Twelve by Nick McDonell

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Twelve is about rich, mean kids in New York, a drug dealer called White Mike, a boy called Hunter arrested wrongly for murder, a whole lot of other interconncted people, a bunch of little stories of lonely, crazy kids living exhorbitant lives, that culminates in a big party. And I can't think of a different way to describe it without giving away too much. I don't think this book is a YA - though the characters seem to be mostly between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, and a number of the themes are relevant to an upper YA audience (drug use, etc), it is very intense, overwhelmingly violent, and seems to lack any goodness (there are a couple of characters, like Molly and maybe White Mike, who have redeemable qualities, but they're overwhelmed by unpleasant characters and events). Obviously this isn't a criticism, since it's clearly intended that the book be like this, but I'd warn anyone who doesn't like violence/sexual themes/drug use/etc in a book to steer clear of this one. It really depends on the individual, but I wouldn't recommend this to anyone under sixteen.

That said, I'm not someone who likes novels like this, so I'm probably not the best to review it, but I wanted to have a think about what I did and didn't like about it (maybe someone reading likes books like this? Or if you have a weak stomach, you'll decide not to pick it up). Most YAs have some goodness in them, some hope at the end - this was absolutely entirely depressing, and I think probably wasn't meant for a teenage audience.

I really, really hate to bring up the author's age here, but I think it's relevant and quite interesting - it was written about ten years ago when the author was seventeen, so I assumed it was intended for a teenage audience (I don't know how I'd write purely for an adult audience as a kid. I think a lot of adult literary fiction lacks the hopefulness that I love about YA). I was also very surprised by how dark and violent it was - as in, very dark and violent. And - oh gosh, I hate to say this, it's terribly hypocritical - I don't think the book would've gotten the rave reviews it had were the author ten or fifteen years older. It's sure good for a first book, and I would probably like it more if this book were more my style, but I think the author has probably developed a lot as a writer since.

I liked the number of characters involved (though I wish I empathised with more of them - I liked a couple, but I think the rest were intentionlly nasty, and I found that unrealistic - I don't know a single teenager that horrible, and here's a dozen of them), and there were a few different parts were I really quite liked the writing - it's very clean and sparse. I liked White Mike as a character, and the italicised memories.

It's a lot like the Basketball Diaries and it's a lot like Less Than Zero and it reminded me vaguely of Gossip Girl with drugs, guns and gratuitous violence. It took me three goes before I managed to read the entire thing, and I'm not entirely sure whether I'm glad I did or not. I felt about it how I felt about The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler when I read it, aged twelve - sure, it was well-written. But it's difficult to enjoy a book that's disturbing. But I get why there's a market for books like this - the same reason people like Underbelly and Law and Order and true crime shows and all those. Because everybody lives ordinary lives and bad, horrifying stuff is exciting, as long as it's in a book or on TV and not in reality.

Also: It's being made into a film with Kiefer Sutherland and Chace Crawford. Interesting.

*The cover pictured above is one of the Australian covers, the one that I have.
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