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Hilarious, Over-The-Top... Unebelievable... Totally Enjoyable!

  • Jan 6, 2010
With the release of Youth in Revolt into theaters soon, it seemed apt to read the book.  Young Adult is one of my favorite and least favorite genres in fiction.  When they're done well, they're usually fantastic.  Sometimes better than most adult books (books such as Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, or The Perks of Being a Wall Flower by Stephen Chbosky, or Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson).  They can be fun books, but they're hard to tackle.  Often times they're written from someone who is trying to be cool and you get the sense the author has somehow decided to dumb himself or herself down to a teenage level (which, in my view, is very insulting to teenagers).  And they try to use this sort of hip and "cool" language but most times the books just end up being stupid.  The reason the books I listed above worked so well was because they didn't try so hard.  You don't have to be "cool" or even comedic genius to work well for young adults (though The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a hilarious read) they just carried on reading like adult novels, but centered on teenage protragonist. 

On one hand, Youth in Revolt isn't exactly like that, but it does another technique that sort of annoys me with Young Adult Literature.  While most Young Adult Literature novels try to be cool they at least tend to have their teenage protagonist acting like teenagers.  Youth in Revolt sort of tries too hard not to be cool and hip that in the end the characters seem completely unreal due to their language.  Youth in Revolt can be funny and entertaining (it's certainly well written) but it's hard to imagine characters like this.  You have to give C.D. Payne credit for his ambition, though and being able to craft such a... well... odd story.

You might say Youth in Revolt is three books in one.  A trilogy of sorts.  Each part of the book has its own plot, while making references to the previous ones.  It's basically a trilogy.  

Youth in Revolt is about a kid named Nick Twisp.  He's 14 years old and a complete and total genius.  The book tries very hard to play that genius card by making Nick use ridiculous words that even with the knowledge that you're reading about a 14 year old genius... still makes him come off as though he's trying to sound smart rather than him actually being smart.  He does certain things that show his genius, but in the end Nick is mostly just a confused adolescent.  Actually it's sad because if C.D. Payne didn't try so damn hard to show us that Nick was smart he'd actually be an easy character to relate to. 

Anyway, it focuses on Nick Twisp as he tells his story through diary entries.  Nick is 14 and has slowly come into his own sexual awakening.  Yeah, in the end it's mostly a story about a teenager trying to get laid, but at least it goes beyond that.  Youth in Revolt is a very LONG novel.  At over 500 pages and well over 200,000 words (that's how you measure the length of a novel guys... by word count, not by the number of pages) it's a pretty epic Young Adult novel.  It's divided into three parts.  In the first we meet Nick as he discovers sexuality for the first time.  While on a trip with his mother and her boyfriend he meets a girl named Sheeni Saunders who just happens to be a genius as well.  The first part, aptly named "Youth in Revolt" explores just how the two met and when Sheeni goes off somewhere, Nick decides that the only way to get to her is to revolt.  Because if he does this, he'll be given over to his father who just happens to live near the school that Sheeni attends.  His teenage rebellion goes a little farther than that and lands him into some hot water with the police... thus he ends up going to live with his father... but only because it's a means to get away from the police.

The second part, "Youth in Bondage" is pretty much the story of him getting to that school where he can see Sheeni, only to find out that's she's been shipped off to a private school for all girls only.  It's unfortunate for him, but he does have the means to get there.  So he stops by for a visit, but learns that Sheeni doesn't want to return.  He gets mixed up with a few friends and into some strange relationships but through it all still wants Sheeni Saunders and he devises a plan to get her kicked out of the school.  Of course, his plan works all too well and eventually gets him into even more trouble... at the same time the police figure out what it is that he's done and decide to go locate him at his father's place.  The way everything just sort of stacks up in the second part of the book seems like it's there to prepare for the sheer absurdity of the third.

The third part is called "Youth in Exile," and in this third part things just become too absurd in the novel.  With it being as long as it is, you'd think the novel with flesh things out and take its time developing these absurdities.  The second part already left off on a huge absurd level as it seems like everyone is gunning after Nick.  In the third part he finds himself in California with his sister, and then returns to where the location of the second part, thanks to the help of a friend who, in turn, just happens to have a Grandma who died and an empty house that Nick can stay in so that no one knows he's back in town, and so that he can hide out there until the police stop searching for him.  Of course, his whole motivation for going back is for Sheeni.  But how will he get to her?  Nick devises a plan to start cross dressing, and attend the school as a girl named Carlotta.  This MIGHT be laughable if it weren't for the fact that C.D. Payne had already put so much absurdity into it before hand.  That's not to say it isn't hilarious, but my goodness does it make you wonder how far your suspension of disbelief has to go to take it all in.

