From Infinite Jest’s antsy prodigy to Brighton Rock’s haunted antihero, debut novelist Danny Denton picks the best bad girls and boys in books
A few years back, I started teaching secondary school and was suddenly reintroduced to the hysterical world of the teenager. Returned to me was their constant turmoil, bubbling beneath the surface, bursting to be heard, screaming to be left alone. Reading their essays (I taught English), I was struck by the fact that, as a teenager, everything feels at stake, every day. These essays featured stabbings, murders, suicides, love, zombies, global disasters … These were the tropes of the adolescent (though in some cases these were lived realities too – it was a neglected borough of London), and by extension perhaps the most suitable creative expressions for raging hormones.
The teenager endures an awful state in which innocence is daily lost but the mystery of selfhood remains unsolved. The world is increasingly known, but the emotional capacity, vocabulary and maturity to process it haven’t yet been fully acquired. Or perhaps the teen’s particular brand of indignation is the appropriate response to this fraying world. Either way, it is no wonder so many teens err en route to adulthood. In writing The Earlie King & the Kid in Yellow – a novel that would be about a heroic act in a fallen society – it seemed to me that only a teenager would possess enough love, hope, hate, fear, outrage, naivety and bravery to take the action required of the myth.