Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dear Peter: My Inner Teen Is in Love With Your Inner Teen

Two thirds of the way through Always a Catch, Peter Richmond's first YA novel, budding prep-school football star Jack Lefferts finally gets up the balls to bare his soul to Caroline Callahan, a brainy eleventh-grader with more literary references at her fingertips than the Library of Congress. So what does the kid do? He suddenly busts out—no more Mr. Shy Guy—and barges into her dorm (strictly off-limits), bounds up the stairs, looks both ways and, seeing the coast is clear, rushes to her door and knocks. The door opens:
She was wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants, her hair pulled into a ponytail. "What are you doing here?" she said. "This is stupid, Jack. Booth's a bitch. If she catches you . . . " She pulled me in by my sweatshirt and closed the door. "So whatever you have to say couldn't have waited?"
What did I have to say? Wait, that was easy. "I just wanted to know if . . . if we, you know, are . . . I don't know . . . "
"You're going to have to learn how to finish a sentence, Lefferts, if Jarvis is going to give you an A."
We stood there, stupidly. Then she reached out both her hands, with her palms up. So I put my hands in hers. And maybe then there was some sort of current. It was definitely electric. For me, anyway. She was just totally cool and relaxed.
"We're something," she said. "Why do you have to label it? Now, get out of here. All we need is Booth busting me. Or you."

I am in love with these two kids. Or maybe I'm in love with Peter, whom I met when we worked together at GQ—our relationship centered on the Chicago Manual of Style. He was way past being a kid, and yet he hadn't completely shed that vulnerable wiseass persona that defines adolescence. They say that if you want to write YA fiction, you gotta think like a YA. My guess is that for PR this comes naturally, and I mean that as a compliment.

The book isn't, despite my emphasis, a teen romance. It's about a lonely kid—a throwaway kid from a family of means—who is trying to figure out who he is while negotiating the horrors peculiar to elite boarding schools. There's a lot of football in it. Peter wrote it hoping that boys will read it, even though publishing gurus say they won't because boys don't read books. I'm recommending it here to mothers of boys. And fathers of boys. And teachers of boys. And anybody else who loves boys. I just hope Jack and Caroline get together before he gets busted for something stupid and Dad packs him off to boot camp.

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