Did you know that it’s scientifically proven that in teenagers, the hormone that encourages sleep, melatonin, isn’t released until late in the evening and continues being released in the morning, meaning they can’t help but go to bed late and wake up late? I didn’t. But I wish I had known, in fact I wish my parents had known, because it probably would have made that particular stage of my life a little more pleasant.
James and Julia however, do seem to know, both seeming to have the ‘being parents to teenagers’ thing licked at the beginning (only at the beginning mind) of The Awkward Age, a novel about trying to do whats right for you as an adult but also your beloved offspring – and realising that often, it can’t be one and the same thing.
Julia is a widow, her husband leaving her and their heartbroken daughter Gwen living in the family home and with close ties to his parents. Julia falls in love with James, the American divorcee doctor with two kids, one of whom, Nathan, is still young enough to have to live at home when not at boarding school. Gwen and Nathan hate each other. This makes James and Julia sad and they decide to go on holiday together to try and make it all better. Instead, they unleash hell and everything goes to shit.
What follows is a funny, beautifully written story of an unusual family, detailing how far removed teenagers are from being the child they once were and from being the adult they will become.
Throughout the book, the close relationship that Julia and Gwen have at the beginning is torn to shreds which I found a little heartbreaking – Gwen starts to think that her mum doesn’t love her and I think that at some points Julia’s devotion to Gwen is sorely tested. I thought that as a mother, I’d be completely on Julia’s side, but in fact the writing is so precise and engaging, I found myself remembering being a teenager and really sympathising with Gwen’s bloody mindedness.
As a parent to young kids, it’s fairly easy to love them 90% of the time (don’t call social services, I challenge anyone to feel deep love at 4am when you’ve been woken up 5 times beforehand because the cuddly toy they can’t find is on the floor by the bed – again).
However, when my beautiful young children turn into sulky, hormonal teenagers, is it going to be a challenge to even like them 90% of the time? Anyone else hear ‘I love you but I don’t like you’ fairly regularly throughout their teenage years? I certainly did, but that’s OK, because sometimes, I wasn’t very likable. What this book has reminded me of though, is that being a teenager is bloody hard, but with lots of understanding, love and patience, once they come out of the other side, you’ll be left with an adult who also understands how hard you’ve tried. And please remember about the melatonin, it could save everyone a lot of grief.