CYNICAL STEPSON

Dear Ella and Suse,
My stepson, the youngest of 4, has been cynical for years and now in Lower Sixth is bored with school, frustrated and angry at the idea of doing another year and yet has no real desire to do anything else. This feels like a common 17year old human condition issue to me but am worried that he is going to drop out which will not be good for him in terms of learning the skills of committment and resilience as well as work ethic, but also knowing that in terms of his future employability he will be limiting himself hugely. The only thing he is passionate about is music (but does not likebeing graded for it). He is bright. Last book he really enjoyed was Catch 22. Advice welcome
Dear helpful stepmother,
This is a tricky one, as many seventeen year old boys don't take well to the advice of their nearest and dearest! We suggest a couple of irresistible classics that we hope he will be sucked into. Firstly, The Master and Margarita by Michael Bulgakov, because it is a surreal, funny, suprising book that looks at the world from many unexpected viewpoints, but has an underlying understanding that hard work pays in the end. Your stepson's cynical side will enjoy the fact that this is an irreverent, devilish novel, but we suspect that as it's not the devil that wins in this book, but those that stick to the project (in this case, writing a novel within the novel), your 17 year old will take on that attitude too. Bulgakov's novel has been a cult classic since it was published in England in the sixties, and you'll be doing him a favour by pushing this in his direction. You should also give him Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, which shows many high and lowlights of the musical life, but the overrall impression is that life can certainly suck if you're a musician without a steady income- and this impression might just help nudge him back towards a more employable frame of mind. If he is up for the challenge of a heftier tome, Dr Faustus by Thomas Mann would entrance him with its incredible musical analysis, and would reveal the downsides of becoming too obsessed by music. If he fancies a lighter read, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, is a superb novel that explores issues of coming of age, in which the hero, who is extremely gifted, has to drop out of school for a while in order to deal with the past catching up with him - he returns to the working world towards the end of the book, having faced his demons.
Yours,
Ella and Suse
We prescribe - The Master and Margarita by Michael Bulgakov
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann
The Perks of being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • As a cynical 17 year old myself, I would recommend anything by Kurt Vonnegut, whose novels amount to cynical satires of pretty much every major issue you could think of.  Also, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series is a wonderfully irreverent and humorous story with an extremely cynical protagonist.

    By Kevin Spolarich on 30 Dec 2014
  • Also I have a cynical friend who really enjoyed Catch 22 and whose favorite novel is Dune by Frank Herbert.

    By Kevin Spolarich on 30 Dec 2014

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A SLUG WITH VISIONS OF HUMANITYABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP ENDED, LEAVING SCARSADULT ACNEAFRAID OF FAILUREALCOHOLIC DAUGHTERALONE ON A WIDE, WIDE SEAAlways wanted to be a writerANOREXICANXIOUS ABOUT SINGLE FRIENDAT A FORK IN THE ROADAVID READER, LACKING BOOKBEREFT OF A CATBORED IN ALABAMABOTHERED AND BEWILDEREDBRAIN SHRINKING MOMMABROKENBROKEN HEARTBROKEN HEARTED - TORN BETWEEN MALE AND FEMALE BEST FRIENDSBROKEN UP WITH GIRLFRIEND; FEELING BURNT OUTCAN’T MOVE ONCANDIDA REVOLTAIRECan’t afford to go on holidayCAST ASIDECHEATEDCHRONIC PAINCOLD HANDS AND FEETCONCERNED ABOUT DAUGHTERCONFLICTED PARTNERSCRAVING FOOD CULTURECYNICAL STEPSONDAILY ABUSEDARK NIGHT OF THE SOULDEPRESSED AND UNABLE TO READDEPRESSED DURING CHRISTMAS, AND LONELY NOWDESPERATELY WANTON GIRLDIRECTIONLESSEASILY BORED WITH NOVELSEMOTIONALLY SABOTAGED BY MY MOTHEREMOTIONS IN EXTREMEEVER THE FRIEND AND NOT THE PARTNEREXTREME ANGER AND FRUSTRATIONFADING AWAYFALLEN OUT WITH MY FRIENDSFALLING IN LOVE WAY TOO FASTFAZED AND CONFLICTEDFEAR OF CONFRONTATIONFEAR OF GETTING OLDFERTILITY PROBLEMSFOMO (FEAR OF MISSING OUT)FORGING A BRIGHT NEW FUTUREFRIEND WHO HAS LOST A CHILD LATE IN PREGNANCYFRIENDS DAUGHTER LOST TO SUICIDEFrightened of lifeGAPING HOLEGetting over a break-upGIRL OF UNCERTAINTY, BOUND BY RULESGIRL WHO DOESN’T FIT INGRIPPED BY LOSSGUILTY FRIENDHOPELESSNESSHOUSE AND LIBRARY DESTROYED BY FIREI love music more than booksI no longer commute – and therefore I no longer readI PEEK AT THE END OF NOVELS BECAUSE I WORRY THE CHARACTER MIGHT NOT MAKE ITI wish I were famousIN MOURNING OVER LITERARY DEATHSINABILITY TO SIT STILL AND ANXIETYINCONSISTENT AND NON-STUDIOUS- BUT AMBITIOUS NONETHELESSINDECISIVEINSECUREINTERESTED IN EVERYTHING BUT ACHIEVING NOTHINGINVISIBLE WOMANITALIAN NOVEL CURESJILTED AND UNSUREJOB IN LIBRARY UNDER THREATKICKED IN THE HEADLEADENLIVING ON THE MARGINSLONE RANGERLONELY AND DEJECTEDLONELY IN LOVELONELY IN MONOTONOUS JOB, LOSING SANITYLOOKING FOR A SENSE OF PURPOSELOOKING FORWARDSLOSS OF A SISTERLOSTLOW WATTAGELOW-ENERGY PESSIMISMMAD SCIENTISTMARRIED TO A MAN, ATTRACTED TO WOMENMISSED THE BOATMISSING MY MOTHER-IN-LAWMUM GOING BACK TO WORKNEED TO LET GONEW CITY, NEW LIFE -BOOKS FOR 12 YEAR OLD BOY?NEW FRIENDSHIP WITH HOLOCAUST SURVIVORNIGHTMARISH COLLEAGUENOMADIC FLANEURPOST NATAL DEPRESSIONPREGNANT AND ALONE