Notes from the Teenage Underground

I’m reading Simmone Howell backwards. That is, first I read the second book, and now I’ve progressed to her first teen novel, Notes from the Teenage Underground. Last time I think I compared Simmone’s book to a blend of Melvin Burgess and Jacqueline Wilson. The Underground story is more Melvin with some Cathy Hopkins gone bad. Not a bad Cathy, rather a less happy group of friends than her mates.

I still can’t get my head round how different they are in Australia. Apart from walking upside-down. There are definitely words I don’t know, and I don’t mean g’day. And I was about to say that they allow more daring behaviour in their YA novels, but since Notes from the Teenage Underground is published in the UK, it has clearly passed any censorship necessary for tender Britons.

Gem – named after Germaine Greer – feels she is becoming an outsider. Her pals Mira and Lo seem to be doing more stuff without her. Or maybe she’s imagining things? It’s their last year at school and it’s almost Christmas, very hot, and they are sitting their final exams. (I said it’s upside-down.)

They want to do something different and special to mark this, so plan some underground action. Gem is into films in a big way, so she decides to make a film. The others almost ignore her, and have their own ideas. Gem also feels the need to lose her virginity to catch up with the other two, and settles on her spotty colleague at her part time job in the video shop.

With an unconventional single mum with a hippyish background and a dad who went off to the wilds of Tasmania to be alone, she has other issues than friends and sex on her mind, too.

The plot doesn’t develop quite as you might expect, which is good, as too many books just show different routes to a conventional end. And all the film references should appeal to arty teenagers. I’m almost thinking I will have to investigate some of the films which I don’t know.

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