Tuesday, November 6, 2012

These Things Happen : Review

A vibrant, fresh coming-of-age novel, the first from an Emmy and Peabody Award winning writer?  Don't mind if I do.

A contemporary fiction for mature young adults (Oxymoron? no.) that will be read with relish by adults as well, one that's both laugh-out-loud funny on nearly every page and surprisingly moving in all the right places?  Hand it over pronto, please.

And shift over a seat, John Green, Libba Bray, and David Levithan, 'cause a worthy peer just stepped up to the table.

It's These Things Happen.  And he's Richard Kramer.

What's it about?  (From the PLC Tour site.)
THESE THINGS HAPPEN takes place right now, even as we speak … it’s the tale of a modern family, set among Manhattan’s progressive, liberal elite, the adults all prominent in their professions, rearing their children to be the same, confident that nothing much can harm them, ever.

The story starts when WESLEY BOWMAN, 16, sharp and funny and defiantly individual, moves downtown from his book editor mother’s home on the Upper East Side home to live with his father and his partner for the fall term of school; Wesley, becoming a man, feels the time has come for him to more closely know (his words here) the “man from whom I did, actually, spring.” Kenny, who came out after his marriage to Wesley’s mom ended, is a much-honored gay-rights lawyer, a regular on Rachel Maddow, Charlie Rose, a frequent contributor to the Op-ed page of the New York Times.

But Wesley, when he moves in, finds his father distant and inaccessible; he has much more luck connecting with his father’s partner, George, a former actor/dancer who now runs a theater district restaurant. George is present, genuinely interested, fully at ease with himself; all the things Kenny is not. He and Wesley become like father and son, really, and not because George is in any way trying to supplant Kenny. It’s just that these things happen.

Then everything changes. When Wesley’s closest friend surprises him and everyone else when, after being elected class president, he comes out at the end of his acceptance speech. The two boys find themselves at the center of an act of violent, homophobic bullying (even though Wesley is straight). Within the family, tolerant facades crumble as George, suddenly, becomes suspect. Wesley’s mom values and cares for him, and has worked to have a relationship with him, as she suspects this will assure the presence of Kenny in Wesley’s life. But, now, with Wesley in the hospital being held for observation (“When did I,” she wonders, “turn into someone whose kid is held for observation?”) isn’t it her duty to wonder and worry about what might have been going on when her back was so progressively turned? Did she fail to keep her son safe? Does she, indeed, know him? Does she know George, so delightful and pleasing, an author of agreeable evenings? And, more worryingly, does this accomplished, insightful, deeply curious woman really, in the end, know herself?
Why does this novel rise above so many competent yet cookie-cutter works featuring teen protagonists?

First, Kramer's created richly nuanced, smart, funny, and likable characters.  He demonstrates compassion for each character's imperfections, while offering us qualities to admire and aspire to in his protagonists and supporting characters as well.  

Second, the novel explores the complexities of a variety of salient contemporary topics, from parent-child relationships to blended families to "coming out" as a teenager to surviving in these times of economic uncertainty.  The events in this page-turning, smart new novel range from lightly comic to downright heart-breaking, and that's just the way most readers like their coming-of-age novels. 

And finally, the writing itself sings. When I read to review, I post a sticky note at every telling turn of phrase, every sentence I wish I'd written myself, so I can return to these tasty morsels as I pull my thoughts together.  Here's These Things Happen, with stickies.  Few were the pages I didn't mark.
To my mind, these are hallmarks of a book destined to endure, and to offer fruitful re-readings over the course of a lifetime.  I think this is one of those books.

And you don't have to take my word for it.  First, hop over to the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon to read the first pages of this novel, or to the book's featured page at its publisher, Unbridled Books.

Then go get it for yourself.


p.s.  My actions?  If Richard Kramer comes to town on his book tour, I'll get myself to his appearance.  And he's inspired me to start saving for another trip back to NYC a.s.a.p.

In a Nutshell:  Recommended, for mature young adults and adults too. While the plot events and themes of Richard Kramer's first novel require a mature reader, it's the perfectly-pitched language and smart, decent, endearingly imperfect characters that will keep you reading and leave you wanting more from this new voice in contemporary, young adult fiction. 


trish said...

I couldn't agree more that the hallmark of a great book is one that makes you want to remember just about every page. The last book I read like that ended up in my top 3 favorite books of all time. :)

Thanks for being on the tour!

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

And once again you leave me practically breathless with your review and filled with regret that I didn't do a better job of it myself.

Laurie said...

Invitation to Ms. E: Could you possibly move out here and live inside my head?
I've never once read one of your reviews and mused, "Gee, couldn't she have done it better?"
All praise to the fates for putting the two of us together in cyber space and across the miles: It's so fine to find a kindred spirit who spurs me on with her own excellence and who encourages me too.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I use sticky notes myself to mark "golden lines" along the way as I read :) I thought the writing in this one was incredible!! Enjoyed your review!

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