International Youth Day marks a day to celebrate the contribution youths make to society, yet the experience of being ‘young’ varies so dramatically amongst individuals. Despite what many may wish, it isn’t the case that every young person has a stable environment to grow, develop and achieve his or her potential. The fact that young people are often deprived of those opportunities, through no fault of their own, is something that still shrouds me.
‘The Drowning of Arthur Braxton’ explores the darker side of growing up. It’s a retelling of three Greek myths in a very modern, and very Northern setting. It’s also a comment on how contemporary society continues to repeat narratives of discrimination and neglect, even when packaged in an alternative way. The novel seeks to offer voice to those young people who don’t quite belong and to those who struggle to be heard. Sixteen-year-old Arthur Braxton is abandoned by his mum and forced to be a carer for his dad, fourteen-year-old Laurel Clements exists within poverty and is abused by her employer. Arthur and Laurel represent young people on the outskirts of society. They’re not the popular kids; if anything they’re labelled ‘weird’ by their well-liked peers.
This novel isn’t just a coming of age love story, it isn’t just a portrayal of abuse and bullying, and it isn’t just a comment on overcoming a problem in your teenage years. It’s about the human need to belong somewhere or to something, and it’s a combination of everything that it is to be a teenager who doesn’t quite fit into a society that demands perfection. There’s rawness, crudeness and there’s honesty in my comment on those who shoulder the heaviest burdens within our community. It’s my way of giving those lost individuals a voice.
Young people are our present and our future, they have much to teach us and a ridiculous amount of responsibility already rests on their shoulders; they’re the people who will be picking up the pieces of decisions we make today. Yet so many seek to patronise and dismiss adolescents’ experiences, their worth and their voices. Perhaps ‘The Drowning of Arthur Braxton’ is my attempt to show what happens when the older generations refuse to listen.
This extract is taken from The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes, which is out now
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