Sunday, May 06, 2007

"I Did Not Pan Out"

Home Land by Sam Lipsyte is never going to make one of those Bests Books for Young Adults lists. For one thing, the main character isn't a young adult but a thirty-something.

For another, while the classic theme for young adult novels is "Who am I?" or "Who am I going to be?" the theme of Home Land is "Life sucks and then you die." (Which might be said to be a classic theme of thirty-something novels.)

And, finally, some critics claim that young adult novels must also carry a message of hope. For instance, young men reading King Dork-type books may leave the experience hoping that young women they barely know will offer to perform sexual acts for them. Young women reading The Gossip Girl and her many copiers may be left with the hope that one day they, too, can be nasty bitches with lots of expensive stuff. The message of Home Land is that, nah, none of that stuff is going to happen. And if it does, it's going to be seriously disappointing.

But in a weird, twisted way Home Land is sort of the next, logical step for readers of YA. It has an outsider, first-person narrator writing about high school and what happens after high school. It's like YA but older and with lots more drugs and unwholesome sex.

Just how much of an outsider is the adult Lewis Miner? This poor, miserable guy lives on his own only because his mother is dead so he can't live with her. He spends his free time (of which he has quite a bit because he rarely works) writing updates for his high school alumni newsletter. None of these are ever published for what might be called obvious reasons. But he covers all the classic high school stereotypes and what became of them after they headed out into the real world. None of it's pretty. No one comes to a good end.

Which makes a great deal of sense. Have you ever thought of what will become of those girls in the rich-girls-gone-bad stories? Or what about those sad boys who just can't catch a break? YA books are filled with these kids, and we finish them thinking that things are going to turn around for them.

But will they?

Home Land is not a quick read. Lipsyte writes with a rich, sophisticated style and a sly wit. His book is heavily populated with characters I couldn't always keep track of--much as I can't keep track of those girls in bitch posses.

Teens probably don't need to be exposed to this kind of stuff. They'll find out about life soon enough on their own. Plus some of the sexual content is what might be described as unsavory. I don't want to be accused of not warning you. But that mystery age group between 18 and, say, 24 might suck this up and say, "Yes! Yes! This is exactly how life is!"

I like reading a book like Home Land once in a while, myself. I can't make a habit of it, though, because my insurance isn't so good that I can afford to stay on anti-depressants for any length of time.

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