I received this galley in consideration for an honest review.The Tragic Age by Stephen Metcalfe
Published by St. Martin's Press on March 3, 2015
Genres: Young Adult
This is the story of Billy Kinsey, heir to a lottery fortune, part genius, part philosopher and social critic, full time insomniac and closeted rock drummer. Billy has decided that the best way to deal with an absurd world is to stay away from it. Do not volunteer. Do not join in. Billy will be the first to tell you it doesn’t always work— not when your twin sister, Dorie, has died, not when your unhappy parents are at war with one another, not when frazzled soccer moms in two ton SUVs are more dangerous than atom bombs, and not when your guidance counselor keeps asking why you haven’t applied to college. Billy’s life changes when two people enter his life. Twom Twomey is a charismatic renegade who believes that truly living means going a little outlaw. Twom and Billy become one another’s mutual benefactor and friend. At the same time, Billy is reintroduced to Gretchen Quinn, an old and adored friend of Dorie’s. It is Gretchen who suggests to Billy that the world can be transformed by creative acts of the soul. With Twom, Billy visits the dark side. And with Gretchen, Billy experiences possibilities.Billy knows that one path is leading him toward disaster and the other toward happiness. The problem is—Billy doesn’t trust happiness. It’s the age he’s at. The tragic age.
The set-up for this story was one that seemed to pit extreme luck against extreme sadness. The death of Billy’s twin sister is set against the mega-wealth of his parents due to a lottery win and good investments. If ever there was an illustration of money won’t buy you happiness, this is it. Billy’s depression and feelings of isolation seem to be the root of his almost nihilistic view of life, but in his character I also saw a glimmer of desire for love and acceptance. It’s this glimmer that rounded out Billy’s character, and while I wouldn’t call him a likable, he was challenging, complex, and interesting to read. His relationship with Gretchen and his friendship with Twom mirror his inner conflict. He yearns for the stability of Gretchen’s life and everything she represents, but feeds his anger with some of the dangerous things he starts doing with Twom.
The Tragic Age has some very dark moments. Billy is a pretty disturbed kid, all the pain in his life radiating from him with disastrous consequences. His obsession with breaking into homes and simply living in them did a good job of showing the reader how he simultaneously wanted this ‘normal’ life, and resented the people who had it. I appreciate the darkness because this book really committed to it, and while it could be tough to read, the way Billy discovers that people are more complicated than he thinks, just like his grief is complicated, made the book very real. There were sections in the middle that seemed to lose a bit of structure and while he acted out because of grief, I wish that there had been more about his relationship with his sister before her death. Although the ending was a bit glossy compared to the rest of the story, it wasn’t artificially happy, either. The Tragic Age was a sad book, but one that took an unflinching look at someone in pain. I look forward to reading more from this author.