One Seriously Messed-Up Week: in the Otherwise Mundane and Uneventful Life of Jack Samsonite by Tom Clempson
|One Seriously Messed-Up Week: in the Otherwise Mundane and Uneventful Life of Jack Samsonite by Tom Clempson|
|Reviewer: Linda Lawlor|
|Summary: Jack's homework essay for English about a week in his life turns into an account of his mission to do three things: get the girl of his dreams to notice him, pass his GCSEs and avoid getting his head punched in. He is only partially successful, however.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 416||Date: June 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
Jack is an endearing lad with all the uncertainties, desires and preoccupations of his ilk. One minute he is worshipping the lovely Eleanor from afar, praising her as a pure and beautiful angel, and the next he is comparing the merits of various girls' mammary glands with his mates. He plays it cool but constantly frets about looking like an idiot; he wants to do well in his exams but skips class with barely a qualm, and he rarely allows something as unimportant as a lesson to intrude on his conversations. He is, in fact, that collection of contradictions, anxieties and bravadoes which is known as the average teenage boy.
Tom Clempson writes in the first person, a risky enterprise at the best of times but especially so when writing about teens, because their language dates so rapidly. He manages to pull it off, though, partly through using standard non-variable slang which has been around for decades, and partly because his hero, Jack, has a fascination with creating new and eloquent words (usually to describe people he doesn't like, and usually with at least a passing reference to certain aspects of human anatomy). Readers beware: there is no getting round the fact that every page of this book is littered with what parents would definitely categorise as bad language, even if they didn't understand most of it. Clempson's aim is to write using exactly the same language Jack would, in all its glorious abundance and colour, and if you want to read the book, then that's the deal. It is a moot point, in fact, whether parents ought to also read this book, to discover what is going on in their offspring's mind: on the one hand it would be seriously educational, but on the other it may prevent them ever getting another good night's sleep.
The book deals with all those universal topics which preoccupy young people, and have troubled them since adolescence was invented. On the surface, Jack is most concerned about getting the girl, and he plans and strategizes like a general to make her notice him. But he is uncertain of himself and even a little shy, and we find during the course of the book that he spends just as much time evaluating his friendships. Like many people he suddenly realises he spends time with his closest companions through habit and serendipity rather than affection, and he makes tentative moves towards a new social grouping as the story progresses, until he reaches that happy point where, as he says, he and another boy are such good friends they can enjoy calling each other gay. His own identity is another source of confusion: he longs to be brave and cool and sporty and handsome, and like many adolescents he experiments with various persona, including one which insists on speaking asides to an imaginary camera. And like many young people, he comes up against the kind of casual violence some of his classmates use instead of speech or reason, so he has to spend much of the book avoiding a bully or subtly forging alliances to gain protection.
All this is done with wit, humour and an irrepressible light-heartedness of tone which makes you want to keep on reading. This book is funny, crude, fresh and authentic, and despite one or two rather convenient turns of the plot, teen readers will love it.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Further reading suggestion: If you want comic stories written in authentic 'teen-speak', try Sue Townsend's accounts of the trials and tribulations of Adrian Mole, which is a classic of the genre. Bookbag has a review of Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years. Louise Rennison does a similar thing for the female voice with Stop in the Name of Pants! and the brilliantly titled Withering Tights.
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