A disturbing portrait of over-privileged, alienated teens on Manhattan's Upper East Side, this debut novel displays keen insights into human behavior from an astonishingly young author who wrote it during his senior year in high school. Nick McDonell avoids pat characterizations of self-involved, self-abusing, self-indulgent kids and instead delivers a story that subtly shows how his tragically disaffected characters are driven to extreme risks by a desperate need to feel something -- anything at all -- in a world that gives them whatever they want for free.
"White Mike" dresses in an overcoat and lives with his dad on Manhattan's Upper East Side (his mom died of breast cancer not too long ago). The 17-year-old doesn't smoke, doesn't drink and doesn't do drugs. He dropped out of high school and now sells drugs pot and an Ecstasy-like upper called "twelve" to the city's moneyed teens. In this shocker of a first novel, McDonell who was 17 when he wrote it carries readers through White Mike's frantically spinning world, one alternately peopled with obscenely wealthy teenagers who live in gated townhouses with parents rarely in town and FUBU-clad basketball players in Harlem. In terse, controlled prose, McDonell describes five days in White Mike's life during Christmas break. He introduces a host of characters, ranging from Sara Ludlow ("the hottest girl at her school by, like, a lot") to Lionel ("a creepy dude" with "brown and yellow bloodshot eyes" who also sells drugs), writing mainly in the present tense, but sometimes flashing back in italics. His prose darts from one scene and character to the next, much like a cab zipping down city streets, halting quickly at a red light and then accelerating madly as soon as the light turns green. And although it brims with New York references e.g., the MetLife Building and Lenox Hill Hospital this is really a story about excess and its effects. The final scene, at a raging New Year's Eve party, will leave readers stunned, as well as curious as to what might come next from this precocious writer. (July) Forecast: A blurb from Hunter Thompson and buzz about McDonell's age and subject matter should kick sales reasonably high for this slim first novel, rights for which have been sold in seven countries. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
In the world of wealthy New York, everyone pretty much knows everyone else. They belong to the same clubs, go to the same schools, and have the same drug dealers. Twelve follows a group of rich, well-educated teens and their connection to White Mike, a blond prep school graduate who has decided to defer going to Harvard for a year and deal drugs to his peers instead. McDonell's sparse prose captures the disassociation of this teen social set and reveals how the risks taken by these high achievers spiral into violence. Set in the days leading up to New Year's Eve, Twelve puts on display the absent parents who leave for Europe with no forwarding number, the girls who use their sexuality as casually as they change clothes, and the ease with which these teens can get drugs to dull their emotional pain. Author Nick McDonell wrote Twelve at the age of 17 and the book has an authentic voice that will strike a chord in teen readers while horrifying adults unaware of this underworld. Libraries with audiences with a taste for realistic fiction and prep school libraries with students who can relate to these issues would do well to add this work to their collection. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Grove, 244p.,
Authors keep getting younger; this one is only 17 and a student at a private high school in New York. Predictably, he goes after the spoiled rich kids who are going after the newest drug in town, called twelve. Let's hope that this acquisition was inspired not by sensationalism but by good writing. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The New York Times
Mr. McDonell finds an authentic voice. . . . He gives us a palpable sense of the privileged but spiritually desolate world that his characters inhabit, without ever condescending to them, and he gives us some digitally clear snapshots of life in the upscale ZIP codes of millenial Manhattan. Michiko Kakutani
Debut novel penned by a 17-year-old private high-school student in Manhattan. If you liked Harmony Korine's film Kids, you'll definitely be into McDonell's story. Set entirely in New York, it follows the closely linked but vastly different worlds of Harlem and the Upper East Side, where the accidents of birth and geography create problems that few outsiders might guess at. The central character is White Mike, a very bright but alienated prep-school kid who has dropped out to become a drug dealer. Mike has never so much as tried marijuana himself, but he likes the freedom drug money brings him, and he has a very ready market among his old classmates-a weird bunch indeed. There's Charlie, who pawns his mother's jewelry to buy guns. And Jessica, a debutante who trades sex for drugs. Claude is into guns, too, and it seems that most of the rich kids of Park Avenue have gangsta' fever: The coolest among them speak in black slang and like to hang out in neighborhoods way uptown even when they don't need to score spliff. Hunter McCullough, for example, comes up to Harlem with White Mike to shoot hoops at a gym called the Rec-but one night he gets into a fight with a kid from the projects named Nana. Too bad for him, too, because when Nana and Charlie are found dead one night on 117th Street, the cops arrest Hunter (who still has Nana's bloodstains on his clothes). White Mike, whose mother died of breast cancer not long before all this, is pretty demoralized no matter how you look at him, but he has enough heart left to figure out that Hunter's not the man. But, like, what can you do when everything's so wickedly messed up? Not bad for a by-now 18-year-old, but still far from good: McDonell should stay in school a few more years.
