Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

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Overview

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is the story of James Sveck, a sophisticated, vulnerable young man with a deep appreciation for the world and no idea how to live in it. James is eighteen, the child of divorced parents living in Manhattan. Articulate, sensitive, and cynical, he rejects all of the assumptions that govern the adult world around him–including the expectation that he will go to college in the fall. He would prefer to move to an old house in a small town somewhere in the Midwest. Someday This ...

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Overview

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is the story of James Sveck, a sophisticated, vulnerable young man with a deep appreciation for the world and no idea how to live in it. James is eighteen, the child of divorced parents living in Manhattan. Articulate, sensitive, and cynical, he rejects all of the assumptions that govern the adult world around him–including the expectation that he will go to college in the fall. He would prefer to move to an old house in a small town somewhere in the Midwest. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You takes place over a few broiling days in the summer of 2003 as James confides in his sympathetic grandmother, stymies his canny therapist, deplores his pretentious sister, and devises a fake online identity in order to pursue his crush on a much older coworker. Nothing turns out how he'd expected.

"Possibly one of the all-time great New York books, not to mention an archly comic gem" (Peter Gadol, LA Weekly), Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is the insightful, powerfully moving story of a young man questioning his times, his family, his world, and himself.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"His best work—it's terrific, piercing, and funny. The novel demonstrates every kind of strength."—David Lipsky, The New York Times Book Review

"James Sveck is a brilliant wit of a character whose voice will echo long after his story ends."—Kristin Kloberdanz, Chicago Tribune

"Deliciously vital right from the start . . . a piece of vocal virtuosity and possibly Cameron's best book . . . It is a bravura performance, and Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is a stunning little book. "—Lorrie Moore, The New York Review of Books

"Cameron's prose handily marries the tangled logic of adolescence to simple, beautiful language."—Peter Terzian, Newsday

"Beautifully conceived and written . . . funny, sad, tender, and sophisticated."—Michael Cart, Booklist

David Lipsky
…his best work—it's terrific, piercing and funny. The novel demonstrates every kind of strength. He offers dry-ice observations ("My grandmother is a firm believer in proper deportment; it is the closest she comes to any sort of religion"), memorable weather ("The sky went dark in a weird green swampy way that gave me a creepy end-of-the-world feeling"), and emotions I didn't believe had descriptions ("I ... just let everything go, turned the net of myself inside out and let all the worried desperate fish swim away"). It's as if Cameron had taken the tools earned over a whole career and applied them to the materials of a first book.
—The New York Times
Luke Davis
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is the story of James Sveck, a young man who is caught in the transitional summer between high school and college. The problem is that he finds himself drawn away from college, because, as he says, "I don't like people in general and people my age in particular, and people my age are the ones who go to college" (p. 39). Comparisons between James and Holden Caulfield are not unreasonable: James is charming, witty, and able to point out what is wrong with everything under the stars. James is an engaging narrator and, even when he does some pretty bad stuff, you still find yourself hoping everything turns out okay for him. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You is equal parts comical and heartrending, but entirely entertaining. Reviewer: Luke Davis
Children's Literature - Joella Peterson
James Sveck does not like the idea of starting at Brown in the fall, and he especially does not like the idea of interacting with people his own age. While he works for his mother at her art gallery the summer between his senior year of high school and first year of college, he looks at old houses for sale in the Midwest in hopes of abandoning the whole college idea his parents are so set upon. James yearns for a simple life where he can just skip over the painful social agony of dealing with (even just talking to) people he does not want to deal with (which is almost everyone). James does not like talking, but Cameron's book shows the inner workings of James' mind and the daily teen angst he deals with. The rich characterization connects readers to James and his struggle to figure out just who he is and what he wants. This brilliant story is perfect for teens who struggle to find themselves—or even just the words to express what they want to say. Reviewer: Joella Peterson
VOYA - Teri S. Lesesne
James Sveck has it all, or so it seems to his family. He is eighteen, accepted into Brown University for the fall, and has a summer job working at his mother's art gallery. From James's point of view, however, life is not so idyllic. His summer job is a joke because hardly anyone ventures into the gallery-instead he has to appear busy and interested. Ditto the prospect of college: James is not certain that he even wants to attend school, uncertain as to why would he want to spend time with people his own age. On the surface, James appears to be just another disaffected product of a privileged life. Readers will discover, however, that there is more to James than his professed disinterest. Profoundly affected by the events of September 11 and his parents' divorce, James coats his wounds and focuses instead on precision in language from his parents and his peers. What saves this novel from becoming yet another story of a rich teen who is bored by his own life is the slow unfolding of the events that have colored James's outlook on life. Cameron is never rushed in the narrative, taking his time to show readers that sometimes the events of one's life can take a toll that is difficult to see at first. James, forced to become more introspective and to seriously consider why he is so dissatisfied with his life, comes to understand that same lesson and to learn that he can not only survive but also rise above his challenges.
School Library Journal

