Title: Youth and Other Fictions
Author: Jonathan M. Cook
Pages: Ebook; 319
Release Date: September 23, 2011
Intended Reading Group: Young Adult
Content Screening: Violence; Harsh Language
HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart
Recommended to: Readers who are okay with tough issues and graphic violence.
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Jonathan Cook's debut novel looks at the horrors of a school shooting and its psychological effects on those involved. Told from two perspectives--one a student's and one a teacher's--the story reveals the inner concerns leading up to the moment when the world falls apart and the anxieties of coping with the broken pieces afterwards.
How do I even begin to describe the way that Youth and Other Fictions affected me? In all honesty, I've read books that deal with school shootings before. I know the harsh reality that comes with the discussion of this topic, and how much it hurts to read. I've seen it discussed from all the different perspectives that there can be. Still, no matter how many times I read about this topic, it never gets any easier.
In Youth and Other Fictions we meet a main character who could be any one of our students, children, or even next door neighbors. Jack is just trying to get by. He isn't that well liked, but he isn't despised either. He kind of just coasts through life, trying his best to blend in. That nagging voice in his head? Nothing he can't deal with. Sometimes he's sure that voice might even be right. Just a normal kid, nothing special.
Cook allows us to get into the mind of his characters, and it brings a vividness to this story that is startlingly easy to fall into. When everything heads south, you'll know exactly why. The reader is given an up close and personal look at the daily life of these students, at the cruel way kids can act towards one another, and at the frustration and anxiety that comes with feeling utterly alone. Even when the world falls apart for these characters, you'll still find yourself rooting for them. They are too believable for me to really explain.
What is really interesting about Youth and Other Fictions though is the fact that the second half of the book is told from an adult's perspective. One of the students who witnessed the shooting comes back as a teacher, and we get to see the new batch of high school students through his eyes. I liked the way that Cook showed the stark contrast between the kids of Jack's youth, and the kids of today. It's alarming how much life has changed for kids, and yet there are still similarities. Especially the ones that lead someone to commit a murder that seems so atrocious to everyone else.
I can't say much more without spoiling the book, and so I'll stop here. What I will say is that even if you think you know what happens in this book, you'll still find yourself at least partially wrong. Watching the events unfold really took my breath away, and I found myself reading at a manic pace to find out what ultimately happened. Cook definitely shows his prowess at writing characters that will pull you in and keep you there. Youth and Other Fictions definitely isn't an easy read, but it's one that I enjoyed. I highly recommend it.
FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.