Peter Cameron–Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You

The What: James uses precise language, doesn’t want to go to college, and wants to live at once as an observer and as someone who doesn’t examine himself too closely. His mother’s art gallery is nearly as unsuccessful as her third marriage, his father is a lawyer who doesn’t make time for him, and he gets along better with his sister’s married boyfriend than he does with her. What’s a New York teen to do in a world too cruel and senseless to bother caring about?

The Good: There are lots of goodies here for the adult reader. Characters like Rainer Maria, a professor who touts “linguistic purity,” bring welcome satire to the table. James’ depression and its consequences convincingly imbue every motion, however quotidian it may be. His intelligence makes him a compelling narrator, and his social ineptitude makes for cringe-inducing scenes that will bring back adolescence for older readers. Strong writing keeps the reader’s interest, even when plot points are few and far between.

The Meh: I struggled to write the “The What” section of this review, which is normally the easiest, because this book isn’t really about anything. “A teen is lonely and searches for fulfillment” would pretty much capture every relevant plot point. If you read for story alone, skip this one; if you liked “Catcher In The Rye,” don’t miss it.

Hand It To: Nancy Pearl’s character and language readers, older teens, writers, Salinger fans.