Monday, November 25, 2019

Thoughts on "Nineteen" by Arly Carmack

I’m continually surprised by my forays into my less-traveled genres by the quality of what’s being produced while I wasn’t “looking.” I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve missed out on a great deal of talent. This book, Nineteen, is a perfect example of what I might have missed out on. Lucky for me, it came highly recommended, and I didn’t foolishly resist. As I’ve aged, I take advice more readily, so I will come right out and say that I advise you to read this book. In other words, I recommend it. Highly.

I think that the world of literature is being tremendously enriched by the ease of publishing for independent writers, by the support of social media groups, and the rise of writing institutions like Nanowrimo. Talented authors, such as Arly Carmack, might have been discouraged by the publishing perimeters mapped out by the “old regime” that required every step one inked towards success had to be on a pre-ordained roadway. Anyway, what’s success today? Writing a great book or making a fortune in sales? A poignant, perceptive book like Nineteen will last forever, and the earnings will dissipate. That means—after all financial and workaday matters are the dust of the cosmos along with all of us—Cameron, whose book Nineteen is, will live as long as there are readers and libraries to service them.

There’s something exciting—and hard to describe—in the pages of this book. The main character, Cameron Metzger (beginning at age 16 and progressing into his 20s), not only came vibrantly alive in my mind as a palpable, believable person, his thoughts and personality felt as if they co-existed inside me independently. This phenomenon continued straight to the final pages as Cameron struggled to cope with the “trials and tribulations” of growing up straight and smart and sincere in a dog-eat-dog world. I lived some of this life and I will attest to the veracity of emotion to be found on Nineteen’s pages. Being a teenager is tough on all of us—and we all have to go over many hills and valleys before we can talk about it sensibly—but it’s never been tougher than it is now to go through it. Young people used to suffer from coping with not being able to get what their hormones were screaming for. Now the problems come from the process of actually achieving physical satisfaction and the consequences that follow it. When young men didn’t get this satisfaction they just didn’t get it, but now young men are faced with the problems that come when they’re the thing that got “got.” Carmack understands this, and she understands it from inside a young, male mind. How? I have no idea, but she does. So, if you think that a woman can’t write from inside a boy’s mind, here’s where you can prove yourself wrong. Just be aware going in—she can see things most male authors wouldn’t. Some things here, therefore, might be a revelation to a male reader. A male reader might be forced into a revisionist stance on his own past or present life.

 There’s no need to go into plot points when there’s a perfectly adequate book description of Nineteen available, and other reviews around various sites that make those points. This is a hard book to discuss without spoilers, and if you come across one, it won’t have leaked from my pen. It’s enough for me to praise the sincerity, integrity, and craftsmanship that went into this undertaking. I give the writer, who is giving us her first novel, a lot of credit. The settings are perfectly visual, and the characterizations of the supporting players go beyond spot-on. Everything here is strikingly believable and deeply convincing. Carmack wisely tells a story where there are no real villains, just flawed families, and less than romantic romances. It was much more interesting because of that. So, take a chance on this book. You have nothing to lose and a lot to remember. Unless you are less than 16 to 19, in which case, this is a tarot reading of your possible future.


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