“Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You” by Peter Cameron

03 Jan


"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 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.


Posted by on January 3, 2008 in Uncategorized


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3 responses to ““Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You” by Peter Cameron

  1. mel1317

    January 7, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Re: I disagree.

    Thanks so much for sharing your opinion. Since this was a book written expressly for teenagers, it’s super helpful to know that someone in the target age group enjoyed it so much. I’m glad you took the time to disagree with me!

    For anyone who wants to find out more about author Peter Cameron’s background, you can check out his website by clicking here.

  2. Anonymous

    March 3, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    I disagree, also.

    I’m fifteen. And I positively adored this book. In retrospect, I do have to say that it is a rather… pointless read. The story doesn’t really lead anywhere, but I loved it nonetheless.
    I’m sure that my feelings toward it are all due to James as a character himself, rather than his story. I found it gripping, but mostly because the entire book I was anticipating the next page, certain the author had pulled even more of my own thoughts from my head to work them into his text. I have never known a person- real or fictional- that I could relate to as much as James. And I have to say, I practically fell in love with him. The result of which caused me several weeks of despair and (further) sadness as I had to bring myself back into the reality that he was indeed fictional. And never was, nor will be, a reality.

    He was most definitely my first heartbreak.

    • mel1317

      March 4, 2008 at 3:07 pm

      Re: I disagree, also.

      Well, if you are indeed 15, as you say, then your comments here certainly rebut my statement about the book possibly not appealing to teenagers. I’m glad you enjoyed it to the extent you did. I guess, in the end, we all have different opinions … which, happily, make book discussions so interesting! Thanks for your comment.


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