This book, about a freshman in high school in 1991 who pines for a pretty senior while discovering drugs, music, and literature, hit so close to home, most of the time it reads like a happier revision of my own life (I was a freshman in 1992 and briefly dated a few juniors, so … close!). I even read most of the same books, including The Fountainhead, and had conversations with adults about them very similar to what Charlie has here. What really drew me into the story, however, was the earnest sweetness of the main character; kinda wish I’d been more like him at the time. Oh well!
Anyway, the story itself can seem a bit like a salad of After School Special topics (domestic violence, child molestation, date rape, drug and alcohol abuse, homophobia — the list goes on and on!), written in a decent imitation of J. D. Salinger (although Charlie’s so much less of a dick than Holden), and while I appreciate the craft of writing a young voice, the bland rhythm of a young voice can get tedious after a while. It also detracts that every single beat of some subplots are predictable (the gay romance subplot, for example, holds few surprises). There are a lot of good-natured observations about life here, but they’re all a little bit obvious for this reader. Even so, I have to admit that it was a pleasure to read something so refreshingly well-meaning and good-natured, after all the other tortured stuff I’m usually reading.
Something so gallantly irony-free could only be set in the early 90s, and it made me miss those days a little bit. I just wish it had dug a little deeper and tried to get a little bit more out of the shadow of The Catcher in the Rye.