“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia” – E.L. Doctorow
When I read Collide I had no idea the age or gender of the author. It seemed to me to be written by a young gay man who is still close enough to those “coming of age” years that he can perfectly communicate them to the reader. I now know that Jerico Lenk is a beautiful, creative, intelligent, articulate twenty-one year old young man. He loves Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Harry Potter, anime, performance art and his friends. That’s his favorite quote up there at the top. And he can write like nobody’s business. From what I understand, Collide was written when Lenk was only seventeen. As far as I could find out, he has had nothing else published, but does have some fanfic on-line.
Ok. I don’t know where to begin. Being a middle aged heterosexual woman, one would not think that this book would resonate with me. One couldn’t be more wrong. The story is about a 14 year old misfit and a 16 year old “cool” misfit coming together to share something that may or may not be very special. That is a very simplistic description.
I WAS Hazard. I know, the straight woman thing, and Hazard is a boy. But I was a misfit. Like Hazard, I didn’t really fit in any one group in school. I often felt completely alone and lonely and unloved and unlovable and jealous that my one friend liked someone else more than me and was willing to do anything at all, no matter how self-destructive, to gain the closeness I craved with SOMEONE. I think that is what made me so uncomfortable at times while reading Collide, but so deeply moved more often.
I have a 15 year old son. I didn’t identify this book as his story, but as mine at that age and mine now as a parent. I was able to understand the reasoning and behaviors of the teenagers and their parents. I would have thought that I immediately would have looked at the situations presented so eloquently in Collide through the eyes of my son. But Lenk is so good that he makes you see the world created in Collide through your own eyes. The eyes you wore as a teenager. No one forgets what it felt like to be treated like shit at the hands of a “friend” when you were a teenager. No matter how old you get, it stays with you. I don’t remember ever reading another book that enabled me to see both sides of the situation so clearly. To be able to really understand the “why” of both the teenager and the parent.
J.R. Lenk crafted characters with so many layers, you’d need a jackhammer to get to the delicious Tootsie Roll center. Hazard’s eventual revelation about his mother was astounding and required insight rarely attained at such a young age. I had a similar revelation about my mom very recently, and at a much older age! The way his and Jesse’s parents treated them made me squirm. Then I realized how much I am like Hazard’s mom and how much most parents in this time in history are just like either Hazard’s or Jesse’s parents. The depictions could not have been more accurate.
All that disgusting fawning aside, Collide is not for everyone. There was sex. There was sex between boys, yes, boys not men. It was delicately handled and not graphic in nature, but still, it was there. I felt that it added to the story but didn’t take over the story. It clearly illustrated that physical closeness was the only way that Hazard and Jesse knew of to find the acceptance they needed. This is reality. If you have a teenager, they are probably having sex with someone of whichever gender they are attracted. Mostly for the wrong reasons, but it is happening. No amount of denying it will make it stop.
Like so many of us as teenagers, the only way we knew how to create that closeness, the feeling of being wanted and loved was through sex. Some of us, much farther along in life, have never learned that sex without real feeling doesn’t bring two people closer together. It makes them feel farther apart as soon as the passion cools. And it often cools very quickly. Then you are right back to being the lonely person you were before. Feeling unloved and unlovable.
The bottom line is that Collide is about the misfit in all of us. Even the cool, rich kids and their parents have at least a little bit of that desperation inside them to fit in and deeply connect to another human being. It’s time for a new tat. “We All Collide”. You need to read the book to understand the significance of that line. Six months after reading Collide for the first time, I got that tattoo. It’s on my left forearm and visible to everyone. When someone asks what it means, I am happy to explain that it’s from this really awesome book I read by this incredibly talented kid.
I loved this book. I want more. I want a sequel. I want anything else penned by this author. Strongly recommended.