Life is Funny traces the lives of 11 teenagers in one Brooklyn neighborhood over the course of seven years. This ambitious undertaking depicts teens dealing with real-life issues, like self-harm, abuse, family expectations, friendship, and falling in love.
The format of Life is Funny makes it easy to keep track of the novel’s 11 protagonists – fairly easy, anyway. The narrative is divided into seven sections (one for each year), and each section contains two to three short stories. Though each story will only be from the perspective of one character, you find out what is happening with the others through their interactions with the featured teen. For instance, Ebony, China, and Grace are all best friends, and though each of them only has one section throughout the story that is told from their perspective, the reader finds out what’s happening in the others’ lives as well.
For the most part, I really liked this format. At times it was disappointing not to get the full story about certain characters (even though the book purports to chronicle the lives of 11 teens, there are some that are definitely featured more than others), but ultimately I felt like it added to the dynamic of the book. If this was really your neighborhood and the kids you’d gone to school with, you’d know pieces of their lives and what happened to them, but not the full story, and in that way the book felt very authentic. Author E.R. Frank also does a nice job of subtly interconnecting the teens’ narratives – a person who is just an offhand mention in one part of the book is a featured character in another, and it’s interesting to see how and where these teens’ stories connect.
One thing I was surprised to find is that this book was originally published in 2000 and is being re-issued in a new edition in 2016. I haven’t read the original, so I don’t know what, if any, changes were made to the text, but I was impressed that it didn’t feel like an outdated story. Clearly, Frank has captured something enduring about the urban teen experience. Some readers might find the format confusing and disorienting, but those looking for something a little bit different should enjoy the book.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.