The Continuing Misadventures of a Teenage Miscreant

A few years ago, a friend lent me a copy of C.D. Payne’s Youth in Revolt. He had told me numerous times that I should read it and, after glancing at the blurb on the back and quickly flipping through the pages, I wasn’t terribly inclined to pick it up.  I finally did get around to reading it only because I was lacking in other reading material.

It turned out to be one of the most surprising reading experiences I’ve had.  It was consistently hilarious for all of its 400-some odd pages and the narrator, the young and overly-hormonal Nick Twisp, had one of the most interesting narrative voices I’d ever read.

The sequel, Revolting Youth, has been sitting on my shelf for almost two years now.  To be perfectly honest, I was a bit hesitant to pick it up.  I was so enthralled by the first book, I didn’t want to be disappointed by the seemingly inevitable let-down of a poorly written sequel.   As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry.

Revolting Youth picks up almost immediately after the first book ends.  Nick Twisp, on the run from the FBI for burning down half of Berkely, CA, is living in the small town of Ukiah in the guise of Carlotta Ulansky.  Here, our cross dressing narrator schemes and scams in order to keep his love, Sheeni Saunders, attached to him and to keep her away from her former love.  When the FBI gets wind of his charade, Nick flees first to LA and then on to Mexico and finally back to Ukiah.  Hilarity ensues.

It would be easy for these books to descend into the kind of adolescent locker-room humor that ends up equating offensive with funny.  The many interwoven plot strands (cross-dressing, drugs, hormonal teenage couplings) certainly lend themselves to this pitfall.  That is exactly what made the movie version of Youth in Revolt so disappointing.

The books, however, are told in the form of Nick Twisp’s journals and his hilarious running commentary keeps the book from deteriorating into a bad novelized version of American Pie 8 (does such a movie exist?  I can’t imagine that some movie executive hasn’t kept cashing in on that franchise).   Nick’s world view is most definitely skewed.  But, it’s his vivid recollection of events, more so than the events themselves, which keep the reader laughing and turning the pages.  In one of the more print-friendly excerpts, Nick mulls over the news that an accidental computer virus he wrote (one that displays a cartoon man mooning the screen) has spread internationally.

I suppose I should be worried about this but I have far too much on my plate already.  People should just learn to back-up their files and avoid promiscuous network coupling. Abstinence: you preach it to your kids, now try it with your computer.

A fair word of warning:  This book is not for everyone.  In a post a few weeks ago, I put Youth in Revolt on my list of books I could unequivocally recommend to anyone.  Having been reminded of what goes on in these books, I’d probably have to take Youth in Revolt off my list.  American Pie (the first one) was a truly funny film, but I wouldn’t recommend it to my grandmother.  If you’re easily offended, I would suggest giving these books a pass.

Still, if you’re willing to overlook certain elements, you’ll find a narrator like no other in Nick Twisp and will laugh hysterically at his improbably outrageous misadventures.

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4 comments

  1. Did you happen to catch the movie version of Youth in Revolt? Er, wait…maybe it’s not out yet. Anyway, I saw a trailer and had never heard of the book before. I am curiously interested in the adaptation process, though I have no idea why since it always devolves into a “the book was better” harangue.

  2. I’m not sure if I want to read Revolting Youth or not. I didn’t really like Youth in Revolt but I can’t decide if I didn’t like the book or if it was just that I didn’t like the sociopath Nick. I couldn’t put down Youth in Revolt, but was disgusted by Nick the whole way through. He’s like reality TV: I don’t sympathize with him but I can’t look away.

  3. @Skip – I did watch the movie version of Youth in Revolt. In fact, watching the movie is what got me to finally pick up the sequel. It was so spectacularly bad that I figured I would be less disappointed in the book’s sequel. Without getting into the “book-is-better-than-the-movie” harangue, the screenwriters had a tough job. While it would seem that the book would transfer well to the screen, without the running narration of Nick Twisp, the movie is just another recycled American Pie rip-off. I’m mulling a post about this topic because it does interest me how and why some books end up flat and tired on screen (Youth in Revolt, almost any Stephen King horror story) and others end up so well done (Jaws, The Godfather, Wag the Dog).
    @Alley – If you didn’t like Youth in Revolt, then you’ll feel the same way about Revolting Youth. If Payne had wanted to make Youth in Revolt three hundred pages longer, he could have just added the sequel on to the end of the book – there’d be no discontinuity. As to Nick’s sociopathic tendencies, it is hard to sympathize with him but, in my case, I ended up doing so anyway. It’s that first-person narration that sucks you into an unsavory characters thought-process. It really helped me that Nick was so incredibly funny most of the time.

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