publication date: 2013
Permanent Record was a YA book with an uncommon main character – Badi Hessamizadeh, also known as Bud Hess. Badi was a young Iranian-American living with his family in urban Chicago. When we met Badi at the beginning of the book, he was in mandatory therapy after a suicide attempt and was leaving his old school because of his threats against students and blowing up a toilet.
When Badi started at his new school, his parents forced on him a new Americanized name – Bud Hess. Along with the new name, Bud wanted a fresh start at his new school, without the bullying and depression and maybe even with some friends. As the story continued, Bud refused to take his medication and his narrative became increasingly paranoid and violent. Bud found himself in almost the same situation he was in at his previous school.
The tone and voice of this book was classic young adult. It was angst-filled, with a lot of talk about girls and rebelling against parents and other authority figures. The dialogue was usually good, but not necessarily realistic. Leslie Stella did infuse the book with a lot of humor, some of it dark. For example, Bud described the new freshmen in school as having “the stunned look of livestock.”
I also liked the setting of a Middle Eastern-American household. Stella did a great job conveying Bud’s family as realistic Americans with an Iranian culture and background. Here was how Stella introduced Bud’s father:
We’re halfway through when Dad clears his throat, puts down his fork, and turns to me. “Son, I have some news for you.” . . . Dad lifts his palms in a gesture of surrender. “Now, now, do not derange yourself.” My father emigrated to this country – right here to Chicago, in fact – from Iran thirty years ago, and while he has only the slightest accent and is completely fluent in English (and Farsi and French), he’s retained some dialectical oddities.
Stella deliberately crafted the pace of the book. As Bud’s narration devolved into paranoia and desperation, the tone of the book gradually became less coherent and more frantic. Throughout all this, Bud’s actions and motives became less justifiable and more threatening. And yet we were still supposed to root for him, or at least identify with him. I thought Stella did an effective job of making Bud a sympathetic character even as he was unequivocally plotting violence against his alleged enemies. However, it did raise the question: how much sympathy, understanding, and forgiveness should we give a violent person, know matter how mentally ill or how bullied they feel?
What the book lacked in depth and character development, it made up for in an unusual plot and setting and funny writing. For people who like YA, or for those encountering depression, I would certainly recommend the book.
4/6: worth reading