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Book Review: Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin

“Every thinking person should aspire to be, at some point in their lives, the person who buys someone else their first guitar” – Dedication, Wise Young Fool

Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin is a love letter to rock music, the glories (and glorious mess) of the teenage years, and the wisdom that comes in learning that you are, indeed, a fool who knows nothing.

WYF is told in alternating timelines.  In one, Ritchie Sudden sits in juvie hall writing in a journal and reminiscing about the events that landed him there while trying not to get dead.  They have something to do with his sister who died in a car accident.  In the other, Sudden and El Hella, Elliot in real life, form a band to try and win a competition, live their lives, and do teenage boy things which involve a lot of talking smack, getting in fights and the illustrious quest to get laid.

Beaudoin is a stylized writer, there is a beat and a swagger to his prose and it is both charming and fun while being raw and often over the top.  I imagine he is the John Hughes of teen lit if Hughes were more self aware, employed a bit more cussing and crassness, and added some kick ass stylization ala Nick Hornby.

Like Reality Boy by A. S. King (which I highly recommend, coming this fall), Beaudoin also does a fantastic job of capturing the heart and spirit of the angry teenage boy and shining some light on the darkness in their hearts.  Sudden comes from a broken family, is mourning a dead sister, and is surrounded by a group of other teenagers that, much like himself, really can’t figure things out.  At the same time his life in prison is both eye opening and life threatening, thanks in no small part to the fact that yet another alpha male has declared himself king (with a symbolic throne and all) and a fighting ring that goes largely ignored by the adults in charge.  Speaking of adults, Beaudoin includes a nice and realistic mix of adults who care, adults who don’t, those who try and fail and the occasional one who gets it right.

WYF joins the ranks of books I have read recently that use 80s and 90s references and, in this case, a bunch of old school music references, to add wit, humor, and make their points.  I often wonder when reading these titles if teen readers will get them, and if they don’t how it will affect their reading.  True music aficionados will have no issues, but for some there are going to be moments that leave them perplexed.  As a side note, this trend makes me wonder who ya authors are writing for sometimes because I am not sure that contemporary teen audiences will make the necessary connections.  Adult readers, of course, are amused and often delighted.  Kirkus made the same note (I looked): “littered with jokes and references, some clever, some oddly dated (“there’s the Bridge, which, yeah, is a bridge, but with no water underneath, troubled or otherwise” (Kirkus, 7/01/2013).  But Beaudoin is hardly the only author falling into this trend at the moment, so I give him a pass – especially since the book itself rocks (both literally and metaphorically).

Beaudoin is clever and captures the heart of what it is both to be a teenager and a boy, probably because he has some experience in both.  His writing is raucously delightful (but make no mistake, some will take great offense at the language and sex) and has a fast pace.  At the same time, Beaudoin sheds light on the great themes of literature: the discovery of self, coming of age, grief, coping mechanisms (flawed and fruitful), relationships of all sorts, and the great challenge of not only trying to exist, but to live life and to live it well.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X23sWj8d4dI]

Bonus Points for:

  • Successfully using a non-linear narrative (some people don’t, Beaudoin does)
  • Having Sudden use a condom
  • Characters with both depth and shallowness all at once
  • A great guy friendship
  • Clever and witty dialogue, it’s like he is writing the guy version of Gilmore Girls (in my world, that’s a compliment)
  • The intro and wrap-up that make it seem like a sort of Behind the Music/Where Are They Now look at the teenage life of Ritchie Sudden.  Fun.

Wise Young Fool is a great pairing with Winger by Andrew Smith, Me, Earl and The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, Reality Boy by A. S. King and a Bad Day for Voodoo by Jeff Strand.  Also great for teens on the verge of ending high school who are wondering “what’s next”.  And for those of you making book lists, this title includes journal writing, boarding school and being sent to a juvenile detention center as well as grief, divorce, and GLBTQ themes (Sudden’s mom enters into a happy, healthy relationship with another woman after her divorce from Dad Sudden).

3.5 out of 5 stars.  There is a moment of triumph and inspiration in Wise Young Fool that will remind older readers of the scene in Dead Poets Society when all the students stood on their desk, just to use a dated reference.  No dystopias, no teenage assassins, just the moving and entertaining story of a punk ass kid who is hurting that learns that maybe he doesn’t need to be such a wise young fool, or a fool at all. Definitely recommended.  Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin comes out today, August 6th, 2013.  ISBN: 9780316203791.

If you don’t already, follow Beaudoin online because he also writes excellent stuff on his blog there.  There are not many authors that I follow online, but he is one.  

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