From the Publisher
“As fast as speed, as relentless as acid.” Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Nick McDonell is the real thing, a powerful young writer with the look of a dangerous freak and very sharp teeth. The ratio of age to talent is horrifying. His trick is he writes the truth. I'm afraid he will do for his generation what I did for mine."Hunter S. Thompson
“An astonishing rush of a first novel, all heat and ice and inexorable narrative drive
A pleasure to read, a horror to contemplate, a real achievement.” Joan Didion
“McDonell is an authentic talent
His novel will endure as a snapshot of his generation as surely as Less Than Zero did of the eighties.” Stephanie Merritt, The Observer (London)
“[McDonell] renders Manhattan’s cosseted Upper East Side with both the casual authority of an insider and the wry distance of an observer
.Impressive.” Jennifer Egan, The New York Times Book Review
“McDonell, like the young Jim Caroll, displays a frightening acuity in his astonishing debut.” Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair
Read an Excerpt
White mike is thin and pale like smoke.
White Mike wears jeans and a hooded sweatshirt and a dark blue Brooks Brothers overcoat that hangs long on him. His blond hair, nearly white, is cropped tight around his head. White Mike is clean. White Mike has never smoked a cigarette in his life. Never had a drink, never sucked down a doobie. But White Mike has become a very good drug dealer, even though it started out as a one-shot deal with his cousin Charlie.
White Mike was a good student, but he's been out of school for six months, and though some people might wonder what he's doing, no one seems to care very much that he's taking a year off before college. Maybe more than a year. White Mike saw that movie American Beauty about a kid who is a drug dealer and buys expensive video equipment with the money he makes. The kid says that sometimes there is so much beauty in the world that sometimes you just can't take it. Fuck that, thinks White Mike.
White Mike is not looking at beauty. He is looking at the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It is two days after Christmas and all the kids are home from boarding school and everyone has money to blow. So White Mike is busy with a pickup in Harlem and then ounces and fifties and dimes and loud music and packed open houses and more rounds and kids from Hotchkiss and Andover and St. Paul's and Deerfield all looking to get high and tell stories about how it is to kids from Dalton and Collegiate and Chapin and Riverdale, who have stories, of their own. All the same stories, really.
The city is a mess this time of year, this year especially. Madison Avenue is all chewed up with construction, and there are more bums on Lexington than White Mike remembers. It is crowded on the sidewalks, and the more snow, the worse it gets, and there has been plenty of snow. On some streets when the snowdrifts pile up there is only a salted corridor of frozen dog shit and concrete. It's been cold since Thanksgiving, very cold, coldest winter in decades says the TV, but White Mike doesn't mind the cold.
When White Mike first started dealing, it was summer and hot, and he tried to go as long as he could without sleep as a kind of experiment. White Mike already looked pale and scary to the kids he sold to, and then by the third day his jeans and white T-shirt were grimed out and he looked like some refugee James Dean, and the last hours were just a blur and the cars on the street flew past so close to him that people who saw flinched, but he had the cadences of the city down so tight that he was fine.
At Lexington and Eighty-sixth, his friend Hunter saw him and said, Mike, are you feeling okay, and White Mike turned to him and there was a smear of dirt on his face and his eyes were glowing in the neon light from the Papaya King juice/hot dog place. White Mike smiled at him and said watch this and took off running, just running so fucking fast up the block toward Park Avenue. There were a bunch of private school kids walking the same direction, and when they saw White Mike running past them, one of them said, loud enough for White Mike to hear, Madman running. And White Mike turned and walked back to them saying, Madman, madman, madman, madman, and the kids got scared, and then White Mike ran full into them, and they scattered, and they didn't think it was funny at all, and then White Mike started barking at them, howling, and they all ran. And White Mike ran after them, barking and howling, and Hunter ran after him, and White Mike let them get away after a couple blocks. Hunter put White Mike in a cab, but he had to convince the cabbie to take White Mike, and pay him in advance. The cabbie was jumpy and looked in the mirror at White Mike the whole ride. White Mike had his head out the window, staring at the pedestrians. When White Mike got home and collapsed in his bed with his shoes and clothes still on, his last thought before sleep was Why not? He had been awake for three days.
White Mike gets out of a cab on Seventy-sixth Street and Park Avenue. He looks at the number of the cab: 1F17. He memorizes the number every time he gets out of a cab, in case he leaves anything behind. This has never happened.
Down Park Avenue there are Christmas lights wrapped around all the trees and bushes, and the wires give the snow better purchase, so the frost hangs low from the branches. When the lights turn on at night the trees almost disappear between the bulbs, and the disembodied points of light outline jagged constellations in the dark air. It is getting past dusk, and White Mike remembers one night, years ago, when his mother was still alive and she sat on the edge of his bed, tucking him in for the night, and told him about Chaos Theory. White Mike remembers exactly what she said. The story she told him was about how if a butterfly died over a field in Brazil and fell to the ground and made a mouse move or a tiny shoot of grass bend, then everything might be different here, thousands and thousands of miles away.
"How come?" he asked.
"Well, if one thing happens and changes something else, then that thing changes something else, right? And that change could come all the way around the world, right here to you in your bed." She tweaked his nose. "Did a butterfly do that?"
"Did the butterfly die?" he asked her back.
The lights on Park Avenue suddenly turn on. White Mike can feel his beeper vibrating again.
Excerpted from TWELVE.
© Copyright 2002 by Nick McDonnell. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.