Book Review: First Person Shooter
Posted March 29, 2016on:
I recently read “First Person Shooter,” written by Cameron Raynes, a person who stutters. The book is a young adult novel, with some adult themes. The book is narrated by young Jayden, a 15 year old boy who stutters. Jayden is addicted to video games and has a crush on his best friend Shannon.
The story is pretty intense, loaded with characters who all have their own story. Jayden and his father are surviving after losing his mother 12 years earlier. Shannon’s mother is due to be released from prison. Jayden is constantly trying to outrun a couple of school bullies. He has a part-time job at a meat shop and looks in on his neighbor, a disabled veteran. The town is bracing for violence from Pete, who is looking to exact revenge for the murder of his father. And Jayden’s beloved dog is dying.
There is a great deal I could focus on in this gritty coming of age story. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll focus primarily on the stuttering. Stuttering is not always portrayed well in the media and the arts, so I was eager to see how the author incorporated it into the story.
The first thing I’ll say is the stuttering experience is beautifully handled. It is obvious that the writer has first hand experience with stuttering. He nails Jayden’s struggle with having much to say, but feeling unable to express himself the way he wants. Jayden has a love of poetry but can’t make his own words flow.
Jayden shares many real and poignant feelings about his stuttering, which at 15, he realizes will be with him for life. Early on, he reflects that “to speak is to be human,” inferring that perhaps he doesn’t always feel human because of the way he talks. When he speaks, his words are ugly. He escapes these feelings by getting lost in his video games.
Jayden also thinks that deep down, something is wrong, that he is broken inside. That is not unusual for a teen who stutters to feel. I sure felt defective when I was his age and often wondered, “Why me?”
Jayden also describes the dread of sitting in class and having the teacher go around the room and know that he is not going to be able to get out of speaking. He speaks of scanning ahead, which is a trick that many people who stutter use to avoid stuttering. In class, he has also tried being funny, to draw attention away from his stuttering, which doesn’t always work.
Jayden has a circle of friends who accept him. Several of them have also been picked on by the school bullies, so they are a small group with commonalities. Jayden appreciates his friends because he can be himself and not be consumed by the constant worry of how he will sound and how they will react.
Throughout the story, Jayden dreads an oral poetry presentation he must do before the end of the school year. Anyone who stutters can empathize with Jayden’s terror of having to speak and stutter for a prolonged period of time. It can be a harrowing experience for an adult, and this is an adolescent dealing with the cruelty of teens. Jayden gets through the experience and closes the door on another school year.
I highly recommend this book for teens or adults who stutter and anyone for that matter. It is well written, with an honest, believable character who stutters. The author lets us into Jayden’s head and we get how tough stuttering can be. Most fluent people don’t really “get” stuttering. Raynes masterfully weaves Jayden’s stuttering into a story that is dramatic, intense and satisfying. You feel for the kid and applaud his tenacity and courage on many fronts. You’ll have to read it yourself to know what I mean. And I hope you do.