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

Friday, February 05, 2010

Book Review: Pop, by Kitty Aldridge

It's the summer of 1975, and the UK is sweating through a heatwave. Maggie's mother has recently died and her father is in the USA, so the thirteen year old girl goes to live with her grandfather, Arthur, whom she calls Pop, and his dog, Blowbroth, in Sutton Coldfield. Pop's raison d'etre is the approaching annual pub quiz, which he hopes to win so he can impress a woman. Maggie is a quiet child, but helps him train, following her grandfather from pub to pub...

...and that's about it. There is painfully little plot to this novel, and the revelations about the characters do not make up for it for me. The writing contains some great imagery, and evokes the smoky, hot atmosphere really well. The various characters in the village are believable. Pop is very well characterised. Maggie, on the other hand, isn't. She doesn't seem like a real thirteen-year-old girl. There are no hormones, no periods, she doesn't express any desire to meet other people her age. The action follows her, but is always about other people. She is meant to be the central character, but the novel's title is very telling - the story is really about her grandfather. Maggie is an neutral observer, she lacks opinion, a character of her own. She doesn't even wonder about her own future, something I would imagine would be a prime concern for a young person who has just lost their mother. I could understand her silence if she was traumatised - but she doesn't appear to be that way either.

This is very well written. But when I was done, I wondered what the point was. The climaxes of the storyline are scenes with little impact upon the characters. It's a slice of life - but I wonder why it was sliced, what the author wanted to tell us. It reminds me of a lot of short stories that I have read and not got on with. My brain seems to need a proper plot to cling to, most of the time, otherwise I just won't "get" the story and will find it ultimately frustrating.

I would only recommend this book if you want to read some nice description as I didn't get much out of it at all. If you do get more out of those plotless short stories than I do, you might enjoy this. Let me know what you think!

The BookDepository

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Book Review: Too Cool to Care, by Kate Tym

Nat is absolutely thrilled that her parents have finally given in to her complaints and for once, they will be going skiing in the Italian Alps instead of visiting her granny in Scotland as a holiday. She's getting in some practice beforehand, lessons with the gorgeous Marcus, when she loses control of her skis and breaks her leg. Now she has to spend the week at home with her two best friends, Dee and Sam, whilst her family go on holiday as planned. It's not too bad until her sworn enemy and neighbour, Jem Archer, and his cousin Sebastian, catch the lustful eyes of her friends. Then it starts to snow, Gordon, Sam's ex-boyfriend turns up to win her back, a window gets broken, and Nat's still stuck inside! What more can go wrong?

This is another in the series of J-17 magazine tie-in romances, and was published in the 90s, complete with dated cover and some slang thrown in that could be graciously described as 'retro'. The plot in this story is a bit more interesting than that of "Girls on Tour", but I could, again, see the "twist" coming as soon as the character in question was introduced. I did enjoy the story more in this one, but the names of the love interests really jarred with me. With all due respect to people named 'Gordon'!

"Too Cool To Care" is available from 1p + p&p on Amazon and these books are common at boot sales and charity shops so if you're after a really quick read for a reluctant young teenage reader you can't go wrong here. As long as you can persuade her to get past the cringy cover! I wouldn't recommend it to older teens and those that read a lot, as they'll probably find the plot a bit dull.

The BookDepository


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...