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.
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.