for generations to come.
Billy’s cynical and disengaged approach to life begins an evolution when two key players enter his isolated sphere. One is the vibrant best friend of his dead twin who reminds Billy that life does have its moments. The other is a fearless delinquent who’s strange sense of honor and acts of indifferent rebellion draw Billy’s admiration. One may be his downfall and the other may be his salvation, but both will be pivotal in shaping Billy during the year when he will come into his tragic age. I’m a little stunned after finishing this one. Like Billy, I assumed we were all just getting by, that is, until something bigger than I could process went down. That was some ending! It was amplified by the fact that, for the most part, the journey that led up to it was nothing more than ordinary life. There was a believable amount of sexual fixation, home and school drama, and delinquency for a high school boy. It was the journey that we all might have taken in a confused or angry phase. This is what will make it appealing to thoughtful teen readers. Billy’s snarky criticism of everyday absurdities in his intelligent internal dialogue will also be relevant and engaging for many YA’s. A few things will make this less impressive to discerning parents. The sexual situations and mature language are fairly explicit and occur throughout the book — guaranteed to invite challenges in libraries. A few times the book veered towards cliches and stereotypes, especially with the female characters. Positive adult influences were minimalized (read: often shown to be as easily distracted as a dumb house pet), but that is part of the realism. Overall, I found it engaging but I’m not sure the messages I got about friendship, growing up, society, or humanity were very clear. I’m not sure if they were meant to be.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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