FICTION
Wilberforce
Farrar. Sept. 2015. 464p. ISBN 9780374290108. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374713423. F
COPY ISBN
Set at St. Stephen's Academy in 1926 England, this ambitious and accomplished debut is part historical, part bildungsroman, part psychological study, and part English boarding-school novel. With her protagonist, Morgan Wilberforce, a young man who recently lost his beloved mother and feels wholly out of place at St. Stephen's, Cross effectively captures the debilitating confusion and angst that can attend the difficult passage to adulthood. As a first-year student, Wilberforce must submit to a variety of hazing rituals and sexual torments, which compound his confusion and sense of alienation. High jinks and pranks are committed at the school, of course, but there are also more serious and dangerous unsanctioned activities as well. Cross is most interested in Wilberforce's psychological and emotional development, however, and skillfully renders the fluid sense of identity and spirit of experimentation that characterizes young adulthood; readers feel viscerally the protagonist's panic and confusion as he attempts to engage an adult world he doesn't understand fully.
VERDICT This convincingly handled work is recommended for all fans of coming-of-age novels.

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