Perhaps because so many recent coming-of-age novels are filled with fantastical vampires or wizards, we expect Justin Kramon’s debut novel, Finny, to feature ghosts whizzing around, or a heroine with magical powers (she’s actually adopted! Her freckles can see the future!). Instead, our title character is just a regular 14-year-old girl with ordinary problems. Her brother catches her kissing her neighbour Earl – an older man of 16.
She’s sent to boarding school, where she meets Judith (the rich mean girl) and Poplan (the misfit), who will become her closest friends. Earl moves to France to take care of his suicidal mother, making their on-off love affair the plot’s only driving force. When Earl is out of the picture, the book moves into fast-forward: Finny is no longer a girl, she’s an adult, living alone, still pining over her childhood crush.
Kramon’s attempts at whimsy, including the appearance of a narcoleptic piano teacher, are in discord with his turn to adult affairs. While a vampire-werewolf love triangle certainly isn’t necessary, our heroine lacks a sense of conflict to hold our attention: she’s listless without Earl, and so are we. Though Kramon’s wit and impish cast of characters call to mind the work of Roald Dahl, Finny reads like a novel for kids that’s somehow stumbled into adult territory and doesn’t know what to do with itself. But Kramon is still young, and his writing has the potential to develop into something great – as long as he keeps his audience straight. If his impulse is to write for teenagers, he should go for it; it’s a pretty popular market, after all.