At lunch time I take out my phone to message Justin, but the words won’t come. I don’t want him to know that I have to play a boy. It feels weird. Like it will make him interrogate his relationship with me, and wonder if it because my legs are too hairy, or my jaw is too square.
This is what happens when you don’t spend all your time researching how to do your make-up in such a way that makes you look beautiful but also makes you look sufficiently ‘natural’ that you won’t be marched to down to the nearest sink to wash it all off. If you want to be believed as a girl on stage, that’s what you need to do.
Lauren’s not like other girls. She notices gender division, which the other girls at St Agnes’s seem oblivious to. She also fancies people she’s ‘not supposed to’ … like some of the girls in her school … Lauren loves musicals, but this year is different – not only has she been given a chorus part, she is supposed to be one of the ‘boyfriends’. She can’t even laugh about it with her best friend Steph … or is it Evan? Since the incident during the summer holidays, they have not been speaking. Evan isn’t having an easy time of it either. Not only do his teachers refuse to acknowledge his chosen gender until his mother gives consent, he has been cast as a ‘perfect young lady’.
Q Club used to be the place where Lauren and Evan could express their feelings. Now Evan whispers in the corner with Marc, Lauren finds other ways to escape her feelings. When life spirals out of control, Lauren is forced to decide … should she keep quiet ‘like other girls’?
This book was all about voice. No – there was more to it than that, but I must start with the character’s voice. Lauren is hilarious, and vulnerable and opinionated. She’s perceptive about the wider world, and issues of gender division, yet totally blinkered when it comes to other people’s feelings. If other people don’t react the way she wants them to, she can’t cope. She makes me laugh and cry at the same time. When I read her narration, she’s ALIVE in my head, and she is a real teenager.
Claire Hennessy reminds me how painful it was to be fifteen years old – so far from adulthood, yet experiencing very adult emotions and situations. Both the friendships and the school … politics … felt real, as if the book had been written from transcripts of teenagers. The novel also brought to life the effect social media has on teenagers. Lauren alternately has a second life and personality on social media, and an extension of her real life, which makes it difficult at times to switch off from her problems.
Feminism is a big topic in current YA, and frankly it is long overdue. What I love about Hennessy’s take is how rooted it is in a contemporary teenager’s perceptions. There are times when Lauren feels she is the only person who notices how unequal the world is for women. I also like how openly the book speaks about periods – it challenges the idea that women should keep quiet about the issues which affect their bodies. Sexuality, too, is a big theme. Many of the characters feel pressured because of the assumption that heterosexual is the ‘default’ sexuality. What I find realistic is the different identities the characters take in front of different people. It felt less simplistic than a story of sudden transformation.
Don’t this this is all agenda – I was in hysterics from the first chapter, where Lauren sends up the ridiculousness of her conservative all-girls school, and teenagehood in general. I cared about the friendships, and the family relationships. I cared about Lauren so much I had tears in my eyes. What the novel shows is these ‘issues’ are not subjects we should hide away, and examine in ‘appropriate places’. For many women, this is life.
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Page Count: 280