Grow Up — Ben Brooks

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DOING DRUGS, DOING SEX, DOING LIFE. Who says youth is wasted on the young? Jasper wants to get on in the world, but life is distracting. He’s got his A-levels to contend with, his mother pushing him to overachieve, weekly visits to his psychologist, come-downs, YouTube suicides and pregnant one-night-stands. And then there’s his step-dad – the murderer. Hilarious and heartbreaking by turns, GROW UP is the ultimate twenty-first-century coming of age novel. Funny, smart and twisted, it is the story of one young man transformed and paints an unashamed and true portrait of the pills and thrills and bellyaches of growing up today.

Jasper spends his days partying with friends, doing drugs, and trying to find evidence incriminating his step-dad as a murderer. He wants to seduce Georgia Treeley, stop one of his best friend’s from hurting herself, and ace his A-levels, as that’s what everyone seems to expect of him.

First thing’s first, this novel is extremely explicit and definitely intended for an older/more mature audience. The author thoroughly details extensive recreational drug use as well as numerous instances of unprotected sex, while also touching upon the topics of teenage suicide, ruminations on rape, self-harm, and the inner workings of the male teenage mind. That being said, Grow Up is an entertaining new coming-of-age story with a quirky, painfully honest protagonist who offers an engaging¬† and eye-opening view of the world around him. This book will appeal to fans of the UK television show “Skins” and C.W. Paine’s Youth in Revolt.

The major appeal of this Grow Up, for me, is it’s honesty. Ben Brooks depicts the teen male mind in all it’s disgusting glory and doesn’t shy away from telling it like it is. In addition to Ben Brooks bluntly providing a glimpse into the male psyche, his protagonist, Jasper, is also extremely honest with himself. He admits his own flaws and acknowledges that he plans to change some things about himself, but for now, he’s content to be who he is. Jasper may be far from perfect, but he’s a teenager and he acts and thinks like one. Yes, his more ridiculous escapades are laugh-out-loud funny, but his unabashed sweetness and caring disposition endear him to us so that we actually care about these adventures and where they will take him.

There is no major plot-line, which leaves me feeling a little unfulfilled by the book’s end, but I understand that the purpose of the book is to examine Jasper’s coming-of-age. There are minor plot points, such as the mystery of whether or not Jasper’s step-dad actually is a murderer, Jasper’s relationship with his psychologist, and the unfortunate plight of on of his best friends, Tenaya. I would feel more satisfied at the end if Jasper had matured a little more, or “came-of-age.” He feels like a static character to me, and while I love him, I expected more from him. By the end of the book, it seems like he still has the same dreams/goals/plans, but has gained a little insight. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to assume things get better for him or that he gets his act together. I’d like to assume these things, as I want the best for him, but nothing in the conclusion leads me to believe he’s changed all that much. He does learn a lot about himself though, which is rewarding.

Plot aside, Grow Up is masterfully written. Ben Brooks is clearly an authority on metaphors and characterization. Jasper’s voice is potent from the very first sentence so that he leaps off the page and forcefully drags you into the story. The near-poetic language elevates the uproarious humor from juvenile to powerful. This isn’t just a novel about kids having fun and doing drugs, but a complicated story with depth that will make you laugh as much as it makes you think.

Pages: 272
Publication Date: April 2012
Publisher: Penguin Books
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Rating [rating: 4]

Teaser Quote: “Sometimes, when I feel sad or ill, I play the old Avril Lavigne album and think about how happy I was in 2003, when kissing a girl who tasted of Panda Pops at a school disco was enough to make everything seem as though it couldn’t get any better.

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