19 April 2015
The Boys Who Wouldn’t Grow Up is a novel about University students learning, loving and coming of age in an ancient town by the sea. Written by Lauren Mangiaforte, a recent St Andrews graduate, and inspired by the town and her own experiences in it, the plot centers on the trials and tribulations that befall a group of friends as they approach the end of their university careers. There’s Julie, a bubbling, pretty American, whose romantic entanglements drive much of the story; Catriona, a rigid English girl who grapples with emotional issues; Max, her meek Swiss boyfriend who struggles to keep a hold of his youth as increasingly intense demands are placed on him; and a large cast of colorful supporting characters who represent a fairly truthful sample of the real St Andrews student population. Among these are Caddy, Julie’s laid-back flatmate from New Orleans who throws great parties and always seems to have good advice; Peter, Julie’s best friend from England who also happens to be Catriona’s cousin; Brett and Ashwin, two fun-loving guys from Australia and India, respectively; Harry Ommar, a handsome and sophisticated graduate who steals the hearts and minds of most girls he encounters; and Fern, Max’s tough, sincere, Scottish flatmate who supports him through thick and thin. Complications arise as graduation looms, and each individual is caught between looking toward the future and trying to enjoy the moment. Does the end of University mean the end of youth? Does everyone actually have to grow up?
The aspect of the book that makes it an especially attractive read for St Andrews students is its familiarity: it very accurately captures, describes and recounts the experience of living and studying here. The balls and flat parties, the international atmosphere, the drinking culture, the lecture halls and library, the traditions, the routines of daily life—all are authentically represented. As the plot unfolds, the lives of the characters intertwine serendipitously as only can happen here, on these three ancient streets. Although the names of the town, its streets and common places have all been changed to reflect the fictional nature of the novel (St Andrews has been changed to St Albas, for example) everything—including the Lizard Lounge, which has been re-dubbed the ‘Shark Lounge’—is easily recognizable and incorporated in almost exact real-life detail.
In a way, the precision with which The Boys Who Wouldn’t Grow Up conveys the unique environment of St Andrews can be almost startling to students: it is easy to get so drawn into the novel that the line between fiction and reality blurs. Suddenly, some of the characters may seem like the people who were at that party on South Street last weekend, and it becomes difficult to remember that the loves and losses of the protagonists are just figments of Mangiaforte’s imagination. In turn, these parallels achieve a variety of interesting effects, among them discomfort, introspection, and possibly, a great amount of pride and love for this town and university. Starting and ending with the ‘May Saving’—a tradition that all St Andrews students, past and present, will be familiar with—the book is an especially great read for anyone who has ever lived and studied in this town, and fuels a tremendous desire to hang on to every moment we have left in this incredible place.