Gr 10 Up

Peter Cameron has crafted a sharp, biting tale (Farrar, 2007) that deservedly has been compared to J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye . The translation to audiobook format is just short of brilliant. Eighteen-year-old James Sveck lives with his upper-crust family in New York City and is ambivalent about many things: his Ivy League future at Brown, his sexual orientation, his dislike of kids his own age. The people in James' life include an artsy mother who came home from her honeymoon alone, a pretentious sister, his smart and funny grandmother, and his co-worker at his mother's art gallery. James meanders through the summer sharing his observations of the world around him. Alarmed at his insistence that he has no use for college, his parents force him into therapy. When James turns inward to examine his ambivalence, the story takes a serious turn. The divorce of his parents left scars and his high school was close to ground zero on September 11th. Narrator Lincoln Hoppe perfectly captures James' wit, sarcasm, pain. The ending is rather abrupt and we never fully understand James' motivations, but this won't be problematic for listeners. With strong language and mature themes, this is a story for older teens.-Tricia Melgaard, Centennial Middle School, Broken Arrow, OK

Kirkus Reviews
Cameron's meticulously voiced novel begins as a comedy of manners, wittily disarticulating a certain class of New Yorker, so it takes the reader awhile to catch onto the fact that it's actually a story about the psychological pain that comes from loneliness and the difficulty in making emotional connections. The virtuoso first-person narrative is related by the protagonist, James Sveck, an 18-year-old boy who is as smart as he is alienated. Hiding his fears behind a curtain of disinterested contempt, James, who is gay but unwilling to either discuss or test it, likes only two people in his life, his wise and accepting grandmother and the man who manages his mother's art gallery. In the course of the story, James comes to realize that he can't wall himself off forever, finally making a maladroit and unsuccessful attempt to reach out. Cameron's power is his ability to distill a particular world and social experience with great specificity while still allowing the reader to access the deep well of our shared humanity. (Fiction. YA)
The Barnes & Noble Review
In Peter Cameron's eighth work of fiction, the narrator is a disaffected teenage product of divorced, self-involved, and privileged parents. He is thus so emblematic of a typical upper-middle-class experience today that there is from the outset the potential for cliché, suggesting that Cameron has set himself an admirably difficult task. James Sveck, a Manhattanite, smacks of an updated Holden Caulfield, believing as he does that nearly everyone is a fraud, apart from a young man who runs his mother's art gallery and, touchingly, his grandmother. But Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You -- a work unfairly categorized as "young adult" -- is a keenly observed and elegantly drawn novel that skirts the problems typical of the post-Salinger teenage angst story.

Unlike the more assertive Holden, James responds to his near-constant alienation by attempting to stop associating with anyone. This puts the plot in some danger of stasis, since conversation and conflict are essential to drama in a book without a great deal of incident. Cameron cleverly avoids this pitfall by putting James in positions of required social interaction -- a basic element of the human condition even for the intentional loner. His parents are concerned that he is unhappy -- which he is, Cameron gradually and artfully reveals -- and they speak to him, often in a disturbingly formal way for family members. And so he must talk back, and here witty nihilism can only get him so far because his relatives have, perhaps to his dismay, a natural effect on his emotional state. In these exchanges, James shows a fondness for language and for novels and other cultural products that is rooted in their ability to offer a refuge of control and a created world less disappointing than the real thing.

Therapy, which his parents arrange for him without much concern for his perspective on the matter, becomes another major source of forced dialogue for James. Told by his mother that his psychiatrist will be a woman named Rowena Adler, he raises an eyebrow, giving rise to this banter:

"What's wrong with Rowena? It's a perfectly fine name."

