A. J. J. Bourque: That One Kid Who Freaked Out, or Whatever

A. J. J. Bourque--That One Kid Who Freaked Out, or WhateverThis book was an experience. I want everyone to read it. This started out as a running running commentary, but ended up being part review, part reflection. It’s all been edited to tidy up talk-to-text weirdness, curb spoilers, and add punctuation; however, even with the curbing of spoilers, this might be best enjoyed after reading the story for yourself. Please go read this book!

Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Seventeen-year-old Nicandro Stellan Colby is doing his best not to completely freak out, despite the fact that his parents named him after a romance novel zombie, he has no clue what to do after his fast-approaching high school graduation from middle-of-nowhere Wilmurth, Texas, and oh yeah, he just accidentally asked out the boy of his dreams over the school intercom. But all is not lost. Helping Nick remember how to breathe and navigate the choppy waters of dating, surviving senior year, and even learning how to drive are fouled-mouthed lady-in-disguise, Carmen; always-sweaty yet fiercely loyal Connor; and, of course, the guiding hand of Sydney Walker, Nick’s longtime crush and first ever boyfriend. Yet when Nick starts having increasingly petrifying panic attacks, he soon realizes the vast difference between admiring someone from afar and falling under the pressures of their influence.

So, it’s all of that and more.

I’ve hidden the running commentary.

[toggle title_open=”Close Me” title_closed=”Read” hide=”yes” border=”yes” style=”default” excerpt_length=”0″ read_more_text=”Read More” read_less_text=”Read Less” include_excerpt_html=”no”]♂ I like this kid from the first line. He’s appraising himself in respect to the topic of asking out a crush, he finds himself not completely lacking–he’s learning to work with what he’s got.

♂ Nick and Carmen talking after Nick’s first failed attempt to ask out Sydney:

“What’s your plan?” she demands, pulling down her gigantic sunglasses so I can see her eyes.

“Like…talk to Sydney, but…do it better?”

I suppose that’s better than nothing.

♂ Fish-stick-pizza and macaroni-jello? What are they feeding these kids. That’s gross.

♂ Nerd base. Not first base or second base or third base, but Nerd Base. Apparently that’s chatting on a somewhat weekly basis.

♂ Nick took Connor’s suggestion to go about it like John Cusack and I have to say, it ended up being pretty nice, but using the school PA system was not the best idea. Of course they had to screw up some way and he wanted to be badass so he ignored Connor’s plea to hold up and then well there you go…

♂ So even though Nick made a fool of himself, it totally worked out in his favor! This book is just hilarious.

♂ And I just keep laughing.

♂ It’s told in first-person. I like the way it’s written; when Nick freaks out, it seems very organic, unpolished, like the thoughts are just rolling out before he even thinks them.

♂ Nick makes comments, you know, he’s talking to the reader, just kind of telling us what’s going on, and he misuses words or uses the wrong words. He said his voice went up an octagon instead of an octave. And he said George and Marsha Washington instead of Martha.

♂ So far, there have been no descriptions. No eye color, hair color, no height, no physical build, no facial features… Very interesting.

♂ Chapter 6 really took me. Sydney’s reveal of his past was just sort of mind-blowing, but not in a wild sort of way, just very humbling. I liked it. I really liked that moment between them.

♂ So, in chapter 9, we find out that Sydney has curly hair.[/toggle]

It all seemed like fun and games until somebody freaks out. So our fair Nick is the kid that freaked out or whatever. He’s more than a little overwhelmed with future prospects, his first boyfriend, expectations from…take your pick, and as a result he has a series of freak outs. He is not good at asking for what he wants and then he gets mad when he doesn’t get it–this is something that his dad pointed out to him. He feels like he’s behind and he feels that he is not enough, particularly for his boyfriend. Sydney, the boyfriend, has been through some stuff, they don’t really elaborate on what exactly kicked it all off. We just know that he was homeless for a short period of time and beyond that he’s a little more mature than Nick. Sydney’s dad says that he’s a perfectionist and actually asked Nick if Sydney was pressuring him with anything and Nick told him that he wasn’t. And that was true to an extent. Although Sydney himself wasn’t applying the type of pressure that people were referring to, Nick felt it anyway. He felt the inadequacy, he felt the distance, and he felt the imbalance because of Sydney, so that was something that he had to deal with.

