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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Some More Girlfriend Fiction

STEP UP AND DANCE, by Thalia Kalkipsakis, THE SWEET LIFE by Rebecca Lim, CASSIE by Barry Jonsberg: Girlfriend Fiction 6, 7 and 8. St Leonards, Allen and Unwin, 2008

Girlfriend Fiction has been coming out at an amazing rate over the last few months and has varied from the kind of novels that could be straight YA fiction, with no need for the hearts on the cover, to those that read more or less like standard teen romance, but better written than most. I have to say that so far, they’re doing well in my secondary school library, especially among ESL students who want to try something a little harder and closer to their age level than the ultra-thin children’s books they have been reading. I’ve had especially enthusiastic comments about My Life and Other Catastrophes and The Not Quite Perfect Boyfriend, which were both very funny.

None of the three books I’m reviewing this time is completely funny, but we’ll see how they go over with the students.

Step Up And Dance is the closest to standard teen romance of all the books in this series so far. The heroine, Saph, is a cheerleader for a professional basketball team and the boy in her life is a basketball player for another team, who goes to her school. Annoyed with him for what she believes is a practical joke, she plots revenge and it goes on and on throughout the book till, of course, all is sorted out and it turns out she had misunderstood his motives.

I hadn’t realised we even had cheerleaders in Australia, to be honest, but am always happy to learn something new. It certainly isn’t part of school culture here, but in this book the team is professional and the girl is the youngest member of a team of dancers which includes two boys.

There’s enough about the headaches of being a girl with an ethnic background to make some readers nod in agreement. Saph loves her fairly strict Greek father, but gets just a bit frustrated by the rules he makes about not staying out late and not accepting lifts from friends after dance practice. I suspect there is something here that comes from the author’s own teenage years. These days the strict ethnic parents are more likely to be African or Middle Eastern, but kids can still identify. I remember teaching Looking For Alibrandi to my ESL students and hearing one of them remark, “These Italians are so like Sudanese!”

In The Sweet Life, recently-orphaned Janey finds she has an aunt, working at the Australian Embassy in Rome, living with her daughter Federica (Freddy). Aunt Celia invites her to stay for the school holidays, but someone using the name Fellini is stalking her, first through her MySpace page, then on the mobile phone her aunt has lent her. Janey hasn’t had any boys in her life, and finds herself attracted to the Embassy’s young driver as well as to one of Freddy’s friends.

As for Freddy herself, it soon becomes clear to the reader, if not to Janey, that she doesn’t like having her newly-discovered cousin around; trouble follows.

At times I felt I was getting a guided tour of Rome, but I must admit it made me wish I could visit some of the places Janey sees in Rome and if I did, so should the readers. Possibly, they’ll be disappointed when there’s no last-page kiss, but it isn’t that type of book.

Barry Jonsberg has written on a wide variety of themes since his first novel, The Whole Business With Kiffo and the Pitbull. His first two books, about intelligent but over-the-top teenager Calma, were laugh-out-loud funny, but had sudden serious twists at the end. Ironbark dealt with a teenage boy who had a mental problem causing him to lash out suddenly, then not remember what he’d done. Dreamrider was a thriller with a mental issue and another twist at the end. Cassie is also about a serious issue. The title character is a quadriplegic with serious cerebral palsy, neither of which has stopped her from working hard at school and producing first-class work.Inside her problem body she is a normal teenager with a sense of humour. The novel’s issue is how to get all this across to her cousin, who has the embarrassing name of Holly Holley.

Holly is a girl with only one friend, the nerdy Amy, who’s more interested in mathematics than boys and clothes. Holly wants desperately to be a member of the in crowd and attract the attention of the good-looking if dumb Raph McDonald. When a chance to do both comes up, she resents having to share a house with Cassie and her mother, who have travelled down from Darwin after a marriage breakup, resents even Amy’s common-sense comments about the people she wants so badly to hang out with. The novel is about working out what’s important and who really cares about you. It’s about surfaces and what’s underneath. And because it’s written by Barry Jonsberg, however serious the theme, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Using humour, he manages to get across a serious issue.

There is an afterword which explains that Jonsberg, when he was teaching, had a quadriplegic student with cerebral palsy who is now studying Art at university and generally doing well.

It’s always interesting to read a book about young women by a man, but then, Barry Jonsberg was a teacher for many years and has his own children. This is my favourite of the three, but we’ll see which the kids at my school, at least, like best and I will enter a post about it when I know.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Loathing Lola comment

Whoops! The author has sent a comment that he has only a brother, not a sister. I can only plead that I'd been up since 6.00 a.m., at work all day and attending meetings before going to the State Library to hear him in Booktalkers. But my general comments on the book stand and I'm pleased William was happy with his review. It was well-deserved. He's gonna go far! :-)