TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
"Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You," author Peter Cameron's first novel for teens, appears on a few "Best of 2007" lists, including those put out by Publishers Weekly, Horn Book, and Amazon.com. Needless to say, I had pretty high expectations for this dark, ironic, yet oddly sincere story of 18 year-old James Sveck. Sadly, those expectations weren't quite met. Maybe it was just too much hype?
Ok, so here's the basic plot outline, although, be warned, not too much happens in this story. Basically, James is spending the summer before his freshman year at Brown University working in his mom's NYC art gallery. The gallery, by the way, features garbage can art produced by an artist who has renounced names, and, not too surprisingly, James has lots of free time on his hands. At night, James roams the Internet looking at Midwestern houses (of all things!), envisioning a life away from college, NYC, and, above all else, people his own age. See, James is a true introvert, and he often feels so uncomfortable around his peers that he's reduced to what honestly can be described as terror. As the story unfolds, we learn that during an American Classroom trip to Washington, DC, James freaked out from the sheer pressure of having to be social and engage the other teens on the trip. In fact, as becomes clear, James is suffering from not just a stifling depression but also a severe and nearly complete sense of alienation from all people and things.
While this novel is beautifully written (among others, there's a wonderful passage where James describes the purity of thoughts and the compromise of language), the bottom line is that the entire story takes place in James' head. What we have is essentially a series of observations, reminisces, frustrations, and fears, very few of which are grounded in any real action. As such, although James is a fascinating character, this book is often challenging — if not downright boring — to read. I can't imagine there are many teenagers who would be interested enough to even finish the book, which is a shame. If there are some older, high school age teens out there interested in a sort of "Catcher in the Rye" style story, you might want to give this book a try. However, for those looking for a story about a teen boy facing the challenges of depression, Ned Vizzini's "It's Kind of a Funny Story" is, in my opinion, a much stronger choice.