By Lindsey Baker
"All Can Relate To ‘Angst’"
Writing has always been my passion, followed very closely by reading. So when my editor handed me Ned Vizzini’s "Teen Angst?" Naaah…" I took it home and settled down for a nice long read.
And it was just that—a nice read. Between the shiny yellow covers, I found pages describing a klutzy, self-proclaimed nerdy boy after my own heart. I have walked in his shoes some days, and that ability to identify with readers is what make Vizzini’s book so good.
Vizzini, a 19-year-old New Yorker, took a year off from school to write "Teen Angst?," his "quasi-autobiography," after writing for both the New York Press and the New York Times Magazine.
The book is organized in a chronological format, beginning with his junior high years and ending with his senior year of high school; the stories that make up each year detail his hobbies, jobs, love life and subsequent growth.
And he is just like you and me.
Vizzini suffers from the everyday problems that face almost all young people—drinking, drugs, sex, embarrassing families, turquoise backpacks…well, perhaps the backpack is a singular aspect of his life, but we all have dealt with the embarrassment wrought by that industrial item our mother bought for us.
According to Vizzini’s introduction to "Teen Angst?," however, the backpack started his writing career. After watching the bag hurtle down an escalator, helped on its way down by an unsympathetic girl, Vizzini recorded the event in an essay. From then on he wrote down much of his life.
Vizzini’s essays are funny, and at times somber. In "Getting Sloppy with Poppy," Vizzini befriends and plays chess with an old man named Poppy. Vizzini, embarrassed by his real first name, chooses to tell Poppy that his name is John.
By then end of the essay, Poppy has run into some bad times, and he and Vizzini can no longer play chess. Vizzini still can’t tell Poppy his real name, not because he doesn’t want to, but because he is ashamed of lying for so long.
These kinds of eye-opening experiences fill the book, all told with a humor an dialogue to which other teens, and even adults, can certainly relate.
In "Moxy Music," Vizzini and his father attend a local concert. Once there, Vizzini stands on one side of the room, his father on the mother. The my dad-has-to-drive-me-but-is-so-embarrassing syndrome is perfectly portrayed.
Vizzini’s essays touch on a number of other topics—his obsession with Nintendo through junior high, followed by his obsession with a card game called Magic: The Gathering.
The latter finds him both friends and entertainment through his high school years at [Manhattan’s] Stuyvesant High School, a swanky elevator-equipped school called, according to Vizzini, "the crown jewel of the New York City public school system."
Vizzini’s tales draw the reader in; his life is not perfect, and he deals constantly with rejection and humiliation. He drinks and gets caught, is not part of the in-crowd and runs a marathon in the rain in flip-flops for a girl with a boyfriend. His your average Joe, blessed with a high IQ and a fantastic sense of humor.
Vizzini’s book reads as a series of sometimes connected, sometimes disjointed stories, with cartoon illustrations and explanatory annotations appearing periodically in the margins. While these annotations can be a bit distracting, they are often funnier than the essay itself, and well worth stopping for.
The book even has a handy index to quickly direct you to specific topics. ("Mysteries of the cosmos, subway contemplation of, 47-48.")
"Teen Angst? Naaah…"is actually filled with the teen angst that plagues the lives of kids between popularity and nerd-dom, an angst I could well identify with.
If this book isn’t already on your summer reading list, don’t wait for someone to hand it to you like I did. Go out and get it and realize that you are not alone. There are other people who spill punch all over themselves at an awards ceremony, and there are other people who have not gotten accepted into Harvard.
What a relief.