Nick Hornby

About a Boy

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About a Boy Summary

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About a Boy, by Nick Hornby, is a coming-of-age, comedic novel. The story begins with twelve-year-old Marcus Brewer moving to London in 1993 with his loving, but suicidal, mother. He must adjust to a new school with strict social norms for behavior and appearance. Marcus doesn’t wear the right clothes; he talks or sings to himself when he’s stressed without being aware that he’s doing it; and he immediately becomes the target of school bullies. At home, Marcus copes with his mother, Fiona, who is loving and caring toward Marcus but is incapable of truly helping or supporting him, due to her extreme depression.

Will Freeman is an immature, idle thirty-six-year old man, who lives off of the royalties from a famous song his father wrote. Will makes up a 2-year-old son, Ned, and an ex-wife named Paula, to join a single parents’ group where he can easily pick up jaded, commitment-phobic women. Will’s deepest desire at this point is a succession of fulfilling, but brief, sexual encounters. Will and Marcus meet at a single-parents’ group picnic, which Marcus attends with Fiona’s best friend, Suzie, and Suzie’s daughter. Coming home from the picnic, they find that Fiona has tried to commit suicide. Will finds himself drawn into the family’s drama and into helping Marcus and Fiona.

At first, Marcus wants Will to date his mother because he is desperate to prevent his mother from killing herself; however, the hipster Will and the hippie Fiona have nothing in common but Marcus. Soon, Marcus discovers that Will can teach him the “cool” factor he needs to succeed at school, overcoming both his bullies and his lack of confidence. Marcus pursues a relationship with Will, who reluctantly fulfills the mentor role. Eventually, Will comes to love Marcus and begins to selflessly help another human being for the first time in his life. He also comes to care for Fiona, as a friend. In addition, Will falls in love with a single-mother, Rachel, and decides that he wants to marry her. Rachel has a son, Ali, who is the same age as Marcus. In turn, Marcus rebels against his mother, who at first gets the wrong idea about Will’s interest in Marcus, by continuing to see him, and Marcus befriends a rebellious, intelligent fifteen-year-old girl at school, Ellie.

Marcus and Will both grow up through their relationship with each other: they grow into the appropriate maturity for their age group. Marcus grows more independent from his mother, realizing that he cannot fix her problems, and takes on an age-appropriate friendship with the anti-establishment, cool-girl, Ellie. Will commits to an adult woman with a child, choosing to connect with others who need him and who will demand adult behavior from him.

The book’s coming of age theme also reveals flaws in adulthood and society through the narrative technique: each chapter is told alternately from Marcus’ or Will’s third person, omniscient point of view. These contrasting viewpoints expose society’s high expectations for adults that do not allow for mental illness, such as the deep depression suffered by Fiona, or the support needed by single-parents struggling to raise children alone. Therefore, an underlying theme becomes that friends must help each other cope. No man or woman can successfully get through life alone: we are interconnected through our feelings and responsibilities to one another. The alternating narration underscores this sense of interconnectedness and intimacy; the contrast between the characters’ viewpoints also generates a comic effect in the novel.

Additionally, the theme of interconnectedness features the social and emotional costs of losing a parent to divorce. For example, Marcus’ father, Clive, virtually disappears from Marcus’ life in the four years after the divorce, leaving Marcus alone to strive to fill an adult’s responsibility in caring for Fiona. In many ways, this novel’s children are forced to be grown-ups, while the grown-ups fail to live up to their responsibilities. However, according to Hornby’s themes, these failures are treated with compassion, and the novel focuses on the need for support rather than judgment. Ultimately, both Marcus and Will become men through the growth they experience in knowing and befriending one another.