Jones, Patrick. Nailed. Walker, 2006. ISBN 978-0802780775 224 pp. $
A daring to be different theatre geek in a garage band, Bret is constantly at odds with his recovering alcoholic father, a natural mechanic with a strong work ethic, and the school’s star athlete Hitchings, a meathead bully whose jibes–and jabs–go unnoticed by most teachers.
Use of first person present tense novel catapults the reader directly into 16-year-old Bret’s head. The voice is clear and strong; Bret is fast-talking and quick-thinking, a trait that gets him both out of trouble, and in it, like when he calls the football coach (who is, ironically, the junior year English teacher attempting to introduce a poetry unit) an “asset, all right.”
In addition to juggling family, school, an ushering job, and drama club, a goth girl hottie crushes right back, before crushing his heart to pieces. Bret’s consumption and betrayal by this girl rings all too true, but when we (and he) get a glimpse into her purple diary and innermost thoughts, she becomes a bit too one-dimensional.
Overall, the writing is very clever, such as “Alex mostly avoids the problems I have swimming upstream against the high school gene pool” and philosophy from his wiser elders: his dad’s constant query of “Who told you that you can have what you want?” and his mother’s answer to what you call a wish when you get past age forty: “A regret.” Other gems: use of the term jockarchy, coined from a Nirvana song about the ruling athletic caste, and Bret’s graffitied adulation to Kylie that he “lives” her (instead of loves her; a Chaka Khan allusion?) as an indication of the depth of his feelings and commitment.
Peppered with analogies, Jones is careful to keep to cult status references like wrestling, Monty Python, and Austin Powers that teens will be able to relate to with little explanation. Bret’s two best friends, Alex and Sean, are wonderfully characterized through dialogue and action as well as asides from Bret in a scene where the three boys are girl-watching (and rating) outside the local movie theatre. Teens are true in this novel, which means sexuality and language are as real as their cruelty, passions, and dreams.
Jones successfully blends three major plots: the father/son conflict, the Bret/Kylie romance plot, and student rights plot, by building a scenario in which the protagonist finally speaks out against the ongoing harassment, and gets to see who supports him when the going gets really tough. Bret’s growth is well-paced, believable and satisfying.
The Nailed title is an apt analogy (although, the readers get the “nail that sticks out the furthest is the one that gets hammered hardest” analogy pounded over their heads) in more ways than one. This sophomore novel really showcases the maturing of YA guru Patrick Jones’ writing–he ‘nailed’ it!