Unfortunately, no review can do this novel justice.
Originally rejected by dozens of publishers before being self-published by the author, subsequently picked up by Doubleday, being abandoned to out-of-print status, and now enjoying a healthy shelf life as a Main Street Books trade, Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp is quite simply one of the funniest books ever written. The novel has spawned an (unaired) MTV pilot, a German radio drama, a stage play, and hundreds of rabid fans around the world. Those readers who are unwilling to suspend their disbelief or those expecting a modern-day Catcher in the Rye are likely the only ones to be disappointed.
Nick Twisp, the novel’s 13-year-old protagonist is an over-achieving, sex-crazed adolescent whose misadventures wreck havoc up and down the California coast. The novel follows a traditional “quest” narrative (Nick’s seemingly fruitless endeavors to lose his virginity) though a series of increasingly improbable and outlandish scenarios. Divided into three distinct books (“Youth In Bondage,” “Youth in Exile,” and “Youth in Revolt”), the story has an episodic feel to it that allows from the natural progression of Nick’s antics from the mild (faking his best friend’s death) to the extreme (burning down half of Berkeley).
Nick starts as a private-school honor student, a typical teen obsessed with computers and girls. Through both misfortune and triumph, this tale rockets him up and down the California coast, from wealth to poverty and back again (several times), around a vivid cast of characters, many of whom are as depraved and demented as Nick himself.
What makes Youth so unique is its status as an unpretentious modern work of comic fiction. The humor in the novel is derived not from irony or sarcasm, but from character and dialogue. While sometimes painfully infused with many failings common to first novels, the freshness of the narrator’s voice and the unapologetic approach to the sheer ridiculousness of the plot propel the reader from one chapter to the next with reckless abandon.
After some success with the paperback edition and acquiring a substantial following, Payne crafted a sequel, Revolting Youth, that, while both inferior to and more implausible than the original, still entertains. Passages from the original draft of first book not included in the published edition are available along with some of Payne’s earlier, shorter work in Cut to the Twisp.
For many teenagers, Youth in Revolt may serve as a form of wish fulfillment. Even when Nick is at his nadir, he seems to be enjoying himself. For adults, its a look back at an adolescence far more entertaining and eventful than our own. Ultimately, most readers will find themselves smiling infectiously with every turn of the page.
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