I’ve had the pleasure of attending my son’s wedding this weekend, so it was an interesting experience for my bedtime reading to be a comic YA tale of 15 y.o. frustrated love and anguish. In Six Impossible Things Fiona Wood has captured the internal voice of the angst-ridden teenage male so well, it was like a revelation, making me wonder if my son, now grown up with his beautiful bride by his side, had felt similar torments. I say this because The Adolescent Male is not renowned for sharing his feelings and even the most sensitive of mothers can have some difficulty in interpreting The Adolescent Male Enigmatic Grunt, the Adolescent Male Laconic Shrug or The Adolescent Male Scornful Lift-of-the-Eyebrow. These three elements form the basis of communication with young men during their teenage years, and this is why the teenage male narrator is a rarity in novels …
Mind you, my son would not have felt exactly the same torments. For Dan Cereill it’s a perfect storm of disasters: his father suddenly announces (a) that he’s gay (b) that the family business is bankrupt, and (c) that he’s leaving, and this abrupt change of circumstances means that Dan and his mother have to move house and Dan has to leave his posh private school. Mum – oblivious to the irony – sets up a wedding-cake business because they have no money at all, and Dan has to deal with being The New Boy in Year Nine.
But there’s nothing unusual today about dealing with the fallout of parental marriage breakup. Many young people have to take on the role of the ‘other adult in the house’ and find themselves overwhelmed by the responsibility it brings. Many adolescents have the experience of seeing family fortunes collapse for one reason or another, and find themselves concerned about family finances. Part of growing up in any kind of family is learning to see parents as flawed individuals with their own lives rather than just parents.
And then there’s the peer group. All the hassles of fitting in are magnified when there’s a change of school and the first few weeks are crucial, but all young people have to sort out where the power bases are as well as where they want to be. There is always a School Bully like Jayzo. So despite the plot twists, Dan’s experiences are universal and both the young and the young-at-heart will relate to them.
At my old school there was the usual assortment of jocks, try-hards, nerds, hard-cores and cool groups. Then there were the odd socks, like me. Technically, I qualified for the nerds, but no way was I going to dock there.
Being left over is not a hugely bonding characteristic, so it’s pure good luck that me and Fred turned out to be friends. (p24)
However, adolescent hormones being what they are, number one on Dan’s list of needs is the his obsession with next-door neighbour Estelle. Yes, she’s beautiful, and yes, she’s in the same class. Any ‘Great Expectations’ Dan might have had have vanished along with all his old life, but as we see in his list of Six Impossible Things in his diary, he has hopes all the same:
1. Kiss Estelle. I know. I haven’t met her yet. Technically. But it gets top spot regardless.
2. Get a job. We’re in a complete mess financially. It’s down to me to tide us over money-wise if my mother’s new business crashes.
3. Cheer my mother up. Better chance of business not crashing if she’s half okay.
4. It’s not like I expect to be cool or popular at the new school, but I’m going to try not to be a complete nerd/loser.
5. Should talk to my father when he calls. But how, when the only thing I want to ask is something I can’t bear to hear the answer to: How could you leave us like this?
6. The existential one. Figure out how to be good. I don’t want to end up the sort of person who up and leaves his family out of the blue. (p6)
I forgot to mention above that The Adolescent Male Sense of Humour is what sustains parents during these tumultuous years. I suspect that the Aussie Adolescent Male SoH is the best of them all.
We look at each other with shy relief. It’s the look two odd socks give when they recognise each other in the wild. (p63)
‘What time’s the Gazelle home?’
‘He’ll be home by seven and I wish you’d stop calling him that. He’s trying to lose weight,’ she says. (p31)
‘Talked to anyone yet?’
‘You will make friends, Dan.’
‘Is that an order?’
She chooses to ignore my rudeness. ‘It’s hard for people to get to know you unless you speak.’
‘I was planning to transmit messages using only the power of my brainwaves. I guess I’ll have to rethink that,’ I say. That’s pissy, but it comes out before I have time to edit.
She gives me the compressed lips, narrowed eyes ‘you’re being difficult, but I’m saving my anger for the big issues’ look.
It’s no coincidence that Dan’s name is an anagram of a well-known fairytale but I’m not giving away any spoilers. Suffice to say that I much prefer this kind of light-hearted comic YA novel because – while I’m no Pollyanna – the reality is that even when everything feels like a catastrophe, life very often does get better.
Even when you’re an adult…
PS PS I will be discussing this book with the author at [Untitled] the Stonnington Literary festival on November 17th, click the link for more details.
Author: Fiona Wood
Title: Six Impossible Things
Publisher: Pan MacMillan 2010
Source: Kingston Library