I believe that Ritchie Sudden, the main character of Sean Beaudoin’s excellent Wise Young Fool, would appreciate that I read of his exploits while waiting three hours in the hospital for a colonoscopy. Wise Young Fool is written as Sudden’s own cleansing, his account of how his quest for musical stardom and female conquest ended with him in juvenile detention. But it’s not a diary (“Diaries are for girls in pajamas”): It’s a “forced narrative.”
Beaudoin shifts us back and forth between Ritchie’s humorous take on his life behind bars (even though the violent reality of his incarceration is not funny) and his even more humorous take on his life before that, as he and his friend Elliot Hella seek to immortalize senior year by winning Rock Scene 2013 with their hardcore band. To win, the band needs only a few small things. Like a name. And a drummer. And a singer. And enough money to enter the contest.
But all this humor masks considerable pain, anger, and confusion. Someone once said that young males in contemporary America feel it is socially acceptable to show only two faces: an angry face and a funny face. That aptly describes Ritchie, who is trying to make sense of his new family, as his father left and his mother’s girlfriend Looper moved in. All this not long after his sister Beth was killed by a drunk driver.
Did I mention confusion? Ritchie has no confusion about his initial feelings for Ravenna Woods. Or should I say feeling, singular. For that feeling is lust, as Ravenna walks around “lobbing a toaster in the collective bathtub” of the male population. But he is confused about his feelings for Lacy Duplais, or more accurately about her feelings for him.
Beaudoin does many things well in this compulsively readable novel, but two things stand out. One is the way he adds nuance to even secondary characters like Looper. The other is how thoroughly he presents Ritchie’s musical obsessions. When a Mohawked Lacy is described as “a hotter Annabella from Bow Wow Wow,” I knew we were dealing with an author who didn’t just make his narrator a musical obsessive because it might resonate with similarly musically obsessed teens. No, we are clearly dealing with an author who is himself a musical obsessive. Don’t believe me? Flip to the end and read Ritchie’s paper on the “25 Worst Band Names Ever.”
Eventually, after many mishaps, mini-tragedies, and hilarious musings, we find out that the circumstances surrounding Beth’s death were, like Wise Young Fool itself, more complicated than they first seemed, and that Ritchie’s anger is more earned than we might have thought.
If Beaudoin has not sold the movie rights to this novel, I want him to know that I am a multi-thousandaire and will purchase them myself. Because after Wise Young Fool becomes the next YA success story, it should become the next YA film success story.