"I suppose if you're a character in a Wagnerian opera. But don't you think it's a tad Teutonic?"

In these funny yet quietly poignant lines, James exhibits both his somewhat obnoxious delight in his own wit and erudition, and also, more important, his tendency to avoid the real issue at hand, in this case his feelings about seeing a therapist.

Surprising no one, James puts up considerable resistance to sharing anything of consequence with Dr. Adler, preferring to parry her remarks, too, with a deflective facade of word games and comebacks. While James's behavior is immature and condescending, the sessions also brilliantly present the irritating impassiveness available from doctors everywhere. These are among the most realistic and best therapy scenes I've encountered. James and Dr. Adler keep circling back to a pathetic, amusing stalemate, as she answers questions with questions, in that familiar way, and James plays defense in return, not wanting to repay such tactics with the openness she's driving at: "I didn't say anything. It just seemed pointless, like trying to have a conversation with a parrot or someone who's been lobotomized."

For a number of sessions they get nowhere, but eventually Dr. Adler, herself an agile maneuverer, manages to draw him out. At some length he tells of a disastrous trip to a conference in Washington, D.C., for smart and allegedly civic-minded students. Deprived of his precious solitude, he is driven up the wall and simply vanishes from a night of absurd dinner theater and, for days, from the conference, whose true pointlessness and banality provokes genuine empathy. He narrates this by turns to Dr. Adler and directly to the reader, and Cameron skillfully conveys through the similarity between the accounts and their tone that James is beginning to trust his interlocutor.

What James discusses with Dr. Adler only incidentally is that he's gay. That seems odd, given that one would expect his parents to have told her of the suspicions they each air to him, getting typically evasive answers. But in fact his homosexuality is only slightly relevant to the story. This represents a commendable advance for "the gay novel," which for a couple of decades was a home for dishy romans ? clef and tortured explications of the AIDS disaster -- tortured in both senses -- and the resulting gay experience, as if there were just one.

James's sexual orientation briefly enters the picture in the form of a cruel trick he plays on John, a gallery manager he actually likes, in which he poses online as a perfect match and arranges a date. The ploy implies a certain believable self-loathing, since John is James's only gay counterpart. When James shows up and tells all, John is understandably furious. James's explanation to his therapist, echoed later to his grandmother, is that he "wanted to prove that I could be this other person. A person who would attract John." It is not entirely convincing that James would consciously entertain this thought, nor that he would express it to Dr. Adler, no matter how much their relationship has evolved. (Until now she appears not to have known he is gay.) Moreover, if James's portrayal of his motives is accurate, which it seems intended to be, it is too baldly stated, a rare lapse for Cameron into excessive explanation.

It is no surprise that James's inner life appears to be related to his parents' casual cruelty -- they send him to a disciplinary summer camp because it's too late to sign up for any other kind -- but Cameron is too resourceful to reduce him to the outcome of some childhood equation. He's a unique and breathing person, convincingly struggling with adolescence in our intimate view, and it is his characterization that elevates the novel out of the genre.

In a particularly personal and moving moment, James describes what that conference meant to him:

By Wednesday night -- Entertainment Night! -- I had sort of lost my grip on whatever sense of normalcy I had arrived with. I remember at one point (genuinely) wondering if I was, perhaps, genetically altered in some way, some tiny modification of DNA that separated me from the species in some slight but essential way, the way mules can mate with donkeys but not with horses (I think)....

It was a troubling thing to feel, and it made me sad. It made me cry in the men's room of the Russell Senate Office Building. It made me not want to be alive.

A lot is happening in this passage, all of it impressive. We have the recognizably adolescent voice -- "I had sort of lost my grip" -- and the intelligence and humor of this particular adolescent. We have in addition a feeling of estrangement recognizable enough from art and life that again it boldly approaches cliché. And then, a in lovely turn set up and well earned by many pages of subtlety and sleight of hand, we have a simple, direct move into the exquisitely and sadly profound. --Evan Hughes

Evan Hughes has written for The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, and The New York Times Book Review, among other publications.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312428167
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 4/28/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 77,074
  • Age range: 14 - 18 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.20 (w) x 5.54 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Cameron

PETER CAMERON is the author of several novels, including Andorra and The Weekend. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

From Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

We sat for a moment in silence, and then the waiter delivered our meals. My father glanced at my plate of pasta, but said nothing. He cut into his nearly raw beef and smiled at the blood it drooled. "So," he said, after he had taken a bite, "you're not going to tell me."