It may seem picky, but it mostly comes from the fact that so much in the third part is absolutely ridiculous.  Part one, for all it's worth, was actually really good.  Part two was okay, but part three will really test the limits on your suspension of disbelief (and we haven't even talked about how Nick just happens to get rich--oh, uh, "spoiler alert?").  For the most part the book is funny at least, but Youth in Revolt does one of the other things I can't stand too much with Young Adult Literature... and that's unbelievable characters.  Nick and Sheeni in particular, just don't feel like fourteen year olds.  They do typical stupid things, but their constant use of the word "darling" and using all these big words in sentences makes them seem as though they're trying to be geniuses rather than actually being geniuses.  C.D. Payne just doesn't do enough to make you realize Nick is supposed to be incredibly smart.  Not when much of what happens to him is the result of luck--both good and bad.  You might start yelling at me saying that perhaps that was part of the point: Nick isn't as smart as he thinks he is, but book doesn't actually make it clear.  To its credit, though, since the story is being told through Nick's eyes it's hard to really discount that idea... and C.D. Payne does this REALLY well.  You'll appreciate the voice and style that Youth in Revolt utilizes because while Nick and Sheeni just aren't that believable, the narrative is still quick witted and funny and that does help to make them, at the very least, likeable.  You just get the feeling the characters should be a little older than they are (though even now I can't imagine any teenager having an obsession with the word "darling" quite like Nick and Sheeni do).  It seems like most Young Adult Novelist focus either on making their characters absurdly stupid, or too absurdly mature.  There's just not that much middle ground.  There's nothing wrong with say... a 14 year old genius, but it's pretty hard to relate to Nick or Sheeni.  In fact, you're more likely to relate to the supporting cast rather than the main cast.  And this is because the supporting cast just happens to talk like normal people, and their problems don't seem absurdly over the top quite like Nick's do.  Unfortunately, you don't see most of them.

So C.D. Payne actually does more of the opposite in a more extreme direction.  He may not waste his time trying to be cool, but he's also handing you a lot and expecting you to swallow a lot.  "It's a comedy," some of you may say.  "And comedies are often absurd!"  Well, sure, they are.  And make no mistake, there are moments when Youth in Revolt will have you rolling with laughter.  But being a comedy is no real excuse for being non-sensical.  Sometimes stuff like that works, and Youth in Revolt is one of those stories where it barely gets by.  With the quick-witted, black humor at work it's funny--even fun.  And while Nick isn't too believable, he is fairly likeable in his own way.

So it's enjoyable, but as I said before... it really begs for you to make good use of your suspension of disbelief.  As things build up throughout the story I found myself wondering if I was really reading a novel or if I was watching some comedy movie that was supposed to star Vince Vaughn when he was fourteen.  For a movie that's okay because it's a lot easier to visualize.  You know when a movie is supposed to be remarkably zany.  With books it's a little harder to tell.  And C.D. Payne doesn't reserve much of the over-the-top zaniness until the last part of the book.  It just feels like once you get to part three, you're reading a completely different book .  I hear C.D. Payne originally released these three as separate books.  

Put simply, Youth in Revolt isn't a bad book.  Heaven's no.  It's written really well, making great use of humor.  If you're willing to really suspend your disbelief you're apt to enjoy it.  The first two parts of the story are, for the most part, enjoyable.  Even the third part, with its flaws, is pretty enjoyable, but only because the book maintains being funny (though part one is by far the funniest of the entire novel).

Youth in Revolt is going to be a movie starring Michael Cera (...uh...).  I don't really care if the movie is like the book or not, but if you're the type that does... you'd be crazy to think they can condense a book of this length into a faithful adaptation given the constraints of film medium.  This book is over 200,000 words and is over five hundred pages long.  Unless the film adaptation is going to be three to four hours, you're being unrealistic in expecting that it's going to follow the book to a tea (the movie is only 90 minutes long).

