Book review: ‘Grow Up’ by Ben Brooks

I found an oddly tattered copy of this novel in my flat and had no idea when I bought it or how it got there. Briefly entertained by the idea that some well-meaning ex or stranger had tucked it into my bookcase while I wasn’t looking, to deliver a secret meaning or message – I decided to read it. 

Unfortunately it’s not anything as exciting as all that. While an impressive novel for an author who was only 18 years old at the time, the narrative itself is too fractured to really be enjoyable and his style of writing feels like it hasn’t really settled yet. It’s somewhat pulpy, and stylized really only by an abundance of super short sentences. Commas have fled for the hills, bullet points are here to stay. Stay. Yup. Stay. 

Feeling very much like a novel of its time, with TV series like Skins into its 5th series by 2011, the storyline follows immature 17-year old Jasper, who believes his step-dad to be a murderer and lies to his therapist about being gay and racist. He spends every evening getting high, drunk or having sex with any girl he can. His best friend Tenaya is troubled; something Jasper only really understands after spotting the cuts down her arm. 

It appears that the ‘clock’ Brooks has placed at the start of the novel (a literary tool used to establish the timeline of your novel, so as not to lose momentum) is that Jasper and Tenaya agree to locate and dig up the body of his step-dad’s supposedly murdered ex-wife together. We understand as the audience that once this adventure shows the murder assumption to be false (in-at-least-as-far as Jasper can dig into the soil with his fingers), his other lies and fevered imaginings start to fall down around him – but it’s just not particularly interesting to follow along with. 

We attend many parties, a few mishaps (squishing a cat to death, anyone?) and multiple one-night stands, but Jasper never feels truly real. He feels like a parody of himself in a neon-exaggerated coming-of-age story; something that the character of Tenaya manages to avoid. 

Not to say that there aren’t some enjoyable quips in the prose itself: 

‘The textbook is a desert. It is a ‘pathway to exam success’ but it is also not very useful if you want to understand history well. For example, when describing a racist man, the textbook may say ‘appeared to dislike those of colour, often acted violently toward them’ while the man’s diary may read ‘their devilish hell-skins blind me and eclipse the horizon’.’

‘I think charity is like putting a plaster on a man with no skin.’

‘Her breasts held against my chest make me feel aware that they are the only parts of her body that will not fit into mine. I wish I had large dents in my chest for her breasts to press into so that we could be closer.’


So overall, I found this novel very easy and quick to read, but halfway through I was already looking forward to the end.

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