I find myself telling my Mum all about Dad not buying the Jay-Shees, me getting sort of bullied about it, trying to disguise my rubbish shoes, and that backfiring, and then finally wearing trainers. She’s still really easy to talk to. I also somehow manage to eat all the cake. Mum doesn’t even touch it.
(When Good Geeks Go Bad by Catherine Wilkins. P71.)
Ella’s parents are spending some time apart. Which is fine, and all that, so long as they try to understand Ella’s needs as a teenager.
When Dad refuses to buy Ella a pair of cool shoes, Ella goes on strike. She’s done being good. Her parents don’t appreciate it and it only gets her picked on at school. It seems that the only people who get their own way in the world are the extroverts and trouble-makers.
Ella’s campaign escalates and soon things are out of control. Can she get back on track before she ends up doing something she regrets?
A witty and relatable story which will appeal to pre-teens and young teenagers experiencing cliques and rebellions for the first time. It brought back to me how difficult it was to be twelve or thirteen years old. Things which seem ridiculous to totally adult people can be very important to children. Like having the right shoes. It can mean the difference between blending in and sticking out.
This is a wonderful narrative about families – about the knock-on effect relationship breakdowns can have on children. During the first part of the story, Ella’s Mum takes on the role of good cop. Or fairy godmother. She is the wish granter. The shoe-buyer. She also fails to understand what Ella needs (some confidence in herself, a reminder about the school rules and ways of coping with name-calling.) In trying to get one over on Dad, Ella’s Mum ignores her daughter’s needs.
The story is narrated by Ella herself, whose voice captures the injustices (real and imagined) of a young teenager’s life. Ella’s narration makes the story doubly-funny and is so real it could be an extract from a childhood diary.
The portrayal of school is brilliant too. The petty rules and the good ones, the rebellious kids who really aren’t so bad and the popular girls, whose own insecurities are barely hidden behind their confidence and make-up. Nothing is superficial. Every character is deeper than they initially appear, even the teacher who delights in enforcing rules and handing out detentions. I loved how much thought Wilkins gave her minor characters. They brought the novel to life and made it feel like a strong drama.
Definitely one I would recommend to kids approaching secondary school, and one which will bring back that awkward age when you felt like neither a child nor a proper teenager. Everything is easier when it is handled with humour and understanding, and Wilkins shows both in bucket-loads.