Canongate Books 2011
Jasper Wolf is an average white, middle-class, suburban teenager on exam leave from school but. As with most average teens, studying for his A Levels is pretty low on his list of priorities – actually, it is at the bottom of his list after partying, seducing his dream girl, drugs, more drugs and outing his stepfather as a murderer. This unconventional slice-of-life drama follows Jasper as he staggers from party to gig to therapist while dealing with a few unexpected catastrophes along the way. A heady brew of alcohol, drugs, teen pregnancy and suicide ensues all written so perfectly and wittily that at no point does the subject matter have the depressing effect that you would expect, rather creating a world in which the reader feels instantly interested and invested .
Having read some other reviews of Grow Up I seem to be in the minority but I found Jasper to be a very likeable character. Yes he is self-involved, has a fair few misogynistic tendencies, thinks with the contents of his pants and openly takes advantage of those around him but with all of this Brooks hits the nail right on the head – Jasper is a daft teenage boy and that’s exactly what daft teenage boys are like. At no point is Jasper written to be exceptionally wise or intelligent to the point of being aggravating (as has put me off this type of work in the past) and as cool as he pertains to be, there are some serious Adrian Mole likenesses floating around which always helps on the likeability scale!
I will openly admit that I had serious reservations about this book. I am not normally a fan of “the plight of the average middle-class teen” but by around 50 pages in, Brooks’ humorous and extremely clever narrative had promptly put me in my place. What sets Grow Up apart from so many of its predecessors (and sadly, there are many) is simply that it is properly funny. Jasper’s fixation with his step-father’s supposed sordid past particularly had me laughing aloud and brought comic relief to a piece that could otherwise have easily ended up extremely dark and depressing.
I understand that some readers, noticeably those with teenage children, may have taken umbrage at some of the references made by the author to the protagonists escapades, however, it must be remembered that Grow Up is a work of fiction and is marketed as such. I don’t believe that the author is in any way suggesting that Jasper is the poster-boy for the underground, drug-fuelled cult of British youth today. Jasper is a hugely extrapolated version of all elements of today’s youth – good, bad and ugly.
Grow Up is not for the easily shocked or offended and I would suggest definitely sticking to the upper end of the teen market if promoting to a non-adult audience. It is however, an endearing, unconventional coming-of-age tale containing themes that will resonate with all readers, regardless of their age. Brooks writing is intelligent, humorous, moving and gritty without ever being self-righteous and it had me hooked to the end. A fantastic standalone novel in a world besieged by series’, Grow Up is proof, if ever we needed it, that youth really isn’t wasted on the young.