The back of this book tells you this collection of short stories is “delightful and terrifying” which immediately drew me in, because I can’t think of two better words that together, conjure up adolescence. In his introduction, the editor Poirier states the stories stem “from nostalgia for the intense and sometimes confusing emotions that we all experienced at this time in our lives.”
The cover of the book has a drawing of a frog, belly side up, ready for dissection. This gave me an overwhelming recall of my freshman year of high school. On one hand, I was proud comfortable not totally self-conscious that I was smart, and in accelerated classes for science and math. On the other, I was self-conscious about everything else. But I knew science would be my ticket out of town, out of state; something that could lead to a good job anywhere but where I grew up. Imagining adulthood where I finally wouldn’t be too skinny with mosquito bite breasts, an over-talker with a laugh I hated, and no longer broke.
All dreadful, but apparently survivable. I mean, we all do survive it, right? With varying degrees of success or scars, but we make it into adulthood somehow and not just by celebrating birthdays. We realize that everyone has that ability to recall a self-conscious, uncomfortable self that we outgrew or got more comfortable with. Being awkward in some way, something about ourselves we didn’t like, or want to forget, might be the most unifying thing adults have. Big or small, we all overcome something to be who we are today.
So, the book. The story that is really staying with me (I read this a few weeks ago but am just getting to the review) is by a Thai author, Rattawut Lapcharoensap. I love that this is the most vivid story for me because it speaks to how truly universal these feelings are. The story is from the point of view of a young boy who goes to a “Café Lovely” with his older brother, Anek. He is exposed to getting high, getting off, and allowed to put his brothers bike into 3rd then 4th gear. He also embarrassingly bursts into tears at the Café. He hates himself for being such a baby! But that is how growing up sometimes happens, right? You’re confronted suddenly with something new that takes every brain cell to reconcile and you just. can. not. The only response is an emotional one. I loved that a story about a young boy in Bangkok made me remember something I experienced as a young girl in New Hampshire, followed by the gratefulness of not being there anymore.
Every story has something that made me think of adolescence and it would be an awful review if I relived all of those memories. The book is from 2007, so well before cell phones were pervasive. I imagine kids of the 70s and 80s would probably have very strong feelings while reading the book. And as it is short stories, you can relive dozens of your awkward memories! But each is an interesting self-contained world that efficiently evokes something universal about growing up. If you want to relive any of those years, or be glad you’re not in them anymore, spend some time with this book.
PS – this is NOT a suitable YA book! Just in case you were wondering.