"Not going to tell you what?"

"Whether or not you're gay."

"No," I said. "Why should I? Did you tell your parents?"

"I wasn't gay," said my father. "I was straight."

"So, what, if you're gay you have a moral obligation to inform your parents and if you're straight you don't?"

"James, I'm just trying to be helpful. I'm just trying to be a good father. You don't have to get hostile. I just thought you might be gay, and if you were, I wanted to let you know that's fine, and help you in whatever way I could."

"Why might you think I was gay?"

"I don't know. You just seem - well, let's put it this way: you don't seem interested in girls. You're eighteen, and as far as I know you've never been on a date."

I said nothing.

"Am I wrong? Or is that true?"

"Just because I've never been on a date doesn't mean I'm gay. And besides, no one goes on dates anymore."

"Well, whatever - normal kids hang out. They go out."

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Reading Group Guide

About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You.

About the Book

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is the story of James Sveck, a sophisticated, vulnerable young man with a deep appreciation for the world and no idea how to live in it. James is eighteen, the child of divorced parents living in Manhattan. Articulate, sensitive, and cynical, he rejects all of the assumptions that govern the adult world around him—including the expectation that he will go to college in the fall. He would prefer to move to an old house in a small town somewhere in the Midwest. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You takes place over a few broiling days in the summer of 2003 as James confides in his sympathetic grandmother, stymies his canny therapist, deplores his pretentious sister, and devises a fake online identity in order to pursue his crush on a much older coworker. Nothing turns out how he'd expected.

In the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Booklist has hailed Cameron as “one of the best writers about middle-class youth since Salinger”), Peter Cameron paints an indelible portrait of a teenage hero holding out for a better grownup world.

About the Author

Peter Cameron’s fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Grand Street. He is the author of the adult novels The City of Your Final Destination, Andorra, and The Weekend. Cameron has also taught courses at Columbia University, Yale University, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oberlin College. He lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 49 )
Rating Distribution

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(27)

4 Star

(12)

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(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 49 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 15, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by JodiG. for TeensReadToo.com

    James Svek doesn't really fit in. He isn't interested in the same things as other eighteen-year-old guys, doesn't even like people his age, and even keeps his family at a distance. <BR/><BR/>Nobody could blame James for being detached from his family. His father is a bit self-absorbed and seems to feel obligated to spend the little time he does with James. James' mother owns an art gallery and has just returned early from her honeymoon. Her third marriage has ended almost as quickly as it began. And James' older sister, Gillian, is enmeshed in her own life, and an affair with a married professor. Even the family dog seems to feel superior to James. The only family member James admires is his grandmother who is supportive and understanding, even if she is a bit eccentric herself. The only other person that James admires is John, who works with him at his mother's gallery. <BR/><BR/>James is a contemplative young man whose views on the world around him aren't always congruent with popular opinion. He sees the world with a mix of ironic humor and disdain. Although he isn't an "angry" teenager, James has distanced himself from the people and things that surround him. <BR/><BR/>Now James' life is getting complicated. He has been accepted to Brown University but he has decided that he doesn't want to go to college. He would rather buy an old house in the Midwest and live in obscurity. His parents have sent him to a shrink, one who annoyingly answers every question with a question. He has just ruined what friendship he had with John. And why are his parents now asking him if he's gay? <BR/><BR/>SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU is a smart, funny story about the pain that comes with growing up and becoming your own person. James is a highly likeable character whose views on the world and himself are refreshing and insightful. <BR/><BR/>This is a book that is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who reads it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2008

    Better Than it looks

    This book is a great one. Get it off the list of gay books, it is nothing that really has to do with that. The only reason it is on there to begin with is because the main character happens to be gay (not that it matters because we hear about this characteristic only a couple times). I think that James Sveck (the main character) is very interesting and inspiring. He has such a different way of looking at things, that makes this book interesting in itself. And although some things said are somewhat cliche, you get a good laugh as well as many more emotions out of this book. I finished it very quickly and it was well worth the read. Don't judge it by the cover or the name, its very unique and endearing.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2007

    unlike any other teen book

    James is quite different then the usual withdrawn teen characters in many books, his elegant speech and reasoning will take you by suprise. I love how even though his sexuality comes up, it does not overshadow the main story which is that of a boy looking for his place in the world.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2008

