A kind of cotton-candy glow surrounds coming-of-age fiction about teenagers maturing from adolescence into adulthood. Good intentions translate into good deeds. Plot lines stay predictable. Bad turns, when they come, don’t stay long. And neither events nor their consequences leave much of an impression on what we’re told, over and over again, are “the carefree years.”
Real life is more demanding. And so is good coming-of-age fiction. Count among this category “Girl Unmoored” by Jennifer Gooch Hummer, a writer who resides in Maine and Los Angeles and makes her debut with this spritely but serious novel.
In truth, Hummer confronts more than just the transitory problems of being a teen and the tensions that fire up and cool teenage friendships. This is a book that contemplates AIDS before medicine enabled it to be treated as a chronic disease.
Set in Falmouth, it confronts head-on the awkwardness of teenage girls and the confusion that can beset the young men in their lives. Beyond that, it demonstrates in caring fashion that problems of love and involvement, far from ending in the teenage phase of a person’s life, can go on juggling their confusing choices well into adulthood.
All of which makes for an incisive look at teenagers and a rich picture of what can be a perplexing journey through some fairly threatening waters. That is, in fact, what I was I looking for in “Girl Unmoored.”
Initially, I didn’t find it. In fact, I started out ready to consign the novel to a pile of “read but not really liked” books I’d been assigned to review.
Too much seemed too precious for my taste. It started with the heroine’s name. A vibrant character, exceedingly well-drawn, she appears in nearly every scene. Her name? “Apron Bramhall.” It’s a name that struck me as too cute for real life, especially for a modern young woman not given to quaint adventures in the world of the Falmouth this book presented.
I kept going, however, put my dislike aside, and discovered I liked “Girl Unmoored,” Apron and all.
The heroine’s strong ally throughout the book is a young man named Mike, who had portrayed Jesus in a local production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He’s a genuinely good character who reaches out to help a number of people around him, including his own boyfriend, Chad, with whom he runs a flower shop and who brings the brutal world of AIDS into the story.
These are good people with good insights doing good things to better the world around them. And, whatever our age, we feel better reading about them.
We also feel ready to shake our heads and clear out musty ideas of how little teenagers have to worry about.
In that way, “Girl Unmoored” helps moor us all.
Nancy Grape writes book reviews for The Maine Sunday Telegram.