By Thom Geier
April 06, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

American Youth

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The opening chapters of Phil LaMarche’s arresting debut unfold at an anxious clip. In American Youth, Ted, a soon-to-be high school freshman, is hanging out with two brothers, recent arrivals to an increasingly ex-urban rural New England town. The brothers goad Ted into showing off his .22, leading to a deadly accident. A social pariah when school starts, Ted is soon lured into a gang of archconservative youths who disdain drugs, antigun laws, and the encroachment of outsiders on the area. After a riveting start, though, LaMarche begins positing his hero’s interior life rather than showing it, and builds his ambitious plot to a pat, after-school-special denouement. B

American Youth

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