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by A. M. Jenkins
Harpercollins Juvenile, 2001
Review by Su Terry on Dec 2nd 2001

Damage

Damage by A.M. Jenkins is a well-written story about teenage depression and suicide. It details the slow progress of a high school athlete who has everything to live for, yet no longer find interest in living for anything.

Damage is set in Parkersville, a small rural Texas community.  Seventeen-year old Austin Reid is about to begin what should be the best year of his life. It is his senior year, he is “the Pride of the Parkersville Panthers” [football team] and Heather Mackenzie “the most beautiful girl in town” keeps smiling in his direction. Austin, however, is not happy. There is nothing specific that he can put his finger on, but he is just no longer happy.  He finds it increasingly harder to climb out of bed, his smile feels artificial and plastered on, and only the touch of his father’s razor inspires him. Unfortunately, it inspires him to thoughts about committing suicide. As Austin feeling of emotional numbness grows, he gradually detaches himself from his former friends and family.  Austin’s only contact with reality is Heather who is too wrapped up in herself and toying with Austin’s affections to realize the deadly effect her controlling mind games are having on Austin’s life.

Written from Austin’s point of view, the reader hears but never truly feels the sense of “pride“ that other’s feel about Austin. He is emotionally empty. In many ways, Austin is a non-entity in his own autobiography. The portrayal of Heather is particularly well written. She is a very complex character. On the surface, she is a shallow, self-centered, and manipulative “boy toy” to borrow Madonna’s expression. Beneath this superficially beautiful veneer, however, is an intense need to feel in control of her own life by using her beauty to manipulate and control others.  While I was not always sure what was truth and what was fabrication when she spoke about her self, I always felt that she was true to what her character would say at that moment. Curtis Hightower, Austin’s life-long friend, is another interesting character and acts as a counterpoint to Heather. He is intense, loyal, and straightforward. He knows who he is and what he wants, and does not need to control or advise others. While he hides his emotions beneath a rock-hard exterior, his emotions run deep and his behavior reflects their depth. Where Heather chatters incessantly; Curtis remains silent. Where Heather changes like the wind; Curtis remains constant.

In my opinion the novel has two drawbacks. It is rich in the atmosphere and details of rural Texas life. Austin’s world is centered on football, Dairy Queens, and pick-up trucks. Urban readers may find it difficult to relate to Austin’s lifestyle or view it as unrealistic and quaint. My major criticism, however, is that the work is written from the second-person viewpoint.  I felt as manipulated by the author as Austin did by Heather. Only I was not interested in being manipulated and kept thinking this or that “is not me” or “I would not have done that.” I can understand and value the choice of this writing gimmick for this story, but it did not work for me. I would have preferred a first person account. I would have felt the sense of intimacy with the character and I would have been able to accept and validate Austin’s feelings and experiences as his own without feeling the desire to argue or deny their validity for me. The point of view definitely hindered my enjoyment of the novel.

A. M. Jenkins received the 1996 Delacorte Press Contest for First YA Novel Prize for Opening the Box and the 2000 California Young Readers Medal and was ranked 11th in the 2000 American Booksellers Association’s Book Sense ’76 for Breaking Boxes.  Born and raised in Texas, A. M. Jenkins currently lives in Benbrook Texas with her three sons.

Damage by A.M. Jenkins is a realistic portrait of a young man’s descent into the world of depression and suicide. While labeled for “Age 12 and up” some parents may be offended by the frank portrayal of teenage sexuality. The novel, however, is not as sexually explicit as most adult fiction or what may be heard or viewed on cable television. I would recommend this book to both teenage boys and girls.

© 2001 Suzanne Garrison-Terry

Suzanne Garrison-Terry
Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, and a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary. She is currently completing a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University (July 2001). She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY.

Interests in Mental Health: I am interested in the interplay between psychology and spirituality. My current research focuses on the role of hormonal fluctuation during puberty, pregnancy, and peri-menopause as a stimuli for mystical experiences. Through the study of autobiographical accounts of the mystical experiences of "historically accepted" female Christian mystics and additional biographical information, I am analyzing the connection between the onset of mystical experiences and biological data/symptomology for the potential existence of hormonal fluctuation or irregularity. If this sounds like an unusual topic, nota bene how many medieval female mystics began having "vision" on or about the age of 40!