REVIEW: We Are Young by Cat Clarke

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We Are Young by Cat Clarke

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Length: 384 pages

Release date: 3 May 2018

Amazon UK | Amazon US

On the same night Evan’s mother marries local radio DJ ‘Breakfast Tim’, Evan’s brand-new step-brother Lewis is found unconscious and terribly injured, the only survivor of a horrific car crash.

A media furore erupts, with the finger of blame pointed firmly at stoner, loner Lewis. Everyone else seems to think the crash was drugs-related, but Evan isn’t buying it. With the help of her journalist father, Harry, she decides to find out what really happened that night.

As Evan delves deeper into the lives of the three teenagers who died in the crash, she uncovers some disturbing truths and a secret that threatens to tear her family – and the community – apart for ever…

“We are old
They say that we shouldn’t cry
We are young
They say that we’re too young to die”

Reminiscent but not derivative of contemporary YA novels like The Hanging Girl and Genuine Fraud, We Are Young is a gutsy, compelling read that hooks you in and refuses to let go. With well-developed characters and conflicts that feel close to home regardless of your own experiences, Cat Clarke’s new novel was a pleasant surprise.

We Are Young‘s emotional suspense is infused with startling intimacy, marrying an intriguing car crash mystery with an introspective domestic drama. For Evan Page, the achingly relatable protagonist, there’s no conflict between the two: it’s her newly minted, unsociable half-brother Lewis who’s the sole survivor of the crash. With Lewis in a coma, it’s up to Evan to dig up the truth–the entire nasty, shocking truth.

The mystery side of the novel doesn’t disappoint. Red flags and textual clues gave me solid suspicions of how it would all pan out, but what actually happens is much better. We Are Young refuses to devolve into a cheap crime whodunit where the protagonist foils the villain at the eleventh hour; it’s much more nuanced than that. In retrospect, the answer to what happened that night shouldn’t be as shocking as it was for me, but maybe that’s part of the problem: that we in general are still unable to fully grasp that something like this could happen.

Clarke doesn’t leave it there, either; she has so many relevant things to say about contemporary issues affecting adolescents that are frequently brushed under the rug, from mental health to family pressures. She covers an impressive amount of ground in a relatively short novel, making every page count. It’s the same good use of words that makes We Are Young hard to put down.

On the personal side of things, inter-character dynamics are splendidly written. In essence, this is an author who gets how people work. The unconventional trio of Evan, Daze and Sid (unconventional mainly because Daze and Sid are Evan’s exes and best friends) are already head and shoulders more positive than most YA portrayals of friendships in its frank integrity, both in its faithfulness to real life friendships and the actual trust that defines it. This isn’t a group who play games with each other, and they don’t need grand gestures to show their love.

Conversely, the disquieting strain present in Evan’s family is a fine portrayal of a situation that appears plenty in our world. Traditionally, there haven’t been nearly enough YA novels focusing on the relationships between characters and their parents, not to mention divorced parents. After all, dead parents have long been a staple in YA fiction and don’t look likely to go away anytime soon. But We Are Young doesn’t shy away from tackling its fractured household head-on, providing a gritty and oftentimes painful family narrative that’s every bit as important as the awaiting mystery.

In addition, Evan’s sexuality is handled adroitly, written to be no more and no less than one part out of many comprising her personality. She’s bisexual and nobody makes a big deal out of this, because it isn’t a big deal. We Are Young is also one of those rare or nearly nonexistent YA books that explores its main character’s sexuality without involving romance. While there’s a time and place for romance, it was largely a wise choice not to force it into a book that aimed to put a spotlight on so many other pressing issues.

There are many, many characters who appear briefly throughout We Are Young and are later referred to again. Sometimes it’s easy to get confused or forget who someone is, but it doesn’t take much time to go back and find their first mention. None of the characters are wasted; practically everyone who appears feels like a complete person while still fulfilling a role in the story.

Timely, perceptive and emotionally mature, We Are Young is not to be missed.

*Thanks to Hachette Children’s Group and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*

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