Thursday, August 30, 2007

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, by Peter Cameron

Reading up on the Larry Craig scandal this morning, I couldn't help but think to myself, "Someday, this pain will be useful to you, Senator."

You see, I just finished a new YA novel, a first YA novel, by the accomplished author Peter Cameron: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You. It's a beautifully written book, due to appear in bookstores this October. Unfortunately, it's also a bit of a deviation from my research project, as it will be under consideration for a YALSA book award next year. But what the heck, I am going to write about it anyway, mainly because I just read it and it is so good and pertinent to what is going on in the world today.

At the center of this novel is James Sveck, an eighteen year old New Yorker headed to Brown University in the next month or so. James is a smart young man working in his mother's art gallery in Manhattan. He is the quintessential New York sophisticate, much like Holden Caulfield, with the exception that unlike Holden, he is clearly confused about the nature of his sexual orientation.

James's confusion leads him to behave in awkward, problematic, and ultimately stupid ways (though he does nothing quite so stupid as pleading guilty to a crime he claims in hindsight he never committed). James is not alone in his confusion and stupidity: his divorced parents are equally guilty, as are his sister, his therapist, and even the art gallery manager whom he secretly loves. The only sensible and mature character in the novel is James's grandmother, an engaging old lady with a penchant for rye and water.

Set in the context of post-9/11 New York, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You explores the challenge of acting responsibly and productively in a world that seems nothing but a catalyst for pain and grief. Peter Cameron's wonderful prose, his eye for the complexities and paradoxes in contemporary society, and especially his ultimately hopeful attitude toward James and the other characters make this a very special novel to read.

My only complaint is that the first part of the novel is not structured or voiced in the most productive way. Early on, readers are likely to get at least a little confused as Cameron flips back and forth between the past and the present. More significantly, the narrator, James Sveck, uses language that is not repeated elsewhere in the novel and that is sure to prevent most English teachers from incorporating this book into their curriculums. Nevertheless, the second half of the novel is just about perfect, and gives me hope that Peter Cameron will produce other material in the future that teachers can use in their courses.

In the meantime, I recommend this book for reading by older teens and young adults, including Senator Craig. It might help him deal with the beating he is taking out on the web (see below), as well as some of the other personal issues that he is facing.

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