At its heart, Kevin Curran’s novel Youth is an unflinchingly honest tribute to the hopes and challenges that young people face in Ireland and beyond.  

A contemporary snapshot of teenage life, the book is set in the coastal town of Balbriggan. This is a town with one of the most diverse populations in the country and one which has seen rapid change in the last couple of decades. 

We follow four teenagers as they try to find their own path in a community that still appears to be coming to terms with its own sense of identity. 

Seventeen-year-old Princess is ambitious, highly intelligent and poor. She’s convinced “the white Irish girls” think she’s “stuck up” and believes “the Black girls” think she’s “too quiet”. 

A regular visitor to the library, Princess wants to avoid the stereotypical traits worn by many of her peers and works against becoming a statistic like her sister who fell pregnant when young. 

She was inspired by a Black business owner in Balbriggan when very young and is determined to study pharmaceuticals so as to open her own business in town. 

Seeking work experience in local pharmacies, Princess quickly awakens to the reality that everyone is not granted the same opportunities in this country. Beliefs shaken, she is soon forced outside the comfort zone of study and ambition. 

Angel is in his final year at school. All shapes and bravado on the street, to the casual observer he is a hardened member of a gang of “road men”. In reality, he’s on the periphery, watching as the world seems to rotate around Pelumi, the alpha of the group.

Tangled in Pelumi’s ambition of chasing fame through a career in drill music, Angel’s qualities and goals are suffocated. 

There is some safety in the shadow of the group but, inspired by an unlikely source, Angel is gradually opening up to the idea that his future doesn’t have to involve lip-syncing to amateur music videos or rumbling with a different gang of young men in town. 

“You gotta be a man and do your own thing,” he says.  

Not only does forging a path take courage but frequently throughout the book, we see how background, privilege and discrimination can determine very different trajectories for people with similar ambitions. 

Dean’s parents are separating, and he’s mixed up with a gang. Seventeen and wilting in the shade of his father’s sporting successes, he is a victim of “the redner” and is trying his best to reclaim the confidence he had as a younger teenager, a confidence based on his successes with the opposite sex. 

We follow Dean’s struggles as he tries to shake off his past while negotiating the facts and myths around sex, self-gratification, and “the carnage of buying condoms”. 

Another character with a dysfunctional family dynamic is Tanya. At 14, her father left home under mysterious circumstances and has barely spoken to her since. Now 16, her life seems to happen in the brief moments between selfie videos. 

She tells people she is a celebrity: “Look at the number of new followers and friends I got.” 

But one video, secretly filmed on a night out, has major implications for Tanya. Her friends treat her differently and she is aware of newfound attention from a large swathe of the male population in town. 

Her family seem to constantly remind her of how she should be feeling and others around her push her on how she should be acting. Soon, a piece of news will encourage Tanya to question her place in this world and second guess everything she believes.

Youth is the type of book that pulls you in immediately. Bouncing from character to character, it thoroughly captures the language and dynamics of the modern teen to reveal an overly sexualised arena between childhood and adulthood. 

We see a time of adversity and hyped-up expectation, intensified by being documented constantly. A drunken mistake is recorded forever. An act played out in a moment of weakness is archived for all future generations. 

Each character tries to wear the mask they believe to be their best self. The strong self. The self that is independent and above insecurity. 

This constant pressure must be released in one form or another and Curran doesn’t hold back on the punches. At times, it’s almost as if we are watching a group of unstoppable trains hurtling toward each other. 

Despite the themes of hardship and inequality that run through the book, Youth is also a celebration of our young folk. 

The pages dance with the hustle and bustle of the streets. The things that inspire and excite this current crop of teenagers. 

Highly engaging, uplifting and eye-opening, it is a true reflection of countless experiences that are being lived around us each and every day.  

Daniel Seery is a writer from Dublin. A regular contributor to RTÉ’s Arena, his work has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. His stage play Eviction was a winner of the Shadow of the...

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