Coming of Age in the Dawn of a New Age

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“Andri catches her stare and smiles. She blinks at the table. He clasps her wrist, his
grip warm and meaty, his thumb grazes the stained bandage. ‘Killing yourself?’
She snatches her hand into her lap, seesaws between pride and embarrassment,being thought capable, then incapable of suicide, shakes her head.’Too bad’
‘Andri!’ Megan’s disapproval prickles a flush into Gerry’s face
‘What? When I was her age, we were always trying to kill ourselves. It was a gesture.’
Gerry studies the creases around Andri’s eyes, Ian is three years older than she is,Megan and Michelle will turn twenty-nine in the same month, but Andri remains a puzzle. ‘When were you my age?’

Does the term “square” come from the common phrase “square peg round hole?” This is in fact a rhetorical question, but for Geraldine “Gerry” Cross this is a commonplace for her life in Vancouver 1984. She finds herself slowly and hesitantly, yet surely and anxiously approaching adulthood. Gerry is becoming wayward with respect to other people’s ideals for her sexuality, her fashion sense, choice of television entertainment, preferred hairstyles as well as her social surroundings. Not only that, but during the time that this novel is set in, the odds of being a child of a broken home were very low, leading Gerry down a path of dealing with questions surrounding her father’s abandonment on her own. Being different is becoming a rather popular aspiration for teenagers in the 21st century, but in 1984 differences meant isolation. While growing up, I was often called weird or strange, but in essence I was also called unique and different. Either way I always replied with a “thank you very much,” catching the “sheeple” off guard, I always appreciated the idea of being more myself than “being like the rest of the flock.” In some instances being different can possess well-to-do intentions, but end up with uneven repercussions. Gerry must find a way to manage her differences in a way that doesn’t compromise her integrity.

In short, the primary story is about a teenage girl named Gerry growing up in 1984 Vancouver during a time where prospects of war are in sight and proactive response to halt any imminent progressions are mandatory. Gerry is constantly haunted by the thoughts of her own mortality in her waking life as well as her dreaming life. Struggling to make friends on her own, her unlikely best friend Ian reluctantly invites Gerry and indoctrinates her into a band of misfits that have their own distinct interests, peculiarities and agendas. With her own problems at home, Gerry needs a sense of belonging and finds a solace within this group despite the many differences that encompasses in their places in life.

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The story riding shotgun to that of Gerry’s is one that tells of a young woman and young man of no name and place of residence as they travel from landscape to cityscape to dreamscape in search of food, drink, and a safe haven during a time of a civilization facing a post-mortem. The author gives this post-apocalyptic story a distinct style that was very reminiscent of a Cormac McCarthy-esque type (minus the overuse of commas and under use of quotations)with hopelessness, grim, and dread found in The Road as the primary devices. Unfortunately, I found myself to be quite lost with the first few passages of this story. The lack of context really gave me little to work with, but the last few passages gave me exactly what I was looking for and by the end, my perception of the story had changed. Here is a sample of the style of writing I am trying to convey:

“The boy knows the women will invite the girl to stay, ask him to leave, and, when they
do, the girl will refuse, follow him instead. But he has nothing left to offer her. The weak-
ness he tried to escape has followed him, belongs to him. Inside he still feels like a child,
a boy, unskilled at taking care. All along he has relied on the girl’s strength.
He steps back into the shadows, the baby’s name on his lips with each step, a picture
of who she will be through the months and years grows in his imagination, until over the
rise of a hill, crouched in a nest of boulders, it explodes in his mind like a star. So that
when the girl turns around, an easy smile on her face, she finds nothing behind her but a
distant echo, a shiver of light through the dark stretch of trees.”

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These are the kinds of Young Adult novels that I like to see represented to the primary demographic. Complexities are present but it still highlights the whimsy and expectations of the age group. At times this book is difficult to follow and has a prose that will present a few challenges for novice readers but for me I believe reading should provide some difficulties and give you an experience that you will want to remember. I am not against easy reads, I just feel that teenagers often get treated as short-sighted and narrow-minded individuals and I appreciate when they are treated with a little more respect. This book for me is what I look for when I “succumb” to the grasp of the Young Adult genre and I believe the target demographic will be thankful for the author’s consideration.

The Age is a very interesting perspective on a widely-covered topic; self-discovery. During a widely-covered time; threats of nuclear war. At times I found the pacing of the book to be a little on the slow side, meandering from day-to-day with little in breaking the monotony of routine. About half way through the book it started to get more interesting with surprises and the parallel story of post-apocalyptic civilization started to gain momentum and garner more of my interest. The ending is one that will be contentious for some because it is not as tidy and clear cut. For me the conclusion was very fitting, leaving me with a lot of feelings, the primary one being that of hope. This book again highlighted the importance that an ending can have on an overall feeling of a book by the reader, for either good, bad or indifference.

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Henry runs a thumb over the lines in his forehead, nods.
“Have you ever done something you’re ashamed of?”
“I don’t think I’ve done anything I am proud of. Does that count?” She wonders if now
would be a good time to let the plan slip out, a slow, careless scatter of clues to make him
curious, urge him out of his funk. “Not yet, anyway.”
“You do the right thing for the wrong reasons, the wrong thing for the right reasons, who
can make sense of it all.” The thunk-k-thunk of the electric lock vibrates against her arm
as Henry plays with the switch. “Which do you think is worse?”
Gerry shrugs. “I don’t know.”

 

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