We Are Young is another powerful novel by Cat Clarke that combines suspense, serious issues, and real, flawed characters. Seventeen year old Evan’s mother gets married to breakfast DJ Tim on the same night that her new stepbrother Lewis is involved in a terrible car accident. As the only survivor, Lewis is scapegoated by the local media, but Evan and her journalist father Harry think there’s more than meets the eye. Their investigating turns up a complex story of disturbing truths, mental health problems, and complicated relationships that not everyone wants to face head on.
Clarke writes a rich narrative that gives a lot of detail to characters and their lives, particularly Evan and Lewis, which makes them feel realistic and immerses the reader in the novel’s world. As well as the tragedy and the problems with her new stepfamily, Evan deals with her relationship with her somewhat estranged dad, her complicated band-made-up-of-exes situation, looking after her little brother, and some teenage secrets she’d rather keep from her mum. Glimpses into the lives of supporting characters suggest similar ranges of things going on in their lives. This combined with the narrative that looks into solving the mystery of a tragedy makes the book feel multi-faceted: a young adult novel that combines the suspense of plot with richness of character and regular teenage concerns.
We Are Young is not a light book: it features death, a car accident, mental health problems, and suicide, along with abusive relationships and the pressures on modern teenagers. However, it is also a book full of finding support and working on the relationships that matter. Once again, Cat Clarke creates a vivid tapestry of older teenage characters who behave like teenagers do—not shying away from either the major issues in the narrative or others like drink, drugs, and sexuality—and uses a tense plot to keep the reader turning the page.