Nick starts trying to work these things out. He visits the school counselor and tells her that he is not sure what he wants to do with his life. He doesn’t really have a starting point, so she gives him a little assignment and asks him to think about how his future will positively affect society. He can’t think of anything and it’s frustrating, he’s just drawing a blank, but then one day in English class, after he’s done all his work, his English teacher allows him time to consider the question. He gets into it, he starts off with a little bit of sarcasm because that’s how he deals with things and then he just rolls into this really huge and deep surfeit of feelings.

Almost taking himself by surprise, he writes about how bad the world is and how unfair things are. People are hurting and nobody is watching and nobody understands and he’s just really going through it. Then he starts crying and freaking out in class and  then runs back to the counselor. She talks to him and tells him that he seems to be absorbing other people’s feelings; he kind of accepted it. I don’t think he fully agrees, I mean, I definitely think that the kid is overwhelmed and is definitely feeling like it’s all too much for him, but whether or not he’s absorbing other people’s feelings…I can’t say that that’s entirely true. I think it is in the sense that he doesn’t know enough about his own, so he’s kind of parasitic, not purposely, but I think he hasn’t explored his own enough and there is all of this free space in him, a vacancy, if you will, and he fills it with the feelings and expectations of other people because he can’t fill it with his own.

Nick has another freak out with Carmen where he ends up yelling at her, telling her that she can’t tell him what to do, but while he’s yelling at her he actually says Sydney and he starts to realize some things. Well, at first he is puzzled because he doesn’t understand or believe fully that he said Sydney and not Carmen considering she is the one that triggered his outburst and she is the one that was present. Additionally, he freaked out with Sydney. They were making out and while they usually, you know, go for broke–well, not completely broke, but they really get into exploring each other–and he’s really into it this time, but he starts feeling dizzy and suffocated and overwhelmed. Things don’t go so well with that.

Sydney, being more mature, wants the time to take a step back. He tries to not take too much of a step back, but Nick doesn’t know how to deal with these things, all of this is very new to him. Sharing his feelings and emotions, whether he puts them into words or not, just being the recipient of such attention and giving it back–he’s growing up. He is in his senior year of high school and he is coming to the realization that who he is is not who he wants to be. So the him that was present for most of his life is clashing against him that hasn’t come about yet and in that meeting is where the trouble lies. He thinks he needs to be more, but more than what, he doesn’t know. So in the process of trying to get there, trying to understand what it is, to be able to put a name to the problem, so that he can actually deal with it, he’s butting heads with all the things that he’s grown accustomed to. These things are collapsing and falling to the wayside because they don’t fit with the him that he’s becoming and whether he knows it or not, he is trying to cling to the him that he is even though he doesn’t want to be that person anymore. So there’s this tug-of-war that he’s having with himself trying to be more than whatever, but also trying to stay grounded, stay in the present because he does tend to drift. He’s just trying to not lose himself completely.

While everything with the story is really good, it’s the timing that I’m not quite understanding. Sometimes weeks have gone by and we are still in September. I think that we should be a little further along. There’s also the possibility that school started in August, but who knows? I think I might have to go back and read about that part, but yeah, the times are a little bit… It just seems like we should be further along. I keep reading weeks passing and I feel like we’ve been in September since the beginning of the book.

This book was amazing. I wish I had this kind of book when I was younger. I’m almost 40 and there are things in this book that I can so relate to. And not as in remembering when I was younger, when I was a teenager, when I was still trying to figure out what I had in store for myself, what I wanted to pursue, who I wanted to be, who I wanted to be around… I’m saying this book has things that I relate to now, that I relate to still. I didn’t expect anything from this book, just that this kid was going to have his first relationship and was going to be dealing with his friends. The title was something I was curious about and it just doesn’t really or didn’t really give me the feeling that it was referring to the main character. I thought it was going to be about something else that happened in the story that perhaps solidified something for the main character or happened adjacent to a pivotal point in the main character’s life. But no, the kid is the kid; the kid that freaked out is the main kid in this book.

That One Kid is, rather than being a coming-of-age story, a coming of self story. Nick learns how to be himself, not fully though, because by the end of the book he’s only 18, so he still has life to experience, and yet more growing pains. But he comes to a point where he realizes that he is his own worst enemy. And not in the usual way we are always tripping ourselves up and getting in the way because, you know, that’s so typical, but this is a very, very specific thing he goes through. Giving away his autonomy, being too afraid to be himself, in part because he doesn’t know fully who that is and partially because he’s afraid that if he is himself, people won’t like him, people won’t get him, and people won’t accept him or try to understand.

