By: Susannah Felts
Reviewed by: Beth Wilder
Featherproof Books, 2008
Vaughn Vance is not like any American teenager I have ever met, but she is just like every American teenager I know. The protagonist of Susannah Felt’s debut novel This Will Go Down On Your Permanent Record, Vaughn is a sixteen-year-old artist coming of age in a school and a community where she is struggling to fit in, struggling to find her identity somewhere between the giggling, silly girls who used to be her friends and the burnouts and freaks she finds herself hanging out with at a local park known as The Dragon. Told in first person, Felts effectively uses the language and slang of 1980s adolescents to probe the teenage psyche, offering an intimate portrait of an intelligent, talented, thoughtful girl caught between the allure and danger of a new friendship with the renegade Sophie and her own emerging identity.
The summer of Vaughn’s sixteenth year starts out as a lonely one when she willingly pulls away from her long-time friends at the tony Nashville Arts and Science High School. Her pseudo-hippie parents offer a loving and stable home for Vaughn, but she still feels lost and alone. When the Vance family decides to take in the troubled Sophie, Vaughn’s world drastically changes as she learns to navigate the stormy waters of her new friend’s volatile personality and the jealousy she feels when her parents focus attention on the family newcomer. Sophie opens up a new world for Vaughn, an exciting world, but also one of danger and uncertainty.
Vaughn’s story is every teenager’s story. It is a tale of the angst that follows us every step of the way from childhood to adulthood. Felts tells the story in a fresh way, though. Vaughn is an aspiring photographer, and Felts uses the imagery and artistry of the medium to capture Vaughn’s emotions as she deals with the true meaning of friendship and family. The camera lens opens Vaughn’s soul and allows an honest glimpse inside the teenage mind.
Though billed as young adult novel, this book features some very adult themes and includes strong language, sexual acts, and drug use. The maturity of any teenager should be taken into consideration before reading the book. The novel should not be limited to teenagers, though. It is a story for everyone who survived the bumpy journey to adulthood. It is a well-written, thoughtful debut novel and I look forward to more from Felts. Oct 2008
Beth Wilder is a freelance writer in Birmingham.