Fifteen year old schoolboy, Sam, is at that stage where he has one foot in childhood, and the other is on the cusp of maturity. One minute he reads football magazines, the next he dreams of sleeping with girls and escaping his boring suburban existence. Although he attends a private catholic school, in Dublin, he struggles to belong to any one group and finds himself bullied on an almost daily basis. Even when he returns home to the affluent area of Howth, he jumps from the frying pan into the fire, as his desire to fit in with local lads causes more misery than it’s worth. The bruises, shame, disrespect and abuse are a constant in Sam’s world, but he persists, on a dangerous journey through the wilderness of adolescence.
I started this novel with no pre-conceptions, no plot detail and no genre assignment. After the first chapter, I went online and ordered copies for all of my nephews (teenagers) with the hope that they will read this book and know what power writing can wield. Eoin Macken has dissected the awful inner world of a teenage boy, showing how sometimes wanting the wrong thing can be the only way to survive among peers. The drink, the drugs, the sex and the violence, these can often be misconstrued as being a side effect of location, upbringing and parental neglect. This novel is a perfect example of how this is not true. The need to fit in can sometimes overtake all common sense, no matter what age one is, and right and wrong can easily become blurred.
The moment where Sam meets a schoolgirl, from Bray, called Antoinette, is such a delicate passage. The innocence, flirting, clumsiness and uncertainty that the author describes is delightful. The first kiss, the raging hormones and consequent let downs are enough to bring back the bushing days of any adolescent. Sam is a genuine good guy, deep down wanting to please everyone, prepared to do anything to get through the day in one piece. His parents are unaware of the hard knocks he is taking, despite the bruises and scars, but his mentor in school is ever watchful. Teachers seem to take a dislike to Sam too and the weight of the world appears to be on his shoulders. Yet, throughout all this, he just wants to be loved. To find love. To find his space.
This is a novel of fear, uncertainty and the constant demand to fit in. Considering the approach to adolescent mental health, in the teenage age bracket, in this country, maybe more adults should read this book and take notes. Not all children are as happy and content as they seem, and not all boys are as miserable as they pretend to be either. Balance is the key. Balance and honesty.
Spectacular debut fiction….