If there existed a set of expectations for what an 18-year-old novelist is like, Nick McDonell would more or less fulfill them. He’s an achiever; he’s an observer; he’s well connected; he’s got a little acne.
His novel, ”Twelve” (Grove, $23), is about teen life in general (”Sara Ludlow is the hottest girl at her school by, like, a lot”) and New York rich kids in particular (”She takes her Nokia phone out of her Prada bag hanging over her black North Face parka. No missed calls”). It features the timeless cocktail of sex, drugs, and hedonistic preppies. It’s a satire. ”But I worry,” McDonell says, ”that I’m not a good enough satirist, that it won’t just seem sensationalistic.”
We’re walking through the Upper East Side, the Manhattan neighborhood where Nick grew up and where much of ”Twelve” is set. It is an overcast June day, and Nick toys with his umbrella as he bounces down the sidewalk, tapping scaffolding, stabbing garbage bags. He graduated from Riverdale Country School yesterday and heads to college in the fall. ”I knew I was going to be something different than usual because of this book,” he says, ”and no one will be impressed at Harvard, I think. They’ve all done, like, outstanding, ridiculous things.”
But before he moves into a dorm, he’s got a novel to sell. He had hoped that his 16-city book tour ”would be a road trip funded by Grove, but all my friends were like, ‘Dude, I’ve got to get a job.”’ He’s curious to know what exactly happens at readings because he’s never been to one.
Up in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nick stops to watch a small group of break-dancers slickly shimmy and hustle the crowd. He gives them a buck and, showing off his own moves, does a back flip. Later he says, ”It’s fun to perform.”