Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review: The Tragic Age by Stephen Metcalfe

Title: The Tragic Age
Author: Stephen Metcalfe
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release date: February 16th 2016
Pages: 320
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source:  I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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This is the story of Billy Kinsey, heir to a lottery fortune, part genius, part philosopher and social critic, full time insomniac and closeted rock drummer. Billy has decided that the best way to deal with an absurd world is to stay away from it. Do not volunteer. Do not join in. Billy will be the first to tell you it doesn't always work- not when your twin sister, Dorie, has died, not when your unhappy parents are at war with one another, not when frazzled soccer moms in two ton SUVs are more dangerous than atom bombs, and not when your guidance counselor keeps asking why you haven't applied to college.
Billy's life changes when two people enter his life. Twom Twomey is a charismatic renegade who believes that truly living means going a little outlaw. Twom and Billy become one another's mutual benefactor and friend. At the same time, Billy is reintroduced to Gretchen Quinn, an old and adored friend of Dorie's. It is Gretchen who suggests to Billy that the world can be transformed by creative acts of the soul.
With Twom, Billy visits the dark side. And with Gretchen, Billy experiences possibilities.Billy knows that one path is leading him toward disaster and the other toward happiness. The problem is-Billy doesn't trust happiness. It's the age he's at. The tragic age.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Tragic Age was a bit of an up and down for me. I started out wary of our main character Billy; he seemed like a pretentious know-it-all. But I warmed up to him pretty quickly, and I began to enjoy his voice; he's very funny, in a snarky, pessimistic, self-deprecating way, The writing style is rather unique, interspersing the story with explanations and facts that are entertaining to read (most of the time) and adding to the quirkiness of the story's voice. Billy is very clever and entertaining, and his voice engrosses you in the story. Even when there's not much going on, Stephen Metcalfe makes it interesting to read about with Benny's individual voice.

None of the other characters are developed with as much complexity as our narrator. They're pretty stereotypical, with the oversexualized latina, the bad boy, and the nerd. Gretchen isn't as much of a stereotype, but I wouldn't say that she's fully developed, either; I felt like we never really got to know her.

And then the ending turns the book into a complete mess. I don't even know what to say about the ending other than.... wtf. I would really like to hear the author's reasoning for ending the story this way because it makes absolutely no sense to me. Billy had been warning us all along that this would end badly, but I was never expecting things to end this badly; everything escalates so quickly and just completely blows up in the main characters' faces. And when things go wrong, common sense goes out the window, even for oh-so-smart Billy, and everything just turns into a huge mess from there. All of this is made worse by how much of an unrealiable narrator Billy is. I enjoyed this at first because I would believe everything Billy said and then be surprised when he tells us he had lied, but after a while I just stopped believing what Billy was telling the reader, and in the end I just assumed Billy was making something up and got really confused when parts of it turned out to be true (and I'm still not entirely sure about this). I can't explain this any more without spoilers, but this book has one of the bizarrest, messiest, least sense-making endings I have ever read.

I know my review sounds very negative, but that's not entirely accurate; there's a lot to criticize about The Tragic Age, but there are also many parts that I really enjoyed. I really liked the every-day parts of the story, being told in Benny's fresh and funny voice, and those made The Tragic Age a worthwhile read for me. But the lack of character development in the secondary characters, and the confusing, messy ending kept me from really loving this novel.


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