{Review} The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCourWhen we are young, we are whimsical dreamers.

Our parents and the adults in our lives encourage this fanciful mindset. They tell us that with hard work, we CAN INDEED be elected President of the USA, possibly even without winning the overall popular vote. We WILL INDEED see our favorite football team win the Super Bowl in our lifetime, since there’s no way they could possibly lose 4 years in a row.

But as we get older, we are encouraged to break up with our dreams in favor of “attainable goals”. Instead of President, what about Mayor’s administrative assistant? Instead of a Super Bowl win, how’s about rooting for a playoff berth? Scratch that. How’s about rooting for a .500 season? And so on.

About the same time we begin to realize that all the smizing practice in the world won’t make us skinny or tall enough to fulfill our dream of competing on America’s Next Top Model, we realize that we have to figure out what to do with ourselves with our limited 5’2” frames, we have no idea what that should be, and the combination scares us shitless, though we are loathe to admit as such.


The Stages of Upper Middle Class Adolescence

Ages 11-13

Whoever the cool kids happen to be at the moment,
whatever they have, I want…my parents to pay for it.

Ages 13-15

Whatever the group of people that I like (or happen to sit
with in the cafeteria) have, I want…my parents to pay for it.

Ages 15-16

Hmmmm. Perhaps I should figure out what *I* want,
and then have my parents pay for it.

Ages 17-18

Hmmmm. Perhaps I should ever so slightly consider
what my parents want for me since I want
them to pay for it.

Ages 18-22

Shit. I still have no idea what I want. I guess I’ll go
to college since that’s what my parents want.
Maybe I’ll figure out what I want while I’m there
and my parents are paying for it.

Age 22

Fuck. I still have no idea what I want,
and now my parents are refusing to pay for it.

Rare is the upper-middle class child who deviates from the pattern. However, Colby, narrator of Nina LaCour’s gem of a sophomore novel The Disenchantments, and his long-time best friend Bev are such deviants. As the only members of their graduating class not attending college in the fall, Colby and Bev have been saving their own money (!!!) since freshman year in preparation for a year-long jaunt to Europe.

Except, not so much.

Because unbeknownst to Colby, Bev has applied and been accepted to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, thereby scuttling their plans for a joint trip to Europe. Bev conveniently chooses to inform Colby of her plans to generically attend college AFTER they are already on the road for a Pacific Northwest tour for HER band, The Disenchantments, in an old-school turquoise VW van named Melinda that HE has provided, via his uncle.

Understandably, Colby is furious, confused, demoralized, and completely at a loss for how to deal with his future without Bev (for whom his feelings are much more than platonic) by his side.

On the condition that Bev inform him of her reasons for not telling Colby about her decision sooner, Colby agrees to continue on with the week-long tour.

And so, along with sisters Alexa and Meg, who comprise the rest of the band, Bev and Colby venture up Highway 101 for The Disenchantments farewell tour. They drive along the curvy, treacherous, inappropriately guardrail-less coastal highway and wind their way into small, economically depressed Northern California towns for their scheduled gigs in places like a foreclosed house’s basement.

(Having recently made a trip from Portland, OR to Eureka and Arcata, CA and back again, I can vouch for Nina LaCour’s impressive accuracy in regards to the setting. Also, having experience as a mini-roadie/merchandise table princess extraordinaire, I can also vouch for Nina LaCour’s exquisite eye for detail in regards to the zany interactions of a band traveling in a van.)

The time on the road provides Colby with time to ponder his options for the next year, which, with typical teenage angst, he feels are:

  1. Too few; and 
  2. Too sucky.

After all, since he planned on a romantic European adventure, he applied to zero colleges and missed all the application deadlines. With a his artsy high school diploma offering little hope beyond a minimum-wage job, which would certainly not pay enough for him to get his own apartment in San Francisco, he would have to live at home with his dad and Uncle Pete. From there, he’d most likely end up complacent and wallow in the stuckitude of living at home for the rest of his life.

Rather than embrace his former dreams, Colby both believes and fears that,

In just a little while we will forget all the things we used to want and adjust to the lives we’re given.

His angst is compounded by that fact that The Disenchantments farewell tour means more than the end of his career as a roadie for a less-than-mediocre grrrrl band.Rather, it means a splintering of his comfortable, quirky circle of friends, and the bittersweet knowledge that his future encounters with the people he has spent the most time with for the past four years will be limited, and possibly reduced to occasional pokes on the facebook.

Whether or not high school and college memories are savoured or bitterly recalled, they are formative times for everyone who attends. They are both four year communities, in which we are surrounded by the same people in what are ostensibly academic environments, only to leave at the end with hollow promises of keeping in touch 4EVAH that sometimes, but more often never, come to fruition (especially when people like me refuse to join the facebook.) 

While it would be easy to dismiss Colby’s angst as rote teenage melodrama and make snarky comments about first-world problems, I found it refreshing to be reminded that growing up, no matter what the socio-economic circumstances, is a stupefying experience.

The number of paths that could potentially make us happy or depressed are infinite, which makes the responsibility of choosing so daunting. At that age, making a choice seems so definite, which is scary to the point that maintaining a status quo or allowing someone else to decide can appear better, just because it would be easier. As Colby observes, if someone or some circumstance dictates the direction of his life, then,

All the vast and terrifying questions — Where should I go? Who should I be? — would be replaced with absolutes.

My own personal journey after college began with two years of food service purgatory because for me, making a decision, one that I would be wholly responsible for, was a terrifying prospect. Eventually, I made the decision to move across the country to get training in a field that would allow me channel my love for pianos into a career. I was petrified that it might not work out. And I was exhilarated that I was finally doing something, anything. 

In The Disenchantments, Colby, Bev, Meg, and Alexa are experiencing the first of many decisions that have the potential to define their adulthood, from getting tattoos, beginning college, or pursuing something that most people would consider “Just something to talk about. None of it …anything that people actually do.” Their journey together as they pursue the mystery of a familiar image found in a tattoo parlor’s picture book, drop Meg off at college, and speculate as to what caused Bev’s change of heart is a potent reminder of the time when we now-jaded adults thought,

How can I wish for one thing when everything is beginning?


And when everything begins for Colby and The Disenchantments at the end of their tour and the book, all I could do was marvel at Nina LaCour, for so loverly capturing the intense yearning and formidable uncertainty that come with being on the brink of adulthood.

{Buy The Disenchantments at Amazon | BN | The Book Depository}

{Add it on Goodreads}

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