At the beginning of the story Nick has friends, two of them. At the end of the story he has more. But in the middle he isn’t sure what he has. At the beginning of the story he gets a boyfriend and it’s nice to see him trying to open up, trying to show who he is to this new guy and it’s very cute and kind of fluffy. It’s also a little scary because it’s his first time, but then it gets sad because he goes from trying to show him who he is and who he wants to be to trying to be who Sydney wants him to be or. more accurately, needs him to be. Nick is a kid, he’s 18, he’s got his life ahead of him. He has no idea what that’s about and he is in the middle of that everyday trying to figure it out because he spends most of the time freaking out because he can’t figure it out, because he can’t get past the anxiety and he can’t think past the frustration and he can’t think past not being enough.

He gets help along the way. Sometimes it’s inadvertent or unsolicited and other times it’s in a way that’s for his own good. From his counselor to his father to a friend who’s been a friend for a long time and he kind of took for granted to his best friend who I think is a little pushy but does care about him.

Side note. I am looking forward to reading a story about a gay guy that has a female BFF who isn’t pushy or overbearing even if it is out of love.

But he gets all of this help from these existing resources, resources that he’s never engaged before because he didn’t know and didn’t know how. He couldn’t get around it, he couldn’t understand and it was all so much.

So back to the thing about what Nick’s counselor said about him absorbing other people’s feelings. Going through the story, as it went further along, I began to agree, but I feel still think that there was definitely a vacancy because he couldn’t fully examine his own feelings, so he had that space. So he’s getting all of this help from the people in his life–family and friends–but he gets to a point where he realizes, he fully internalizes that they can’t make the decision for him. The saying–the horse and the water. They can help him, make suggestions, point him in a direction, but ultimately it is his responsibility to make these decisions for himself. He finally understands something he’s gone through the entire book not understanding. I think that school started in August and the story about the beginning of November, so really, this is just the first couple months of his senior year of high school. Wow.

The story addresses how there are all types of changes that can occur and that change itself is inevitable. It looks at it in a positive light and Nick is presented with this notion that things aren’t set in stone. And even though he was kind of at war with change, knowing that things weren’t set in stone was good thing because Nick’s not a set-in-stone kind of person. He needs space–not just figuratively–to breathe, to think, to work things out, to change his mind it it comes to that; it’s just how he’s built. There’s nothing wrong with that and there’s nothing wrong with him needing to escape, to wait until he calms down, but he also learned that there’re other ways to deal with it. He learned that he doesn’t have to get to that point and that’s one of the great things about it, that he doesn’t have push himself to the point where he just can’t take it, where it’s hard to deal with whatever he’s facing. He learned to not run away and to not ignore things and that he will have to deal with things eventually or they really will fall and collapse on him. But he knows that he can’t or shouldn’t, for example, not do the dishes and get to the point where he has to throw them away or where he’ll just have to get down and put his back into cleaning them. I’m the former, though; I prefer it if things get too bad, to just let it all go and start from scratch.

Reading this might be…difficult is the word I want to use…or might be unexpectedly trying for some people because of Nick’s dialogue. There’s a lot of inner dialogue and it’s more of a natural flow of words, not like somebody typed it out, edited it, refined it, proofread it, and then started thinking it. This is stream-of-conscious freaking out, words running into each other, words just trying to get out–not just out of Nick’s mouth, because that’s a whole other thing, but just untangled from whatever thoughts are around these words that he needs to form in order to give shape to the ideas that he’s having. This is how a lot of the passages are, but if you’re up for that kind of thing, please check this book out.

I thoroughly enjoyed That One Kid. I started out laughing and cracking up and moved onto lots of contemplation and silence. I was absorbed by the story and I’m glad that I took a chance on it because I don’t generally jump for high school stories; they don’t interest me as much as stories about adults. I don’t think that it’s so much about my age, not anymore anyway. I used to think that because I was the age that I was, that certain types of stories just didn’t appeal to me anymore, but when I think back on it, it’s not anymore it’s ever actually. I’ve never really been into stories about high school kids, I’ve always wanted to read stories about adults. But I’m so glad I read this one.

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