Saturday, February 06, 2010

Book Review: Notes from the Teenage Underground, by Simmone Howell

Last year, Gem, Lo, and Mira had a Satanic Summer, casting spells and running around dressed in black. This year, Lo decides the theme is Underground. Our narrator, Gem, is inspired by the idea and does her research, introducing her friends to Warhol and ideas about Happenings, in-between working as much as possible at the film shop so that she can get close to Dodgy, thinking he could become her first lover, trying to decide what she wants to do now school is over, and attempting to understand the relationship between her mother, hippie-artist Bev and absent father, Rolf, a man she has never met, who sends them haikus written on postcards.

But Lo is not as serious about the Underground project. She just wants to make as big a mess out of everything as possible, rebelling against her religious parents, and she doesn't care about hurting anyone else in the process. Gem had always idolised the mysterious, glamourous Lo, and she becomes increasingly resentful as Lo takes the script she's written and makes an entirely different film out of it, finding herself pushed out of Lo's plans, which she only shares with Mira, who wanted the theme to be boys and will go along with anything if it's a laugh.

I loved this book. The characterisation is great, the narrator is interesting, and there are several plots which interweave and impact on each other. The teenagers are realistic teenagers - obsessed with being individual yet maintaining their own tribe, coming up with their own slang (Gem, Lo and Mira call people they consider uncool, too popular, "sucker peers" and "barcode"), placing too much value on sexual experience, avoiding thinking about the future when they can help it. It is full of cultural references, but most of them are to classic films, so the novel won't date, and it is accessible to adults and to teenagers that don't share the novel's location (Melbourne, Australia). I think I will definitely read this again.

I would recommend this to teenagers, young adults, most especially to film fans or wannabe film-fans (I'd put myself into that category, I am woefully undereducated when it comes to cinema), anyone who wants to read good books about growing up, and to everyone who thinks that E4's "Skins" had potential but was too glamourous and obsessed with sex in the end, because this is stylish, interesting, and so much more realistic. The author is working on a film script, but slowly, she says, so don't wait around, read this now.

There is an extract from this novel available to read at the Notes from the Teenage Underground website. Simmone Howell's personal website is very nice too and post-teen trauma, her blog, is one of those blogs that has me constantly adding to my book wishlist and wishing I had twice as much time for watching films. Plus, she followed me back on Twitter which is the true sign of taste and intelligence.

Simmone Howell's second teen novel, Everything Beautiful was brilliant too and I will review that as well at some point, but it's been too long now between reading and review, I might have to reread it (oh, any excuse!) to make sure I get it right.

The BookDepository
The BookDepository


  1. Is Rolf based on Rolf Harris?

  2. hey thanks for the lovely review! I'm so glad that people are still getting to read notes (it is super-cheap on amazon!!) I actually (disturbed child that i was) had a little crush on rolf harris when i was VERY young, but I think rolf was my sub-conscious nod to aussie film maker rolf de heer whose film bad boy bubby gave me nightmares.



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