March 06, 2006

Not Quite Fast Enough

I don’t normally gravitate towards "edgy" fiction, but when I saw Kate Cann's trilogy Hard Cash, Shacked Up, and Speeding at the library, I got a little curious about what the British take on edgy YA fiction might be.

The story is told from the viewpoint of sixteen-year-old Rich, who lives with his working-class parents while attending "college" (no real U.S. equivalent to this—we'd be in the last two years of high school, while in the U.K. they start on a more focused course of study and prepare for exams and possibly university). In Hard Cash we find out that Rich—for no apparent reason other than being from a poor family—has a huge chip on his shoulder about being poor and is obsessed with money and status. So much so that, in this first installment of the trilogy, I could find few, if any, redeeming qualities to his character.

The only other thing on his mind seems to be getting it on with this idiotic, empty-headed, utterly bitchy, but gorgeous girl at his school, named Portia. He even begins to realize how irrational this is, but his obsession continues, and she feeds into it almost willingly, because she wants to be the center of attention. It becomes really grating very quickly, this whole dynamic. I began to wonder why I should have any sympathy for this character at all, when he showed only the very rare glimpse of worthwhile behavior. Rich's own family boils down to angry, controlling father; feckless, worn-out mother; and resentful, bratty younger brother; so maybe he learned it from somewhere. Only Nick and Barb, who serve as surrogate parents, are likeable in this book. And Bonny, a potential love interest, but I don't want to give too much away.

Honestly, the only thing that kept me reading this book at times was the fact that the writing was very, very good. I really bought what a jerkwad this guy was, and the dialogue and interactions were skillfully done and occasionally hilarious. I just couldn't stand him; and by the end, he didn't exhibit enough of a change in character for me to justify having spent so many pages on him.

By then, though, I was admittedly curious about what was going to happen to him, because some plot threads were left undone. So I went on to the second book, Shacked Up. And here I was pleasantly surprised. Shacked Up was just so much better, plot- and character-development-wise. Rich actually learns something from living on his own; he starts to see Portia for the horrid bitch she is; and his roommate Bonny, his boss Nick, and Nick's unconventional but happy family all start having a positive influence on him. He shows that there's more to him than superficiality. But he ends up needing to make a choice between keeping the gorgeous but awful Portia or kind Bonny who really needs a good friend and a place to stay.

The second book was so much better that I went on to finish the trilogy. The third installment, Speeding, involves Rich, and Bonny, and things they learn from and about each other as they get to know each other on a real, rather than superficial level. Rich starts to realize a lot of things about himself that he had no idea even existed (nor did I, for that matter, after the first book pretty well established him as a total jerk). Then they find out that Bonny's best friend has been sucked into a cult, unwillingly, by her domineering boyfriend. The two rush off to try to rescue her, learning even more about their relationship in the process. Very exciting.

I kind of see this trilogy as a series of relationship novels cleverly disguised as edgy guy fiction. For me, the first book—though it did set things up for the remaining two—was clearly less fully developed than the other two. But maybe that first book was aimed to attract male readers with limited interests, since it focuses mainly on questions like "how am I going to get Portia to go out with me?" and "how can I earn more money so I can attract Portia and get her to go out with me?" And then those readers would go on to the other books and actually—like Rich—learn something. But that first book annoyed me because of the character's total lack of depth, and because nobody's actions seemed to have really serious consequences. I'm so glad that changed in the rest of the trilogy. I ended up truly getting caught up in the story, and cheering for Rich in the end. If you can fight through your utter annoyance at Rich in the first book, the other two will be worth reading.

1 comment:

tanita s. davis said...

I'm really interested that this was written by a woman - I look forward to reading them (sort of!) since I think that a woman's viewpoint in a traditionally 'boy book' or series of books makes a difference.