Books, Initiation and rescuing your mom’s minivan

I wrote Cadillac Chronicles as an initiation novel, modern in every way, but rooted to an era when the transition from boyhood to manhood came with rites of passage summoned by elders of the community. These initiations always included three key phases: separation, transition and reintegration. And when a boy returned from such an ordeal, he knew he was emerging as a man.

To some extent, we still have versions of boy-to-man rites of passage. We’ve still got the Bar Mitzvah, boot camp and fraternity initiations. And we have age-bound rites: At 16 a boy can drive, at 18 he can vote, at 21 he can get legally shit-faced. And there are other noteworthy “firsts,” like losing his virginity, graduating and getting his first paycheck (along with his first credit card statement).

How much soul-stirring depth do we get from such transitions? In most cases, not a whole lot. Which is why uninitiated boys look for alternative modes of shaking up their world. They abuse drugs. They fight. They go to jail. They get laid as many times as they can. They drive mom’s minivan 105 miles an hour. They go a little crazy—all in the name of growing up.

So that’s my take on boy-to-man psychology and the fact that we don’t have the healthiest ways of dealing with it.

But the good news: We have Young Adult novels!—books that reveal an adolescent in a state of stress, ready for change. He breaks away from the life he knows and steps into an even bigger mess. He knows he can’t turn back. He can’t be that innocent boy any longer, but he’s still not sure he has what it takes to become a man. Mind you, this struggle can manifest in countless ways, so we should have lots of novels as plausible roadmaps.

Am I proposing that YA novels replace the actual journey of initiation? Not at all. Each person’s journey has to happen. It doesn’t always have to be so destructive (as mine was: see Hammerhead 84). But I am suggesting that those YA novels that really speak to the reader can become a new type of “elder guide” for the journey. Because this is what we lack in our post-tribal, post-industrial, post-conventional, consumer-driven world.

Do I have such a guide? Why, yes I do! With Cadillac Chronicles, I’m offering Alex Riley as the lost boy, looking to become a man, because I know there are many Alexes out there. And I’m offering Lester Bray as the reluctant elder guide, because I wish there were more Lesters out there.
Cadillac Chronicles
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Published on October 10, 2012 13:36 Tags: boy-books, brett-hartman, cadillac-chronicles, hammerhead-84, initiation, rites-of-passage
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