Review: THE TRAGIC AGE by Stephen Metcalf

The Tragic AgeThe Tragic Age by Stephen Metcalf

St. Martin’s Press ~ March 2015 ~ 5 Stars

Well written with good descriptions, this book will appeal to older readers but isn’t for younger ones, especially since it deals with death, sexuality, suicide, crime, mature language. Billy Kinsey isn’t a typical character in a young adult novel. A struggling high school senior he can’t decide what comes next, perhaps because he’s an insomniac – someone who can’t sleep at home. He doesn’t take his prescribed meds and pretty much blames everything wrong in his world on the death of his twin sister. And there is a great deal that’s wrong in this teen’s world. He hasn’t learned that with life comes a certain amount of choices and that people are responsible for the choices they make. Instead, he’s opting to play the “blame game.”

His parents won the lottery and moved away from “real life” to a neighborhood that is more status conscious. Dad is a practicing alcoholic and Mom focuses on being one of the “girls” – playing tennis and doing Pilates with her friends. As long as Billy tells them what they want to hear, they are content with how he appears to be doing. And Billy knows this better than anyone. He is a cynical, jaded narrator who doesn’t always tell the truth or at least spins it into various “what if” scenarios.

This is one of those books that will undoubtedly end up as classroom literature in high school. It’s a train wreck in action and it becomes impossible to stop reading. Again, this book is exceedingly well written. The language flows. The descriptions are incredible for the most part. It’s a tragedy in several parts, but perhaps the hardest thing to deal with is the fact that there aren’t any likeable or sympathetic adults. Perhaps, this is another aspect of Billy’s own character – he can’t see any redeeming values in them. Yet, paradoxically one would think that there would be at least one “honest” adult in his world.

His friends are nearly as disconnected from each other and their families as the hero. At times the girls in this book feel one dimensional and a bit clichéd, especially when it comes to Denzie, the young, hot Latina. We also never really get to know Gretchen, the girl that Billy likes. Again, this could be directly attributed to the fact that Billy isn’t a reliable narrator, yet this remains one of the best, literary YA novels that I’ve read in a long time.

This debut novel may not be a comfortable read, but it will become a classic and it will be interesting to see what comes next from author, Stephen Metcalf.

This review was provided by Shannon Kennedy for her column Shannon’s Space in the March 2015 issue of The Book Breeze.

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