Coming of Age:

The True Adventures of Two American Teens

Random House, 1995.

We read often of youngsters who grow up with violence and despair, but there remains another coming of age, one experienced by adolescents in cities, suburbs and small towns. This is the story of Dave Bettencourt and Beth Sunn, who came from one of those places.

Dave was irreverent, quick, restless and kind. He had three goals as his senior year began. He wanted to get into a good college -- though not to study what his parents believed he should. He wanted to start on the varsity basketball team, as much in memory of his dead grandfather as for himself. He planned an aggressive campaign for class clown, and he was betting that his humor, which owed much to Monty Python and Saturday Night Live, would get him the votes (if not, they could always cheat in the tally). He did not plan on publishing an underground newspaper with his friends -- that just happened. Before the first issue, he did not foresee big trouble -- but it came.

He did not plan on falling for Beth, but that happened, too.

Beth never imagined where things would lead the night she met Dave at his brother's pool party. Beth was sentimental, flippant and smart, but, like Dave, was bored silly by school. She was an unusually beautiful blond cheerleader, newly into rap, and her fashion and speech borrowed heavily from African-American culture, which she knew mostly from movies and TV. At thirteen, she'd been arrested for taking her father's car for a joyride. She was almost fifteen now. The Bettencourts didn't know quite what to make of her. Neither, at times, did her parents. Neither, sometimes, did I!

They lived here in New England, in a place, on the American scene, midway between David Lynch and Norman Rockwell. Their time was unlike any before. Sex suffused the culture and desire for material things was a national passion. Microchips had transformed leisure and work. Drugs and alcohol were temptations beginning in grammar school. Violence did not affect them to the extent it did some of their urban peers, but it was never far away.

Mostly, this is a story of ageless firsts. It's about falling in love, keeping secrets, and telling lies. It's about thinking deeply and not thinking at all, about taking risks and paying consequences, about fitting in and standing out -- about what it means to grow up.


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