Book Review: The Age by Nancy Lee

03.20.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

the age

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Category: Contemporary Fiction

Author: Nancy Lee

Format: Trade Paperback,  281 pages

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

ISBN: 978-0-7710-5252-1

Pub Date: March 11, 2014

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Summary from Publisher:

Set in Vancouver in 1984 as Soviet warships swarm the Atlantic, The Age tells the story of Gerry, a troubled teenager whose life is suddenly and strangely catapulted into adulthood.

Confronted by her mother’s newest relationship, confusion about her father’s abandonment, and anxieties about a looming nuclear incident, Gerry finds a kind of belonging with a group of misfits planning a subversive protest at the city’s upcoming peace march, but her fascination with their leader and her struggle with sexual identity create a rift between Gerry and her best friend, Ian. Bolstered by her grandfather, an eccentric news anchor in the throes of a bitter divorce, Gerry tries to put herself at the centre of the group’s violent plot. As the days leading up to the rally accelerate, Gerry finds herself escaping into a post-nuclear dystopia of her own creation.  Her real life and fantasy life alternate until a collision of events and consequences forces her towards life or death decisions in both worlds.

At the heart of the novel is Gerry’s combative yet tender relationship with the older Ian, as she both yearns for and rejects his protectiveness towards her until it’s too late. Stubborn, tough, and unaware of her vulnerability until tragedy occurs, Gerry navigates a razor’s edge of emotion and events.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

The Age by Nancy Lee is a gritty storytelling of hardened angst and the impending doom of the apocalypse. The both combined is a harsh, but vivid awakening to the grief and anger that simmers not only in our teenagers, but in a world suffocating from the ongoing battle against political and social injustice in its fervor and fight toward some form of equilibrium.

This is a story about Geraldine, referred to as Gerry, an angry and fiercely troubled teenager, an adrogynous-looking girl who de-feminizes her physicality to look and act more like a boy, a kid roughened up perhaps to subconsciously toughen herself up against the pain of her upbringing—or rather in this case, her lack of one—the physical and emotional abandonment of her father.

In response, Gerry attaches herself to an older and exclusive group, one that is more than a bunch of misfits, but a group whose ideology is both dangerous and highly politicized—activists whose plans to participate in a Peace March is more than succumbing to spectatorship, but rather a direct involvement in misguided terrorism.

But, amidst the extremity of the book is a saving grace in a few of the unexpected characters, from Gerry’s grandfather, Henry, a news reporter whose divorce to his third wife plummets him into emotional and financial bankruptcy, yet a reserved kindness to a granddaughter whose life has hardened her to attachment and kindness itself.

Then there is Ian, Gerry’s long-time friend whose poor history has not hindered him from taking on the disguised role of parent and provocator, their relationship magnetic, yet openly combative and antagonistic. For all his social failings, his concern for her welfare reveals itself in his passionate arguments and ultimately, his self-sacrifice.

Randy, her mother’s unkempt boyfriend, while resented by Gerry because he isn’t her father, but the next man in the string of failed relationships her mother has readily entertained, is unexpectedly decent, frustrated as an outsider, ungroomed in his social breeding, but sincere in his quasi-parental efforts and loyal in his attempt to care.

And Clem, a veteran to political angst and an ex-con for crimes that has scarred him into mental degradation, reverts to a child-like demeanor unable to function on his own without the help and care of his daughter, Megan, the leader of Gerry’s misfit “friends,” whose subtlety in manipulation, control, and rage against authority and the mythology of war, instigates paranoia and action during the city’s Peace March.

While the narrative and plot is shockingly gritty, hard, and absolute in its angst and devastation, there is also a parallel narrative that is beautifully lyrical, dreamlike in its apocalyptic imagining between a young man and an older woman in the midst of society that regresses into the terror of savagery because of environmental and societal cruelty and darkness.

The anger, pain, and fear in this book is wonderfully palpable, graphically vivid, and grotesque—and difficult to read because of the strong emotions it evokes. I cried—and not a few mystical afterthoughts of a tear or two, but rather a cry so deep from the bowls of empathy and terror. I was moved.

The teenage recklessness and pain of this novel is indicative of the rumbling fears we hold toward the future, the collective and growing mistrust and angst against a world system spiralling out of control, and the heavy burden of terrorism we sometimes choose to internalize from the devastation of our own minds and lives.

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Characters: 4 stars

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

Plot: 4.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of McClelland & Stewart for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

nancy lee
From inside jacket. (c) Anthony Hatley / Millenium Images, UK.

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Author of the critically acclaimed Dead Girls, Nancy Lee is an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia Creative Writing Program. She lives in Vancouver B.C., with her husband, writer John Vigna.

– From inside jacket

Links:

Find information on Nancy Lee on Wikipedia.

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The Apocalypse in our minds can take many forms. What is your greatest fear for the future?

How far would you go in a call to action against war? If you read the book, do you think Gerry goes too far in her emotional response to the tragedies in her life?

If you read the book, who is your favourite character in the novel?

Who do you think has the most hope in redemption in the book—or are all the characters so devastated that nothing is left for them except angst, fear, and pain for the future?

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zara cat stamp

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