Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives by Chloe Combi

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Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives by Chloe Combi

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Charlie Pullen
Reviewed by Charlie Pullen
Summary: Highlighting the comic and tragic aspects of young people’s lives in equal measure, this collection of interviews gives voice to those children and teenagers, revealing their often humorous, gloomy, and sometimes shocking tales of growing up in Britain today. And from social media to gang violence, Chloe Combi turns real stories of young life into a compelling read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2015
Publisher: Hutchinson
ISBN: 978-0091958770

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Generation Z, for anyone who, like me, wasn’t aware, is made up of those young people born between 1995 and 2001. It is one of the central contentions of Chloe Combi’s book Generation Z: Their voices, Their Lives that for these fin de millenaire folk the trials and joys of growing up are unlike those in any other time in British history. From the radical technological innovation which produced the internet and smart phones to multiculturalism, life for these children and teenagers is characterised by so much that was not experienced by their parents and grandparents. In Generation Z, then, Combi offers some glimpses into the worlds of young people today, in what she wishes to be 'a conversation starter between teenagers and adults.'

Generation Z is a book of interviews drawn up from a wide range of young people from across the UK – male and female, homosexual and heterosexual, black and white, rich and poor. A former teacher, now a specialist in young people’s issues and a regular on television and radio, Combi’s interest in the lives of children and teenagers is clear. Truth, they say, is stranger than fiction, and certainly she demonstrates that real stories can prove just as – or even more – compelling and readable than the fictional lives dreamed up by authors. It promises in the introduction to be a book capable of making you laugh and cry, and it certainly delivers. Indeed, it’s a book of many opposites: it is at points hilarious, sweet, and uplifting, while equally remaining devastatingly sad, aggravating, and shocking. It certainly doesn’t mince its punches, and goes to lengths to give a real variety of stories and perspectives, ones which fill you with pride and others which you’d wish you never read.

It is structured in chapters based around the big themes and issues for young people – school, race, sex, bodies – but within these sections Combi proves to be a skilful editor in positioning and ordering these stories, which range from anything like a sentence to a few pages in length. Although Generation Z is broken into these chapters, it by no means leaves us with a feeling that all of these lives are the same. We go, for instance, from the witty musings of a bored kid to tales of suicide and domestic violence without any warning. This is great arrangement, but at 300-odd pages in length, it must be said, the book drags in the final stages, and fairly quickly these massive shifts in tone become pretty predictable. At the points when I find myself laughing I know that the next episode will try to bring me to tears. It is not necessarily, though, a book you have to read cover to cover, rather it might benefit from being dipped into or flung open at random. It is successful because it is a mixed bag, and it’s worth bearing in mind that it offers little by way of unity.

One of Combi’s real strengths is in living up to another promise of offering a large range of experiences, told in 'candid', refreshing, and sometimes unsettling detail. We get a big variety of young Muslims, mixed with lots of contrasting stories of being gay, and a plethora of sex stories, ones which are mature and immature, funny and nasty. We hear these young people in brief but sharp detail, warts and all, voices which very often have uncomfortable and offensive things to say. Some are disrespectful and rude; others are racist, misogynistic, and snobbish. It is, nonetheless, an important survey of genuine feelings, desires, and anxieties that rarely have the chance to be discussed. It would be easy for such a book to trivialise or patronise these young people and their lives, but we get the sense that, for all of their differences, these individuals are interesting, intelligent, and resilient members of our society who deserve to be given voice through such a book. It sets out to debunk many of the myths associated with Britain’s youth, and succeeds in so much as it shows no constituents of any generation can really be lumped together.

There aren’t many books like Generation Z, and its uniqueness or its novelty certainly contributes to its appeal. This work of verbatim literature is an example of how nonfiction thrives on character just as fiction does. It is one of those books that makes you want to constantly pause, and say 'Listen to this!', reading out a glorious one-liner or feeling the need to repeat a disturbing tale. We might hope, then, that Combi achieves her aim of getting us all talking, whether we like what we hear or not.

For more ideas and arguments about education see Education Under Siege: Why There is a Better Alternative by Peter Mortimore, or for comic tales of family life try My Family and Other Disasters by Lucy Mangan.

Buy Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives by Chloe Combi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives by Chloe Combi at

Buy Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives by Chloe Combi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives by Chloe Combi at


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