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Observations: Young novelist takes the Mikes

Like most recent university graduates, Nick McDonell, 25, is trying to figure out what he's going to do with his life. He has a Harvard degree, which gives him more options than most. But we might as well mention Twelve, the bestselling novel that he wrote when he was 17, and the two more he's written since then.

The protagonist of McDonell's latest work, An Expensive Education, is Michael Teak, a 25-year-old Harvard graduate spying for the Americans in East Africa. The protagonist of The Third Brother, his second book, written around the time McDonell interned for Time magazine in Asia, is a young intern called Mike, on a journalism assignment in Bangkok. The protagonist of Twelve, written while he was laid up in his parents' Manhattan home after breaking his leg on the football field, is a young New Yorker named White Mike, who deals designer drugs to the spoilt rich-kids of the Upper East Side.

McDonell has described the three novels as his "Mike trilogy" and admits that the three characters are versions of himself. "I'm still figuring what to do after Harvard," he says. "Those dilemmas aren't over for me."