In spite of everything, Youth in Revolt has become a pretty big cult classic.  It was orignally published in 1993.  In short, I guess you could say it just hasn't aged as well as it could've.  In '93 the book was probably daring and quite different.  Especially for being aimed at younger readers.  In 2009 it seems a little dated probably because it's too over-the-top.  Nevertheless, with the explosion of the Young Adult Literature genre, recently, Youth in Revolt is still far better than much of what's in the genre in this day and age.  For the most part while Nick isn't believable, he at least has flaws and isn't trying so hard to be your "typical teen."  He isn't, however, quite as timeless as... say... Holden Caulfield.  He's not the kind of character where when you drop his name people will recognize it immediately.  Nick Twisp just isn't one of those characters.  Nevertheless, Youth in Revolt has become a very popular read among Young Adults.  There are more books in the series, though I haven't really looked into them. 

It's not a bad book.  It's a LONG book, but certainly not a bad one.  As the book falls more and more into absurdity you migh tjust keep reading for the sake of having already put so much of it behind you.  Even in its absurdity, though, Youth in Revolt still manages to be fun, which makes it really hard to rate.  I don't LOVE the book, but I do like it enough to say it's above average, probably because it stands uniquely on its own.  It's clever, witty and al around funny--making some of its absurdity much easier to swallow.  And a blast if you really suspend your disbelief.  We'll give it a four just for the sake of it being shear entertainment, but I can't get past some of the unbelievablity of the characters and while the absurdity isn't too bothersome, it can definitely be slightly off putting to those who don't want to suspend their disbelief.

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January 20, 2010
I agree with you in re: of YA fiction. When it's done well -- it's suburb. Brilliant. Often YA books are underestimated as a real work of complex fiction. Another YA book that I really like is John Green's An Abundance of Katherines... it does feature another genius protagonist, but ... it seems more realistic since he's just a bookish fellow who knows too much about history... and there are touches in Green's writing that are just extremely clever. Youth In Revolt is one of my favorite books. I discovered it on accident, really. I can understand how you feel about Nick Twisp being written as being TOO intelligent. But I found that to be kind of part of the humorous aspect of it. But then again, I read it a LONG time ago. But I can see what you're saying...what kind of 14 year old talks like that? And true, the ridiculousness just keeps building, and building towards the end of book 3: Youth In Exile. It just gets really absurd, but for me, that was part of the joy of the process. When the movie version came out I picked it up my copy again to refresh myself before watching it... okay, I only got past the first page ... like you said, it's a BIG book. But from the first page it seems like they lifted those words directly from the text, but the movie version diverges completely from the book, and reading your review reminded me of where it differs. Have you seen the movie version yet?
January 20, 2010
Actually, I have seen the movie and I have a full review of it posted here.  Wasn't a bad movie but a bit ambitious.
January 09, 2010
With all those sections, it does sound like a long book, but one worthy of checking out.  I'll probably check out the movie first though.  Thanks for the great review, Sean!
January 07, 2010
wow! Thanks for the review of the book. I'll surely try to see the movie when it hits theaters.
January 07, 2010
The weird part was that as I was writing the review I came to like the book the more I was discussing it with a friend as I was writing it. We had differing opinions and I grew to respect the book more as we discussed. As far as the movie, I'm not sure if I want to see it. The previews don't actually tell you much, in all honesty.
More Youth in Revolt (book) reviews
review by . July 30, 2010
Watch your Mouth: a Review on the Classic Novel by C.D. Payne
*Spoiler concerning plot*      “Youth In Revolt” by C.D. Payne is a masterpiece of comedy and intellect, all gathered into one realistic fourteen year-old protagonist: Nick Twisp.      As the quintessential anti-hero of the post-modern era, Twisp represents more than just a teenager trying to win the heart of his beloved Sheeni, but rather the youth revolting against society’s standards and pressures.      Payne’s …
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
A hilarious read! Highly reccomended.
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp is a 1993 journal type novel by C. D. Payne. The story is told in a underdog hero fashion and makes heavy use of black humor and camp. The book contains parts one through three of a six-part series (the three sequential parts were published as three separate books).
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Books, Cafe Libri, Cd Payne, Youth In Revolt


Author: C.D. Pay
Genre: Young Adult Fiction

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