Many books written from an adolescent’s point of view sound as if they’re written by thirty or forty year olds which, in fact, they mostly are. Although they have good plots and interesting characters, voice nearly always trips them up. That’s not the case with L.A. Field’s Maladptation, a terrific novel whose voice is as true to its characters as the characters are to themselves.
The protagonist, sixteen-year-old book addict Marley Kurtz, has been sent to an aunt’s house in Loweville, Colorado to attend a church program for “maladapted” youth after he is discovered to have had an affair with a much older teacher of his. Miserable after his aunt’s destruction of the books he’s lovingly carted with him, he manages to make friends with the other misfits, including a pregnant fifteen-year-old named Missy, her wanna-be suitor Aaron, and – of course – his love interest, Jesse.
Jesse is in the program because he’s widely rumored to be a sociopath and everyone wants to know why he stayed in his house for a week walking around the body of his dead mother after his father shot her and escaped. They either think he’s crazy or he and his dad planned the whole thing, but Jesse isn’t talking to them. He does, however, talk to Marley.
Now we circle around back to the glorious voice of this book. It never strikes a false note, and I found that amazing and totally engaging. I was captivated by the relationship between Marley and Jesse, a complicated one that also involves Jesse’s cousin Billy. Another group member, the homophobic jock Tulsa, provides just the right amount of menace.
Fields does a terrific job of capturing the loneliness and isolation of gay youth with its altogether too brief periods of manic happiness induced by finding salvation in our first loves. Despite the odds, Fields gives you a sense that these struggling kids will eventually find their places and emerge from their experiences wiser and enriched by them.
Too often our books get marginalized; shoved away in the Sociology section of the nearest Barnes & Noble – and that’s if you can find them at all. Here’s hoping this gem of a novel doesn’t get the added distancing that will go with the “young adult” label, because this is a wonderful story that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
Heartily recommended – buy it and remember.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler