Ah spring is pushing up jonquils and young love is in the air. If images of fresh face youths courting fair-haired maids with handfuls of flowers comes to mind when you think of young love, well, Constantine’s young adult novel, The Promise of Amazing, will disabuse you of such daydreams. Contemporary teenage romance has little to do with June and Ward Cleaver scenarios despite some sharing of milk and Oreo cookies. Welcome to the world of boy and girl prep schools for the children of lawyers, catering business owners and real estate agents. These people don’t worry about having enough food or clothing for their families. Their concerns are with social status and money-making in the realm of suits and ties. Their teenage children are highly aware of clothing labels, drinking, drugs, and sex. This is the world of who might become who — or not. Enter quiet good girl Wren Caswell whose relationship self-confidence quotient has had a hard knock from what she refers to as a “hump and dump” with a young lad with no interest in anything more than sex before he heads off to college campus and the rest of his life–without looking backwards. It doesn’t help her college dreams any when the guidance counselor unwittingly makes callous remarks about who is and isn’t Harvard material. From stage left-wing comes talented bad boy Grayson Barrett who has been forced to face the music of academic misconduct for selling papers to other students–oddly enough none of the buyers seem to have suffered any consequences for creating a demand for Grayson’s product. These boys are working out their future manners of behavior for being successful in a corrupt mainstream world which rewards doing whatever you do to be successful as long as you don’t get caught. The lads of St. Gabe’s have more than plagiarism on their questionable efforts plates. Meanwhile, Sacred Heart’s lasses are mistresses of manipulation and serious verbal aggression. Some of their hearts and minds are very short on sugar and very high on arsenic. Wren and Grayson are not exactly Juliet and Romeo material—or are they? There is serious potential for tragedy if some life lines don’t get straightened out with some positive choices. In today’s American mainstream culture they’re the kids with all kinds of opportunities — yet, they’ve got some very steep learning curves regarding relationships, peer pressure, family issues, values and sexuality which all children, and adults, encounter.
Robin Constantine delivers a touching young love story set in what is now the normal context, with variations on degrees depending on location, that teenagers move through today. It’s a landscape rift with absent parents, underage drinking, rebellion, drug use, and sexual explorations often without any emotional attachments. Emotions are problematic for teenagers and the young people in The Promise of Amazing have emotional issues in spades. There are a lot dysfunctional families across the spectrum of social economic class lines. Yes, there is a very serious class structure in America based on economics–the idea of a society where everyone is equal is an ideal, not a reality. This isn’t a The Catcher in the Rye world–this is post Salinger–the phoniness of the deluded game playing adult world is almost a cliché today. The children mimic it to no small end. With friends like his, it’s a wonder Grayson and his social peers are all not headed straight to jail before graduating from high school. Yet, Constantine manages to avoid falling into a cynical narrative of all things troubling teens. Wren’s practical step right up and deal with the problem nature sets things in motion when she meets Grayson by saving him from choking to death while everyone else stands around watching the show at her family’s catering hall– called Camelot. Of course, one thing leads to another as Constantine develops the plot via chapters alternating Wren’s and Grayson’s perspective. This is one of the things I enjoyed most about this young adult novel–the effort to present the perspectives of both sexes to tell their story. What goes through the minds of teenage boys and girls isn’t exactly the same–but they’ve got a lot more common ground regarding issues than they often realize when they’re struggling to communicate with each other even though texting seems to make it all so simple.
I watched her disappear up the block, her plaid skirt swaying. When she was out of sight, I landed with a thud and walked back to the reality of the ER. I pulled Wren’s scarf up to my nose, inhaling her scent and getting dizzy all over again. I was happy to have my face covered–no one walks into the hospital with a grin that wide unless he’s heading to the psych ward. But I couldn’t help it.
She kissed me.
The Promise of Amazing is a an easy read writing-wise, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s about easy things. It’s not. It offers a certain very dark slant on contemporary teenage world. This novel portrays a young couple’s efforts at dealing with family, friends and love relationships without any magic or supernatural elements to distract from real life issues. Constantine manages to make us care what happens to Grayson and Wren as individuals and as a couple with some definite potential for being a lot more than a “hump and dump” round. They both need and want more than that even though their hormones are certainly giving them a workout–complete with condoms. It’s the promise of sharing a genuinely caring relationship that gets these two together. What’s unsettling is just how hard that is to find despite all the musical hype about it. In a world of broken homes, second and third families, amoral role models and shallow values, experiencing and sharing some real love is no easy deal.
What’s the teen in your world reading?
Robin Constantine’s site –>> http://robinconstantine.com/ http://robinconstantine.com/books.html