08 January 2007

A Bad Adolescence and Abadazad

At the outset of the first volume of J. M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog's Abadazad (in book form, not comic form), our heroine and usual narrator Kate describes herself as a "FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD MALCONTENT." Which seems fair.

Kate's grumpy. She's grumpy about the disappearance of her little brother, Matt, five years before. She's grumpy about her father leaving the family twelve years before. She's grumpy about her mother for what the storytellers suggest are the signs of bipolar disorder. She's grumpy about going to a psychotherapist. She's grumpy about going to school. She's grumpy at herself for letting Matt disappear. And she's even occasionally grumpy at Matt for having been a sickly-sweet child.

What does Kate like? She used to like the Abadazad books, though now she's mostly grumpy about them not being true (she thinks). She likes her diary, though she's a bit grumpy about having to call it that. She likes a rock band called the Thrashing Plague, which apparently reflects her grumpiness, but I don't recall her ever listening to music. She likes sitting in her closet--'nuff said.

But does Kate like writing? Does she like sports? The movies? Cell phones? Chinese food? Jon Stewart? The color purple? We never know. The Abadazad website includes toggles for games, computer wallpaper, and a text-messaging club, but there's no sign that Kate herself would take any pleasure in such things.

I had many moody moments in my teens, to be sure, but neither I nor any of my friends were quite so grumpy as Kate. I have no doubt that some people go through early adolescence more grumpily than others. But I suspect the real appeal of this common portrait of a teenager is that it lets readers vicariously experience their own desires to be grumpy to all people all the time. It's like having a super power, or being outside parental control. However, the result, to my tastes, is a flat and unappealing protagonist. I wouldn't have spent much time with Kate when I was a teenager, and I'm not sure I want to spent much time with her now.

Which is okay, since Kate obviously wouldn't enjoy spending time with me.

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