Damage by A.M. Jenkins is a well-written story about teenage
depression and suicide. It details the slow progress of a high school athlete
who has everything to live for, yet no longer find interest in living for
Damage is set in Parkersville, a small rural Texas community.
Seventeen-year old Austin Reid is about to begin what should be the best
year of his life. It is his senior year, he is the Pride of the Parkersville
Panthers [football team] and Heather Mackenzie the most beautiful girl
in town keeps smiling in his direction. Austin, however, is not happy.
There is nothing specific that he can put his finger on, but he is just
no longer happy. He finds it increasingly harder to climb out of
bed, his smile feels artificial and plastered on, and only the touch of
his fathers razor inspires him. Unfortunately, it inspires him to thoughts
about committing suicide. As Austin feeling of emotional numbness grows,
he gradually detaches himself from his former friends and family.
Austins only contact with reality is Heather who is too wrapped up in
herself and toying with Austins affections to realize the deadly effect
her controlling mind games are having on Austins life.
Written from Austins point of view, the reader hears but never truly
feels the sense of pride that others feel about Austin. He is emotionally
empty. In many ways, Austin is a non-entity in his own autobiography. The
portrayal of Heather is particularly well written. She is a very complex
character. On the surface, she is a shallow, self-centered, and manipulative
boy toy to borrow Madonnas expression. Beneath this superficially beautiful
veneer, however, is an intense need to feel in control of her own life
by using her beauty to manipulate and control others. While I was
not always sure what was truth and what was fabrication when she spoke
about her self, I always felt that she was true to what her character would
say at that moment. Curtis Hightower, Austins life-long friend, is another
interesting character and acts as a counterpoint to Heather. He is intense,
loyal, and straightforward. He knows who he is and what he wants, and does
not need to control or advise others. While he hides his emotions beneath
a rock-hard exterior, his emotions run deep and his behavior reflects their
depth. Where Heather chatters incessantly; Curtis remains silent. Where
Heather changes like the wind; Curtis remains constant.
In my opinion the novel has two drawbacks. It is rich in the atmosphere
and details of rural Texas life. Austins world is centered on football,
Dairy Queens, and pick-up trucks. Urban readers may find it difficult to
relate to Austins lifestyle or view it as unrealistic and quaint. My major
criticism, however, is that the work is written from the second-person
viewpoint. I felt as manipulated by the author as Austin did by Heather.
Only I was not interested in being manipulated and kept thinking this or
that is not me or I would not have done that. I can understand and
value the choice of this writing gimmick for this story, but it did not
work for me. I would have preferred a first person account. I would have
felt the sense of intimacy with the character and I would have been able
to accept and validate Austins feelings and experiences as his own without
feeling the desire to argue or deny their validity for me. The point of
view definitely hindered my enjoyment of the novel.
A. M. Jenkins received the 1996 Delacorte Press Contest for First YA
Novel Prize for Opening the Box and the 2000 California Young Readers
Medal and was ranked 11th in the 2000 American Booksellers Associations
Book Sense 76 for Breaking Boxes. Born and raised in Texas,
A. M. Jenkins currently lives in Benbrook Texas with her three sons.
Damage by A.M. Jenkins is a realistic portrait of a young mans
descent into the world of depression and suicide. While labeled for Age
12 and up some parents may be offended by the frank portrayal of teenage
sexuality. The novel, however, is not as sexually explicit as most adult
fiction or what may be heard or viewed on cable television. I would recommend
this book to both teenage boys and girls.
© 2001 Suzanne Garrison-Terry
Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S.
in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S.
in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University,
and a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological
Seminary. She is currently completing a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual
Direction from Sacred Heart University (July 2001). She is a Licensed
Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor
in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY.
Interests in Mental Health: I am interested in the interplay between
psychology and spirituality. My current research focuses on the
role of hormonal fluctuation during puberty, pregnancy, and peri-menopause
as a stimuli for mystical experiences. Through the study of autobiographical
accounts of the mystical experiences of "historically accepted"
female Christian mystics and additional biographical information,
I am analyzing the connection between the onset of mystical experiences
and biological data/symptomology for the potential existence of
hormonal fluctuation or irregularity. If this sounds like an unusual
topic, nota bene how many medieval female mystics began having
"vision" on or about the age of 40!