    Not bad

    I picked up this book becuase I had read the Catcher and the Rye and thought it was great. The main character, James is exactly like a modern day Holden Caufeild. He has the same, screw life everyones an ass additude. I enjoyed this novel and I think anyone who like The catcher and the Rye would too.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2008

    Inspiring

    I found this novel well written. The many anecdotes of the narrator's explanation of things made this novel flow smoothly without the common 'rush' as people may find in other novels. This book was very motivational and made me think a lot about things I've never even thought to think of before.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2012

    Inspiring!

    This is such an amazing touching book! Must readd!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2011

    Wonderful.

    A novel that truly reached out and struck me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2011

    !!!

    Enjoyable. Great, relatable read.

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  • Posted May 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Very Lighthearted, Easy Read

    This coming of age tale was a quick, witty read. The protagonist is both likable and relatable and truly reminded me of what it was like to be a young, confused gay teen struggling to deal with life choices without focusing on the aspect of sexuality. A great reminder that dealing with sexuality doesn't necessarily meaning focusing on it, but instead can be but a thread within the fiber of growing up.

    Recommended for a light and quick read that will surely make you smile and even laugh out loud from time to time.

    _Blakebury

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  • Posted October 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Check it out.

    I would recommend this book to anyone who is very analytical and mature. This could be for a 15 yr old to a 45 yr old. I enjoy this book and suggest that you read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Nice.

    This book was really good.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 6, 2009

    Pretty good book

    If you're looking for a book to call your favorite, I wouldn't suggest you buy this one. The reason I say this is, first- the book doesn't really have a plot // it doesn't really tell as story and second- you'll finish the book saying "that was a good book" and that's about it.

    This book is a book of complete thoughts. Not just fragments. You read his thoughts, the process in which they unfold, and so on. It's like you're inside his mind. The main character can be a pessimist and sometimes you'd just like to say "STOP THINKING SO MUCH!" but all in all, it is a good book.

    I read the book in one night and one entire day. There is a constant flow of stories or events taking place that keep you wanting to read.

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  • Posted August 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Fantastic read for anyone not just Teens!

    If you like Catcher in the Rye you will love this book. This modernization of JD Salinger classic tells the coming of age story a gay teen. Unlike most teen gay dramatic novels the main focus is not on his discovering his sexuality, but more on his life goals and the issues he has with his mother. Over all it is a great read!

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  • Posted June 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    LAUGH!

    This book is so funny, that people would stare at me when i read it, because i was laughing so hard. The story and the characters crawl into your heart, and settle there for a good stay. This book was amazing!

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  • Posted March 19, 2009

    bah!

    "a work unfairly categorized as "young adult"..."
    RUBBISH!

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  • Posted March 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    On the brink.

    What does "sane" mean? Have U ever been desperate 2 get out & away from other people? Have U ever thought U R not "normal"? Well join many of us teens & young adults, we sometimes feel & think we R not "normal". Take a journey with the author & learn what "normal" is and laugh along with the main character as he learns about himself. This novel, I think, U will enjoy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent Read

    "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You" provides the reader with a look into the life of James Sveck. His life story includes visits to a therapist, meetings with his overworked father, and daily tribulations with his eclectic mother and older sister. While some call this book a 'modern catcher in the rye,' I feel it goes beyond just a comparison, in that while "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You" does share many of the same elements, it also offers its reader a unique look into the life of the protagonist and a different style of writing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    a modern-day holden caulfield--but I wanted more

    I like James and his view of the adult world (that he did not want to enter) but I was disappointed that the aspect of his 911 trauma was not explored more. I'm sure that the reader is to assume that his altered world view is a result of the tragedy, but it would have been interesting to hear one more therapy session with that issue expanded.<BR/>Overall a good young adult novel that I will recommend to my high school students.

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  • Posted December 3, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    ehh mediocre

    this book was kind of boring to me...it took a really long time to get through and there was no real main topic. i wouldn't recommend it to anyone really...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2008

    boring

    First, get it off the gay list of books. Second, I never finished it because the main character is a charmless cliche. The writing is no more then okay.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 49 Customer Reviews

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