As its title suggests, Grow Up is a coming-of-age novel, one which presumably draws on the 19-year-old author's personal experiences, and while it's engaging enough, it does suggest that Ben Brooks still has a little growing up to do as a writer.
We spend the book in the company of Jasper, a 17-year-old dealing with the typical middle-class British traumas: exams, girls, drugs and parties. Jasper is precocious and smart but he also has a narcissistic streak and a painful world-weariness at times. Along with best friend Tenaya, who is more level-headed than him, he navigates the travails of school and beyond with a quick wit and a blasé matter-of-factness.
So far, so good. Brooks has created a convincing cast of characters for the most part, but his depiction of Jasper is hit and miss. For much of the book, Jasper is ultra-aware of himself and his situation, but there are moments where he comes across as unbelievably naive. Brooks's prose style is characterised by short, simple, repetitive sentences which sometimes verge on depicting Jasper as autistic, but elsewhere Jasper is far too engaged with those around him for that to hang together.
Grow Up is at its best when Brooks is writing straight, and not getting tangled up in post-ironic knots. His depictions of the gang taking ketamine, mephedrone, and nitrous oxide are fun and sweet, and the one truly funny moment in the book comes when a bunch of them are discussing what name to give their generation.
But such scenes don't come along often enough to make Grow Up a great read. There is a pointless subplot in which Jasper suspects his stepfather, Keith, of murdering his first wife, and another – far too knowing – subplot in which Jasper is working on a coming-of-age novel about a teenage boy worrying about exams, girls, drugs, and parties. Yes, quite.
Brooks also has a horrible tendency to over-egg his similes and metaphors, which is a real sign of an inexperienced writer who has yet to learn his craft. I'm sorry, but light from a window does not "lie across the tarmac night like the bodies of naked angels", and a dribble of milk down your chin should never be "swallowing the small hairs like poverty-stricken children in a tsunami".
But for all that, Grow Up is entertaining enough, in a knockabout kind of way. More like The Inbetweeners than Catcher in the Rye, in other words.