Who better to write about the youth than the youth themselves? Ben Brooks captured modern youth flawlessly in his 2011 novel Grow Up. This brutally honest novel stars Jasper Wolf - the 17 year old version of the author himself. While writing the novel, Brooks’ publisher tried to sway him from adding his own characteristics to his character. Brooks disagreed, and adding his own traits to a fictional character proved to be successful. In the end, it enabled the storyline to be more relatable than the majority of young adult literature out today.
Trying to convince everyone that his stepfather murdered his ex wife, passing school exams, and exempting himself from fatherhood are only some of the challenges Jasper faces in Grow Up. He and his friends just barely get by each day with the help of cheap alcohol and drugs, along with numerous tobacco breaks in between. Although you may not impregnate someone after a one night stand on ketamine, you will definitely find a way to relate to Jasper. Grow Up is written as if it were an insiders view into Jasper’s (Ben’s) mind, and you can’t help but fall in love with him as the book goes on. Jasper sees himself a perfectly fine and normal teenager, until he realizes that he isn’t who he thought he was. Dealing with his classmates suicide, his best friend’s relationship ending, and his unborn baby cause him to reconsider who he really is. Although some people may only see this book as nothing but sex and drugs, it does have a deeper meaning to it. It is about growing up, and the ups and downs that come with it. It’s written in a way that makes you rediscover yourself over and over again.
Brooks grew up in Gloucestershire, England and began writing at a very young age. Grow Up was his first mainstream novel, which was written when he was only 18 years old. His inspiration came from well known American writer Tao Lin, and Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. He mentions Murakami in his writing, saying “Murakami makes me feel safe and positive. I wish Murakami was my stepdad. Murakami would never murder my mum.” He incorporates both of their styles into his writing, which forms the unique inner monologue feel of Grow Up. Brooks is also the author of books such as Fences and the newly published Lolito, which is a spin off of the famous novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
One common comparison is between Grow Up and the British TV show Skins. Skins features a group of teenagers that are portrayed to be partying misfits, but are actually all fairly attractive and well off. That same stereotype is often applied to Grow Up. People often feel as though he’s following in the same footsteps as many young authors - trying to be unique while still being a cliche. The rebel group of partying teens is long played out by now, but Grow Up has a certain touch to it that makes it feel as though it were the only (and most important) book of that matter.
Brook’s taste and style is somewhat concerning when first reading this novel. His use, or lack thereof, of consonants emphasizes every emotion individually along with the short, simple sentences that are used. Although his writing seems simple and amature, it contains a depth that unfolds throughout the reading. His comparisons are often questionable, such as when he describes his best friend Tenaya’s house. “It is huge and victorian, with ivy curling up the front like a pedophile’s fingers.” These uncomfortable comparisons keep the story interesting, as if you never know what he’s going to say next. His use of detail is often, keeping the story alive. It’s as if this were a true documented story rather than a work of fiction.After reading this novel, I’m left with the feeling of wanting more. Although it would of been great to continue this story, it was perfect timing to end where it did. Grow Up should be a staple in every young person’s reading list. It was written about teenagers by a teenager, so it’s realisticness is unbeatable. It opens up new doors to what life could be like, and provides a sense of hope for even the worst situations. I would highly recommend this book for people who enjoy young adult literature, realistic fiction, or just gritty coming of age work. Brooks is still young, and I predict his work will be getting better with age.
Grow Up / Ben Brooks / Penguin Group / 2011 / 260 Pgs / Fiction