Review: Grow Up, by Ben Brooks

>>Published: July 2011

>>Finally got around to it: May 2012

I am in the bath thinking about these things. In my hands there is a Philosophy and Religion textbook. I am reading about how some people believe in God because they had visions of the Virgin Mary. There is a large picture of the Virgin Mary wearing a blue dress and looking quietly pleased. I am bored. The book says that humans can hallucinate due to extreme emotional distress. I wonder if I will hallucinate because of the emotional stress caused by Keith’s constant murder-plotting. I hope I hallucinate Georgia Treely masturbating with a toothbrush.

***

Jasper James Wolf is a Holden Caulfield for a new generation. Seriously. He’ll even be the first to tell you:

I am Holden Caulfield, only less reckless, and more attractive.

And modest. Let’s not forget modest.

Grow Up, the fifth book by the barely-out-of-his-teens Ben Brooks, is a vicious, often hilarious—and hilariously blunt—microcosm of contemporary, ketamine-addicted British youth. Jasper, seventeen, is a fuck-anything-that-moves kind of kid. Prepping (but really not) for grammar school exams that will go a long way in determining his future, Jasper would much rather fantasize about the possible murderous history of Keith, his step-father; about seducing young, perfect Georgia Treely; about getting absolutely shit-faced with his best friend and possible suicide candidate, Tenaya; and about writing his novel, which must include a rape scene, a revelation, and, maybe, a lesson of some sort.

Middle class youth with too much money, and too few consequences to their actions. Grow Up is as much Catcher in the Rye as Less Than Zero, though Jasper is not nearly as bitterly disaffected as that novel’s protagonist, Clay. Jasper and his friends aren’t malevolent or consciously self-destructive—they don’t want to die, they just want to feel something more than their sheltered existence seems to provide. Lack of strong parental influence leads to a skewed perception of acceptable social behaviour and mannerisms, all of which is exemplified in Brooks’ perfunctory brick-through-a-window writing.

It’s easy to mistake Jasper for malicious, slightly touched-in-the-head prick—the extremes of his fantasies, and the speed at which he propels himself from one very random (often sexual) thought to the next are an alarmingly honest condemnation of a current cultural climate based on the immediacy of gratification. And when gratification is delayed, even for a moment, a replacement must be found: unfulfilled fantasies of Georgia Treely lead to a spur-of-the-moment rendezvous with the less-than-desirable Abby Hall, for example.

Not only honest, Grow Up is also genuinely funny. I laughed out loud, more than once, while reading this book; Brooks has natural comedic rhythm and a good ear for sarcasm:

Jenna lies back and a wide band of skin is exposed across her stomach from where her t-shirt has pulled up. I light a Richmond and leave it burning in the corner of my mouth while I pluck the petals off a poppy and lie them flat over Jenna’s belly button. This is called flirting. Flirting is a door with sex behind it. Sex is a door with babies behind it. Fucking doors. People should keep them locked.

It’s near impossible to hate Jasper, Tenaya, and any of their friends, no matter how horrifying their actions can sometimes be. These are not terrible people. Just… detached. Not from one another, but from their place in the world.

In Jasper, Brooks has captured a personality not bad, or cruel, or without feeling or remorse, but one unschooled in consequence, in the impact his actions have on others. Grow Up is disturbingly comic, unflinching, and enlightening.

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