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The Columbine Generation: New Millennium Boyz by Alex Kazemi
Alex Kazemi's debut novel is a bleak coming-of-age tale set in the turn of the century.
When we meet Brad Sela in New Millennium Boyz, he’s a boy of 16 going on 17 and heading to summer camp. Like many boys his age, he likes MTV, SoBe, girls, and dreams of being famous. At camp, he loses his virginity with Aurora, a girl he falls in love with and exchanges letters with throughout the rest of the book. When he returns home, he meets a boy who calls himself Lusif in his new class. He finds himself drawn to the boy’s confidence and rebellious attitude. Brad becomes torn between the person he wants to be for Aurora and his parents, and the much more mean-spirited persona Lusif stokes in him.
The one thing that immediately jumps out in this novel is that it’s very dialogue heavy and the dialogue is written is a highly affected manner. It’s full of the characters name-dropping brands and celebrities, using constant slang, and sometimes speaking in largely meaningless slogans.
“Twiggy Ramirez is bisexual.”
“Twiggy Ramirez can shove off his eyebrows and wear dollar store blood and call himself bisexual in magazines all you wants, but you still see the guy on MTV doing whiskey shots with big titty strippers sitting on his lap, acting out the same desires that any meathead football player would have if they were in his position.”
This is obviously on purpose, and at times it’s very funny. One of the major problems, however, is that the banter between Brad and his friends often lapses into locker room talk that goes on for way too long. Many of the exchanges make their point after only a page or even less, but will keep going for two or three. It hits the note that teenage boys often hold toxic and cruel beliefs, usually with little thought to their consistency or implications, to the point it becomes annoying. There are also times when the dialogue simply becomes unbelievable, even the context of the affected voices. This is something of a nitpick, but I also found it a strange editing choice to censor racial slurs.
In spite of this, I still found the overall book engaging after adjusting for its Doom Generation (a movie name dropped more than once) style of hysterical reality.
In in his book Columbine, Dave Cullens claims that Eric Harris was a textbook sociopath and that Dylan Klebold was a weaker, depressive personality that found himself pulled in by Harris. He also rejects the common narrative that Harris and Klebold were bullies, rather they were bullies themselves who took pleasure in putting down students they saw as inferior to them.
The Columbine massacre is central to the story. Discussions of its fallouts are common throughout the book, Lusif admires the two killers, and Brad clearly holds a fascination with it as well, but still tries to keep empathy for the victims. The dynamic between Brad and Lusif, and to an extent a third friend named Shane, mirrors that of Harris and Klebold. Lusif seems disturbingly aware of what buttons to push to pressure Brad into things he finds gross, or even morally objectionable.
Brad and his friends are often loudly and explicitly homophobic. Despite this, they do things like shoot home movies where they pretend to be sex slaves and perform homoerotic acts on each other. This eventually culminates in Brad being outright sexually assaulted by an older man for Lusif’s amusement in what he calls a “hazing ritual.”
More than once it seems obvious Brad should stop hanging out with Lusif, but he can’t bring himself to. Like many young boys, he wants to impress the person he looks up to, regardless of the consequences. A weak support system from his parents obviously contributes to this. In fact, it seems his long distance relationship with Aurora does more to keep him grounded than anything else, even in spite of the melodramatic way he writes to her.
This has been a clearly divisive book. Part of this is because of the poorly run marketing campaign which resulted in some other critics and writers who received ARCs being incredibly off-put by the way they were treated by the press’s team. I’m reminded of the way the film Rampart was overshadowed by the awful Reddit AMA Woody Harrelson gave before the release.
While it’s a flawed first novel, I do think that anyone with an interest in Y2K nostalgia or the idea of a Larry Clark film in book form should give this a try. I think Alex Kazemi has a better book in him in the future and I look forward to what he comes up with.