Siobhan Vivian – Not That Kind of Girl
I’d been meaning to read this ever since it came out – love Siobhan Vivian’s books, in particular her ability to capture complex and nuanced friendships amongst teenage girls. Not That Kind of Girl doesn’t disappoint. The heroine, Natalie, is of the variety often described as ‘prickly’ – she’s disdainful of most of the people in her school, including the obnoxious football players and the provocative freshman girls trying to get attention by how ‘sexy’ they are. She’s also the student council president (echoes of Tracy Flick here, in the best possible way) and determined to do her best, particularly as her teacher and mentor is putting pressure on her as one of very few female student presidents in the school’s history. The parts which detail the ways in which sexual activity or stories can be twisted and used horribly against teenage girls are heartbreaking and true, and even though Natalie isn’t 100% right in how she goes about things, the reader understands that it’s an area with very few ‘100% right’ solutions.
Lesley Fairfield – Tyranny
Graphic novel for teens, focusing on Anna’s struggle with an eating disorder and battling Tyranny, the part of her self that demands control over eating (or not eating). Given the distorted viewpoint inherent in anorexic behaviour, it lends itself well to artwork (Anna’s protuding collarbone is particularly haunting), and Anna’s ideas for stories also work well represented visually. The moments where Anna is in therapy and listing off the things her disorder has taken away from her, especially time, is particularly poignant, and as with verse novels, is all the more effective for being minimalistic. At the same time, the spare prose doesn’t always serve the narrative as well as it might, even with its pairing with artwork – there’s an awful lot happening in this slim book, often very quickly, and a more narrow focus might have been more effective. (Sidenote: oh-so-conscious of using terms like ‘slim’ and ‘narrow’ when discussing an eating disorder book!)
Sophie Kinsella – The Undomestic Goddess
Following my devouring of the Shopaholic series I investigated SK’s other works. In this one, a workaholic high-powered lawyer ends up working as a housekeeper in a quaint village after a disaster of epic proportions at work. The trouble is, she’s completely clueless about anything vaguely housework-related… and wacky antics ensue. I really enjoyed this one – I am not a high-powered anything but the look at high-income-but-no-life-jobs versus work-that-you-do-and-it’s-done is handled well, without necessarily advocating for one or the other as The Best Thing Ever. And it’s brilliantly funny.
Portia De Rossi – Unbearable Lightness
Memoir of Portia De Rossi’s battle with eating disorders with some astute commentary on the world of acting, modelling and celebrity. Beautifully written and well worth checking out. There’s some interesting stuff in the epilogue which discusses modern culture’s relationship to dieting and exercising, which I would have liked to have seen more of. (Sidenote: there is not a huge focus on Portia’s relationships but every time Ellen Degeneres is mentioned the reader is liable to melt.)
Robert Cormier – The Chocolate War
One of those iconic YA texts that’s been on the ‘to read’ list for ages. I had a vague idea it was about not selling chocolates for the school, but what intrigued me was how much messier it was – not a simple act of rebellion on Jerry’s part but all tangled up with the secret society, the Vigils, that keep things under control at the school – with the tacit approval of the staff. It’s dark, with a downbeat ending, but authentic because of it. Glad I read it.
Jacqueline Susann – Valley of the Dolls
Fabulously soap-opera-ish tale of three women in the entertainment industry in the 1940s and 50s, and the drugs they take in order to cope with it. Wonderfully entertaining – even if Susann’s show biz knowledge is far superior to her medical knowledge (one word: Tony).
Rebecca Stead – When You Reach Me
Time travel and classroom politics in 1970s New York. This won the Newbery last year, so I had that mix of sceptical (award-winners can often mean ‘good for teaching in a classroom’ as opposed to ‘an amazing read’) and intrigued, particularly given the references throughout to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. Like L’Engle’s books, it handles big themes while interweaving the everyday. Well, well worth reading.