Wednesday, May 27

Carter FInally Gets It, part two


by Brent Crawford
Hyperion 2009

In a phrase: strangely compelling meets fiercely flawed.

Will Carter, freshman, has Attention Deficit Disorder (or so he says) and the pressing desire to no longer be a virgin. He's got his sights set on Amber Lee, the untouchable hottie, but it appears he's destined to hook up with the previously chubby Abby who's body spent the summer moving all her baby fat to her chest.

Because Carter has ADD he finds himself easily distracted. It doesn't prevent him from joining the football team. Or being one of the area's top swimmers. Or from trying out and landing the lead in the school musical, all because his particular ADD requires Carter to maintain focus.

Along the way Carter and his crew find themselves at parties where houses are routinely destroyed by drink kids, cars are driven wildly by drunk teenage occupants, and are physically menaced by older psychopathic teens among the general population at school.

Oh, did I mention Carter has ADD?

Let me get this off my chest right now. Carter saying he has ADD doesn't make it so. He has problems staying on track, occasionally has to write things down on his hand, makes a lot of unfiltered comments that lead to hurt feelings... but it reads more like average teenage boy to me, not ADD. Additionally, Carter and his friends refer to friends, enemies, and each other as retards and faggots just as often as Carter calls himself ADD. In my experience, kids will adopt an affectation or self-diagnose themselves as a way of communicating to others that, what might seem like unusual behavior is in fact them working out who they are. A kid who refers to himself as psychotic or demented isn't necessarily either of those things, and what we look for in determining whether these characters are truly what they say they are in fiction is through their behavior.

So as Carter claims his disorder his behavior does not support this. His school has culled some of the more violent kids and placed them in special classes where their violence can be modified, and you would suspect the school would have learning specialists as well for kids with disabilities, but Carter has regular classes and goes about his life with everyone treating him normally. That isn't a bad thing, except that very little of Carter's issues are specific to ADD. He has difficulty with behaving or saying appropriate things, but hormones and dietary issues could just as easily be the cause. At one point later in the book, Carter is instructing his best friend EJ on how to pick up girls, a lesson his older sister has given him out of a shred of kindness and perhaps a recognition that her kid brother is a little different. When he tells EJ to ask questions and act disinterested, his best friend takes this instruction literally and combines the two to ask insulting questions of a girl who runs away in tears. Isolated from the rest of the book, a reader would assume EJ was the kid with problems, not Carter.

Putting that aside, I nearly gave up on this book a half dozen times. What starts as a series of vignettes about freshman life eventually begins to coalesce around a hundred pages in. It's around this time that I realized that Carter Finally Gets It is a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl story trapped beneath all the excess baggage of a modern YA novel. The problem is, the story only works because of these excesses. If Carter and his nemesis Andre weren't both on the football team and the swim team, if Andre didn't steal Abby away from Carter, if Carter and Abby didn't wind up as leads opposite one another in the school play... man, that's a lot of 'ifs' piled up there.

Additionally, I'd hate to assume so calculated a move, but this and a few other books I've seen this season seem to rely on horny, raunchy boys to appeal to its audience. The argument that "this is how kids talk today" doesn't work here. Hanging around and listening to a bunch of teens talking at a pizza joint may be authentic, but it doesn't actually provide us any insight into their personalities. Aside from verite reportage, steeping a story in the language of teens without making each voice equally unique smacks of a certain level of pandering. Also, don't we have enough problems with boys objectifying and badmouthing girls based on looks? Do we really need books to be so "authentic" that they continue to perpetrate and reinforce chauvinistic behavior?

You would think after all this that I would hate Carter Finally Gets It, but I don't. There is a level of bumbling boy comedy here that I really enjoyed, that haplessness that is the providence of teen boys who just haven't yet figured out how clueless they are. Scenes of Carter riding everywhere on his bike because he's too young to drive slayed me for a variety of personal reasons, not the least of which was because of how close to home they hit. And the cruelty of girls who use the unwitting Carter as a foil for getting around watchful parents is a priceless bit of chicanery that Carter, unfortunately, deserves.

Like I said, I could have dumped this anywhere along the way in the first hundred pages – and that's an awful lot to ask of a reader to go along with – but following that I had a hard time stopping. As flawed as it is compelling, the book should neutralize itself but somehow manages to tip the scales toward readability.

Others have found this LMAO funny and don't seem to have the same problems I have with the book, so proceed accordingly.
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