Teen Angst? Naaah…
by Ned Vizzini
Del Laurel-Leaf/Random House, 2000
Okay, here’s my story about Ned Vizzini, because you knew there had to be one. About, oh, so many years ago that it seems like an entire lifetime, I tried repeatedly to get my writing into this local rag called New York Press. As a weekly, the Press competes directly with the Village Voice, albeit with an ultra-right wing slant to everything. Based on that alone, I can’t believe I ever gave a shit about writing for the Press. It might have had a lot to do with the fact that the paper’s music coverage at the time was hip and “down town” and, for a lot of writers, a gig at the NY Press often led to getting snagged by big deal magazines like Spin and Details. I wanted in, and infiltrating the NY Press became a quest for me; my single-focused goal above all goals. I truly felt my work was right up their smart-assed, shoot-from-the-hip alley. But, sadly, they really didn’t think so. In fact, their entertainment editor shot me down so many times I finally just gave up in order to save my sanity. I had a much, much thinner skin back then and I really took it personally.
One day, I noticed The Press had started printing articles by this 15-year-old kid named Ned Vizzini. Ned would write fairly clever, insightful, self-referential stories about High School Life (Ned attended Manhattan’s prestigious Stuyvesant High School For Geniuses) and stuff of interest to teenagers and trendy New Yorkers. He was a good writer, but I just hated his guts. I mean — for fuck’s sake — the fact that they’d take submissions from a 15-year-old math nerd but not from me just stung way too much. I made myself feel better by telling myself that Ned filled the NYP‘s ‘niche’ requirement. Their stable of writers already included a Serial Womanizing Racist Republican; a Legally Blind Self-Destructive Barfly; a Dominatrix; a Jewish Punk Rocker; a Self-Oblivious Slut; an Elitist Snob Misogynist Lawyer and an editorial staff of political pundit-wannabes who all thought George Bush was a genius. Precocious Teenage Math Nerd seemed to fit right in.
Shortly after “The Ned Vizzini Incident,” I got into a bunch of national glossies and forgot all about the New York Press. About four years ago, I stopped even picking it up.
Recently, Ned Vizzini got hold of my email address and started sending me spam about promotional efforts regarding his latest book. I don’t even think the book had a title yet, because one of the spams was about a “Name Ned’s Book” Contest. But anyway, the years had cooled my animosity towards young Ned, and somehow we ended up exchanging a few emails. Ned asked me if I’d review his first book, Teen Angst? Naaah… and I said OK. (Yeah, genius math nerd has published multiple books! Am I bitter? You bet!) Ned’s book arrived in my mail a couple of weeks ago and I read it yesterday while I was on Jury Duty. You know what? It’s really good.
Although Teen Angst? Naaah… is published by the children’s division of Random House, this book isn’t just for kids or teens. Ned spins his stories of “teen angst,” typical boy hi-jinx and mundane family life with Mom, Dad, younger sister and brother into a fantastic web of a book that’s hilarious, entertaining and often deeply poignant (see the chapters entitled “Back Car” and “Getting Sloppy with Poppy” and tell me this kid isn’t on his way to a Pulitzer Prize). Beyond that, I actually found that Ned and I shared many similar Teenage/High School experiences. I was also a “mentally gifted” kid (that’s what they called it in my day) enrolled in my High School’s accelerated programs. Like Ned, I got drunk and stoned exactly once in High School, and I was extremely sexually naive and inept as a teen — JUST LIKE NED VIZZINI. Imagine that.
Granted there’s no swearing and no adventure that rates more than a PG-13 in the raunchy department (he doesn’t even lose his virginity in the book), but Ned’s got a very intuitive, adult voice, which makes this an engaging read. I laughed out loud many times over the course of chapters highlighting Ned’s shenanigan’s while studying for tests, lying to his parents, suffering through a week-long summer job as a house painter, and throwing up over his ineptitude with the opposite sex. Fun! I especially enjoyed the chapter called “Magic Moment.” Apparently, there is some fantasy card game called Magic: The Gathering that’s got a global cult following among Dungeons and Dragons fanatics, but I’d never even heard of it before I read about it in the pages of Teen Angst… Fascinating! But my absolute favorite part of the whole entire book is this quote from a chapter entitled “Hooters,” which is about a trip to a West Virginia Hooters restaurant involving 18-year-old Ned, his 14-year-old brother and his Dad. Upon noticing that the only woman in the restaurant who isn’t a waitress appears to be there with her son, Ned writes; “Dad and I discussed what kind of kid would go to Hooters with his Mom, and what his nickname would be when the murders began.” Now that’s good writing!
Even when his smug, shortsighted, teenage arrogance makes you want to punch him in the face, Ned Vizzini is the real deal, and a great writer. Some day, maybe he’ll let me edit one of his books.
Ned Vizzini: http://www.nedvizzini.com/