Sean Norwhalt thinks his crappy life is turning around when he meets Hallie and they start dating. But then she leaves for college, and Sean is still stuck in his small town, and he doesn’t know what kind of a future he has, let alone the bright one full of “possibilities” that Hallie keeps talking about. The only things that are looking okay for Sean are the Marine Corps, which he hasn’t told anyone about, and Neecie Albertson, a girl who wasn’t even on his radar before.
Carrie Mesrobian has done it again in her excellent sophomore effort about a “perfectly good white boy” with serious doubts about his abilities and his future. As much a character study as a novel can be, this outstanding novel offers an insightful, honest, and achingly real look at a teenage boy. At times laugh out loud funny and also searingly heartbreaking, this is a standout of a novel, and one of the best of the year. This is a must-read, must-stock title, not to be missed.
Mesrobian demonstrated her uncanny knack for getting into the heads of teenage boys in her debut, Sex & Violence. She continues to excel at that talent here, by presenting a teenage boy so authentic in his portrayal that he feels like a real person. We’ve all known boys like Sean. Some of the readers are Sean. He’s smart but unfocused, perceptive but unknowing, and frequently crassly funny. He’s a good kid who lacks direction. The result is a memorable character readers can’t help but root for.
The secondary characters work just as well. Both Hallie and Neecie feel like fully realized people, and they relate to Sean in realistic, sometimes uncomfortably awkward ways. As Sean navigates his last year of high school, he starts to make realizations about the people around him that feel authentic and natural. Mesrobian never gives her readers too much information, allowing them to go along on the journey with Sean.
Some readers might get tripped up by the fact that the novel doesn’t have any huge events to knock Sean or the other characters on their asses, but that’s kind of the point. Mesrobian’s book is about a kid who is completely normal, and his life reflects that. There’s not supposed to be some huge cataclysmic event between the book’s pages, because that’s not something that happens often in life, either. The result is a measured pace with vivid characters and a moving and satisfying conclusion to the book.
Highly, highly recommended. One of my favorite titles of the year.
Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian. Candlewick: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Edelweiss.