Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Sixth Form

The Sixth Form, by Tom Dolby
$16.32 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 0758222580
The greatest mystery of life is who we truly are. 
This is a brilliant and exciting new coming-of-age story, which elegantly captures the emerging of one's own identity during adolescence.
It's set at an elite prep school in Massachusetts. A bit of a cliche, I'll admit, but the reader is still rewarded.
Ethan is seventeen and a senior in high school (in private school, seniors are called "Sixth Form"). He arrives at Berkley Academy as his mother is dying of cancer. Soon he becomes best friends with his roommate, a studly and sexually ambiguous boy named Todd.
Todd introduces Ethan to smoking cigarettes, to marijuana; and 
later, to his high-class friends 
and family on the Upper West Side. 
The two young men develop a peculiar and sometimes awkward, yet still beautiful friendship. Ethan is deeply in love, almost at first sight. The author perfectly captures the overwhelming longing of love at seventeen.
Can you remember it?
In short: a somewhat naive teenager with a dying parent gets caught up in a whirlwind of luxury, privilege, and adolescent lust. It's a positive feast for the senses.
The scene is shared by an English teacher in her 30's named Hannah. 
She's a hedonistic and deeply untrustworthy woman who befriends the two boys. They're both captivated by her free spirit and the heady thrill of having an adult for a friend. Soon the two find themselves caught up in the consequences of her bizarre and unnerving past.
In fact, much of the book focuses on Hannah's past, which I won't get into here to avoid giving the story away. It's fascinating, and it would be unjust to try to summarize it here in a few lines. I will tell you that she "outs" one of her students to his mother, during the first scene in which she appears.
Deeply untrustworthy.
This book is complex, emotional, but best of all: no one suffers too badly. In spite of numerous character flaws, the characters all come across as pretty likable and the reader continually wishes good things for them. They're all just a bit foolish.
The protagonist is gay, but the story doesn't dwell on his homosexuality, nor does he he seem to be especially self-loathing. Good for him.
This is Tom Dolby's second book. His first, Trouble Boy, is also worth checking out. In addition to being a good writer, he's also a very handsome man (right).
It's A Separate Peace but not so depressing, or Catcher In the Rye only the protagonist is not an asshole. It's sensitive, absorbing, and I just loved it. Great work, Tom!

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