Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Tragic Age by Stephen Metcalfe



Release Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher & ARC: St. Martin's Griffin
ISBN:9781250054418
Ages: 14+

About the Author:
Stephen Metcalfe is a writer, a director and a teacher. His stage plays include LOVES & HOURS, VIKINGS, STRANGE SNOW, SORROWS AND SONS, PILGRIMS, HALF A LIFETIME, EMILY, WHITE LINEN, THE INCREDIBLY FAMOUS WILLY RIVERS, WHITE MAN DANCING, A WORLD OF THEIR OWN and THE GIFT TELLER. He has been produced in New York and at regional theaters throughout the United States as well as in Europe and Japan. Visit his website here.
Review:
It's hard to be a seventeen year old male. It's hard to be a seventeen year old male who's struggling with his identity in a high school filled with cliques, and none of them seem to accept you. It's hard to be the son of two parents who hate each other. Most importantly, it's hard to be the brother of a sister fighting and losing to cancer. Billy Kinsey is all of these, and figuring out how to deal with everything in his life at this point is enough to make anyone act out, cry for help, go a little crazy.  

Billy's twin sister, Dorie, lost her battle with cancer as a child. Having won the lottery several years earlier, Billy's parents can't handle the death of their daughter and the constant pressures of being rich. Billy can't handle the evening dinners with awkward silences or forced conversations, the sleepless nights, and the stares from his classmates and strangers due to the conspicuous hemangioma on his face. The easiest thing for him to do is simply disappear, slip silently and transparently into the cracks of high school social life, of fake family life, and of simply being a teenager.  

That is, until he meets two drastically different people. Twom Twomey is the epitome of bad boy. Tattooed and rebellious, Twom is exactly what Billy needs in a friend right now. But so is Gretchen, the red haired, straight A girl with whom he easily falls in love. Where Twom provides excitement by breaking into houses, Gretchen provides stability and hope for the future. In the middle of the three is Ephraim, the nerdy hacker who just wants to have a friend, and Deliza, the too easily satisfied girl who constantly craves Twom's sexual attention. Trying to choose a path that will lead him to some semblance of moving past his sister's death, Billy has to decide who he truly is and who in his life best represents that identity.
Metcalfe gives a pragmatic voice to a character bombarded by a technology-crazed generation. In an age when too many teens are using social media to bully others or to reach out for help, Metcalfe shows the realities of what can happen to those who feel superior and for those who feel like nothing is ever going to get better. The generation of teens today is not too unlike that of Holden Caulfield's, and it is difficult at times to separate Billy's search for self from that of The Catcher in the Rye, though I do believe that is the point. 
The feeling of pure joy that a teen receives from doing something illegal or doing something for the first time should not be considered taboo, and Metcalfe is trying to tell us just this through a voice of a generation beholden by screens and misspellings. How refreshing to see an author give us a glimpse into the real world of a teenager and not one that is hidden behind the supernatural or science fiction. While the tale is fiction, Billy's story can be found on any Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram page. Being a teenager may be considered part of the "tragic" age, but the resulting struggle for belonging doesn't have to end that way. 
Kudos to Stephen Metcalfe for having the courage to write a book so well-versed in adolescent lingo and the genuine feeling of being seventeen, of being that student, of being that friend/boyfriend, of being that son, and of being that brother.