Grow Up

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Grow Up ,  Ben Brooks, book reviewBen Brooks is nineteen years old. He wrote his newly published debut novel, Grow Up, when he was seventeen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it deals with teenage life and the trials and tribulations that come with it.

The narrator, Jasper, is seventeen and preparing to sit his AS levels. However, he is more interested in sex and drugs than revision. He dreams of seducing the chaste Georgia Treely, suspects his stepfather of murdering his first wife, works on a novel featuring rape scenes, and takes an awful lot of drugs I have never heard of with his best friend Tenaya.

Jasper is not a particularly pleasant chap, but then I don’t suppose most teenage boys are. His drug-taking and smoking seems a bit too obvious to be realistic – he doesn’t seem to make any effort to hide it around his or his friends parents. Aren’t teenagers supposed to be furtive about these things? The storyline featuring a larger and apparently unattractive girl, Abby, also showed Jasper in a bad light, thanks to his treatment of her. He redeems himself slightly by trying to help Tenaya when he finds out she self-harms – although his attempts are somewhat clumsy, it is clear he cares.

The cover of Grow Up features a quote from the comedian Noel Fielding – “Makes you snort with laughter”. The blurb I received from the publisher prior to receiving the book reinforces this view, that Grow Up is a darkly comic and laugh-out-loud novel. This is not, however, the impression I’ve come away with. Parts of it were amusing, but mostly I read it as a rather sad window into the lives of teenagers in Britain – but I have to admit, I hope that the novel is an exaggeration and that teenagers are not constantly snorting lines of god-knows-what (there’s no recognisable cocaine etc in Grow Up, it’s all strange sounding drugs such as mephedrone). Perhaps it would be funnier to a teenager, as they might read it as a parody of their own life, but I found a lot of it quite sad and pathetic.

Before I began reading the novel, I did expect it to be funny – mainly because the blurb on the back is a quote from the novel, and because in isolation it does make me laugh (a list of things the narrator has learned that people like to touch).

Grow Up is however a reasonably enjoyable read, and an interesting one. I am left wondering how much is exaggeration, and how much is realistic and based on the experiences of the author and his friends/schoolmates. The publisher emphasises the fact that Brooks is a teenager, and so unlike other novels (or TV shows) about teenagers, normally written by those well past that time of their lives, he is writing what he knows.

The writing style Brooks uses for Jasper’s first person narration is clearly meant to be that of a bored and easily distracted teenager, and it does work in that sense. However, I don’t know if the simplicity of much of the novel is a stylistic choice or Brooks natural writing style – if it is his natural style, it really betrays his youth. There is no elegance or maturity to it. Let’s assume however, that it is deliberate and intended to show Jasper’s character.

Grow Up was a quick and easy read, and is a quite a simple novel. While it didn’t have the desired impact on me in terms of humour, it was an interesting read. Ben Brooks may not be a mature writer yet, but I believe he is one to look out for in future.

Grow Up by Ben Brooks
Published by Canongate Publishing, July 2011
With thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy.

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Grow Up
by Ben Brooks

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Written by eilidhcatriona

A Scottish lass in her late twenties living in London. A prolific reader always interested in something new.

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