Review of ‘Grow Up’ by Ben Brooks

Grow Up was recommended to me before I went to university three years ago, back when my love for the novels of  John Green knew no bounds. While Green’s Looking for Alaska  and The Fault in Our Stars are stories that stay with me to this day, I was slightly let down when I read Paper Towns in my final year of university, so I worried that perhaps my love for young adult fiction had passed.

And it quite possibly has, but I’m not sure that’s why I couldn’t enjoy Grow Up. I loved Green’s novels because they came to me at a time where I could really relate to their characters, they were books about love and life and loss at a young age, and it was comforting to me to believe that I wasn’t the only teen experiencing these emotions. The same feeling of relatability was behind my love for The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Here I was reminded of the fear and anxiety that can come during your teenage years, and I found a number of similarities between Charlie and myself.

There were no such feelings when I read Grow Up. There was the briefest acknowledgement of the fear and realisation that life is slowly creeping up on you when you’re a teen. But for the most part of the book, the main characters were high, drunk and sleeping around. In short, the main character was the kind of guy that I hated in my teenage years, and in fact still find ridiculously stupid and irritating. Therefore I never warmed to Jasper, and could never really connect with him or his story.

I felt like, in many cases, Brook’s has tried to emulate the confusion and mixed up emotions that arise in our teenage years that Chbosky and Green create in their novels. But his Jasper is lacking the vulnerability that these other protagonists have, and as such I was unable to ever feel anything other than dislike for him.

The book is advertised as being ‘Laugh out loud funny’ and granted in some areas it was, but not enough to really make me open up and feel anything towards the characters involved.

Really, the only times the book felt real, or relatable were the scenes between Jasper and Tenaya. These were, in my opinion, the only scenes that contained any real emotion. The rest of the scenes were overshadowed by the high volume of drink and drugs, and Jasper’s completely unlikable personality.

Let me just lay out how unlikable Jasper is, for those of you who believe I may be overreacting. This is a seventeen year old boy who has drugged up sex with a girl he repeatedly tells us disgusts him, and then when he regrets it and worries he may have got her pregnant, he send a fake doctor’s letter to her home, telling her she’s pregnant and then another email to try and cover his own tracks. He repeatedly fantasises about rape and does eventually rape a girl (which Brooks essentially dismisses with the few lines ‘is this okay? It seems a bit bad. Slightly unethical. Slightly rapey, maybe.’ and later justifies the rape with the line “It looks like I may have raped her. I mean she wanted to but she probably didn’t want to want to.” Unfortunately, this was the point at which where any hope of me being able to give this novel a decent review vanished in to the abyss.

Until that point I had been more than willing to see the good in the book. I wanted to say, you can see the good in Jasper, you can see his vulnerability, he’s funny and witty and great, intriguing protagonist. But he isn’t. In the scenes where he actually shows empathy and comfort towards Tenaya, it’s like a completely different character to the Jasper we have to put up with for the majority of the novel.

The book’s title is therefore, very appropriate in many ways. Jasper does need to grow up still. But his lack of maturity does not excuse his behaviour in my eyes, and passing off this behaviour as his being a teenager is sick and inexcusable.

So, to the friend who recommended this book to me, I’m very sorry. But this has firmly placed itself on my ‘never again’ pile.


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