Payne—who formed his own press and self-published this novel, his first, in 1993—shoots for Holden Caulfield but winds up with Ferris Bueller in this overly long pastiche of teen clichÇs and YA fantasies. Nick Twisp is a precocious 14-year-old Californian with divorced parents. His floozy mother neglects him, while his equally libidinous father alternately avoids and exploits poor Nick. Naturally, Nick is obsessed with losing his virginity and hopes to do so with the girl of his dreams, Sheeni, a pretentious would-be teen philosopher who longs to run off to Paris. To win her, Nick involves himself in a variety of absurd capers, including: burning down half of Berkeley after jettisoning a trailer stolen from his mother and one of her boyfriends; getting himself thrown out of his mother's house so that he can live with his father and thus be closer to Sheeni (only to see her transfer to a French-speaking school farther away); tricking a naãve girl into drugging Sheeni's roommate; applying for a scholarship to study in India; and finally disappearing, only to reappear in drag so as to be closer to the girl who has grown to hate him because of his increasingly annoying and failed machinations. Payne uses Nick as a vehicle to deliver many funny set-pieces, yet he steamrolls right over anything resembling real emotion, as Nick possesses none of the fallibility or social awareness of other fictional diary-writers—the title character, for instance, of Sue Townsend's much more compelling The Adrian Mole Diaries (1986). Meanwhile, Payne's obvious verbal skills betray him as he tries too hard to impress—``sobriquet,'' ``hirsute virility,'' and ``tumescent loins'' improbably appearing in Nick's very first entry. Payne's talent occasionally peaks through this John Hughes- like romp, but hold out—and hope for—a better, more mature second effort.
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