Young Men Shall See kept my attention throughout, and I finished this short book within a few days. Because of their age, Gus and his friends grapple with sex and love in an awkward, juvenile manner. Much of the book's drama stems from the fact that Gus' friend, Ogie, has fallen in love with a beautiful black girl, Kendi, during a time when interracial dating was still quite rare in the South. The book is action-packed, full of youthful adventures and drama. However, this relates to what I didn't particularly relish about the story: the adventures centered on reckless behaviors depicted in this book, the drinking and driving, and the fighting, which I thought was overly violent and superfluous at times. I was surprised that Gus was allowed to live by himself for relatively long periods while his parents traveled with Dante; this did not seem like an altogether realistic premise to me. So, I had some issues with the book. For the most part, though, I found the book absorbing. I liked most of the characters in this novel, especially Gus, the protagonist, who consistently tries to do the right thing, and reassures his family that he's fine while they're away by writing them letters, even when he's (secretly) going through much turmoil. The author manages to capture the intensity and value of friendship at this age, as well as the wildness of many teenagers, in a truthful and engaging way. This book is certainly not boring!
After reading Young Men Shall See, my curiosity led me to ask the author a few questions, which he graciously answered.
1) Scott, to what extent are the adventures in your story based on your own experiences?
ST: Many of the adventures in the book started with real experiences, but in the book the stories went in the direction the characters took them. Some of the characters started as real people, but evolved into their own in the book. The stories in the book evolve too, which is most often different from the original stories. There are some things that I obviously didn't do in real life, but the historical events, situations, and internal conflicts were the same.
2) Do you think the kind of drinking in the book is (still) the norm among teens in the South, as a relief to boredom?
ST: Teens probably drink a lot more now, and not just in the South, but I do think many are more aware of the dangers than in the past. Underage drinking is about more than just boredom. A big part of it is simply being irresponsible, and some of it comes from the desire to experience the forbidden, or to overcome inhibitions. Alcohol is very dangerous when abused, and teenagers and young adults do abuse alcohol often and with zeal. One solution is for parents to talk to their kids about drinking. They need to tell their kids what went wrong during their experimental years. Ignoring it, saying "just don't do it," and pretending your kids won't abuse alcohol isn't a solution. When a teenager dies from drinking and driving it's important to show this to your kids. Now that I've said this I have to note that some of the best times in my life have involved alcohol. It's not all bad, especially if it's abused correctly and safely. ;)
3) Because of the fighting and violence in the book, do you think your novel would appeal more to boys than girls? Is your book for young adults?
ST: It probably appeals more to males, but I've talked to plenty of women who like the book too. There's a part of me that hates that books are marketed to a specific demographic. I've read books before that were marketed to women that I enjoyed very much. Several of my favorite books were written by and often for African Americans, but they still touched me, a white man. I may take something different away from a book than another demographic, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have value for me too. If anything it helps me to better understand others and hopefully makes me a better person. This book wasn't written for teenagers, and it's definitely not in the YA genre, but most older teenagers are probably find reading the book. It doesn't hold back, and isn't meant for the easily offended, but I believe it is honest. Sometimes painfully honest.
Thank you, Scott, for sending me a complimentary copy of your book, and for answering my questions. I think that Young Men Shall See would make a very touching movie (Brother Louie would need to be included on the soundtrack). Your novel is bold and honest, and I look forward to reading more of your books in the future.
As always, comments are welcomed.