Dear Huffpost Readers,
If you haven't been tuning in thus far, let me introduce myself for you: my name is Abby, I'm 23 and I'm a published author. I have a wee penchant for reading many different genres, and am asked often to recommend books for birthdays/holiday reading/the commute. So often in fact, that I now share my thoughts on the best of old, new and obscure here with you, to make sure you ride not the lonely tube in vain.
The book I'm recommending this week was in fact referred to me only recently because of the similarities between this novel and my own. It's out in America and has just come to the UK, and in the lit world's (and my) opinion, deserves a lot of attention. It's easy to see why this was passed to me - both Rathbone's book and mine were debut novels out this year, both are about teenage men, both are raw and edgy works about disaffected adolescents, and both are by young women. Sounding suspicious? Read on for my analysis of why Patterns Of Paper Monsters review works so well.
Jake has been sentenced to time in a juvenile detention centre in northern Virginia, but this novel could have been set anywhere in the America I know. At first I thought perhaps Jake's written voice was too intellectual, but I soon fell into the book, and realised that Jake is very much like my central character: a smart kid with no education, little emotional care and behavioural problems from being so darn bored all the time and having no money to do anything.
Three people influence Jake's small world in the detention centre: a 'big brother' from the outside world who the carers at juvi assign to him to make him hopeful about his future; a psychopathic kid named David with obvious homicidal tendencies who is unfortunately made Jake's partner in a presentation assignment for class; and Andrea, a kooky girl banged up for dealing pot to kids (but not for the money).
The tender, burgeoning love story between Jake and Andrea was many readers' favourite part of this novel, and it's true that it depicts a very honest representation of the hesitation and awkwardness of teenage communication and first love. The standout aspect of the novel for me, however, was Jacob's voice, both monotonous, to be perfectly aligned with the circumstances of his life as an adolescent on the wrong side of a white-walled lock-up, and also delicately, poignantly peeling apart his life and how he arrived where he is with such quiet intensity, that his voice becomes colourful, clamourous, insistent. He is there, behind these walls, with nothing to do but write, and you must read and read until you are done. After warming up over the first few chapters, I found this book utterly unputdownable; a fresh, honest and beguiling read by an exciting new talent.
Unsurprisingly, Patterns Of Paper Monsters is aware that its audience may well include teenage readers, and is split into very small chunks accordingly, and again not unlike Flick. I have found this helps readers, particularly those with dyslexia, and those who don't yet make reading a habit. Teenage boys looking for something easy, accessible, and relevant to their lives should be reading this book. Sadly, it is hard to get books written for young men to your audience. I mean, where are they? Where is there for them to gather? Street corners? They're not in school. You can find a captive audience (literally) in certain institutions, but you kind of want to get to them before they reach juvi, to warn them off. Anyway.
Having been interviewed on the authorship of a book about a teenage boy, I notice no-one fails to ask why I wrote from a male perspective. I usually mention that much of the world's cultural output reinforces the male voice - a recent survey of British television found that two thirds of the characters in fictional works were male. This is perhaps less so in literature than other forms of art, although I might argue that literature for women has less variety than that on offer for men. It's true also that we've made progress towards equality over the last century, but in reality, we all grow up whether we want to or not, in a society that places emphasis on a traditional masculine point of view.
Rathbone however, writes so emotionally and poignantly about Jake, and his love for Andrea, and I wonder if there is another reason. Societal pressure aside, I found it easy to write about adolescent men for a very simple reason: I've been their girlfriend, and confidante now for the better part of a decade. I wonder if there is a similar story behind Rathbone's so truthful character. Rathbone's creation was so real, her language so evocative, that it was easy to see Jake more as a person than a character. The dreary setting too placed emphasis on the voice and gave the book a raw, cut-to-the-heart edge. I think the publishing world often misses a trick by focusing on fashionable fantasy fiction, and not giving teenagers realistic icons with realistic struggles that they push against and - hopefully - through.
I hope more books like Patterns Of Paper Monsters will be written for young men - a group that many feel has been disenfranchised by literature (see this Huffpo article). In a fast-moving consumerist world, where difficult markets are often ignored, we shouldn't fail to write for them. Schools, publishers, bookstores, and the designers of curriculums in the US & UK are doing young dudes an injustice by not providing them with an opportunity for escape and solace in literature.
Let's hope this book finds its audience, and girls continue to write about dudes. In Patterns Of Paper Monsters it totally works. Nice one, Emma.
Patterns Of Paper Monsters by Emma Rathbone is out in paperback.