The kids in America

<strong>Exurbia</strong>

Molly McGrann <em>Picador, 300pp, £12.99</em>

ISBN 0330412418

Los Angeles, 1985: the Mohawks are high, the Coke is New and the "wannabes" are out. The Rats and the FFFs, two rival teenage gangs, plot each other's downfall in the saccharine interior of the Yum Yum Donut. Meanwhile, 13-year-old Lise, a typical Hollywood composite of bubble-pink lipstick and brittle insecurity, quits her existence as a proto-Paris Hilton for Voyd – "frontline warrior for the revolutionary white" and dedicated FFF.

Molly McGrann paints a disturbingly barren landscape where the kids roam free, the cops are corrupt and the parents are figures of repression or neglect. The tug of 1980s consumerism is inherent in the never-ending conveyor-belt of burritos, ham-burgers, donuts and Coca-Cola.

Like Larry Clark's film Kids, this book aims to shock with its queasy abundance of under-age sex, male callousness and parental indifference. "Divorce had become a collective childhood experience," McGrann solemnly intones – and indeed, the book's stern moralising can become a little heavy-handed. Her heart clearly bleeds for these misunderstood, albeit staggeringly solipsistic, youngsters. Perhaps if McGrann had allowed the adult characters to exist beyond their rigidly two-dimensional proportions, she might have made a more compelling case.