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Kate Kellaway Reports On Fiction For Girls Essay, Research Paper

Agony, ecstasy and little tattoosMisery is cheering, at least in fiction. Novels for teenage girls often depend upon an inverted escapism: however depressed you may be, she – the narrator – will be feeling worse . You might come from a broken home, she will come from a family so outstandingly dysfunctional that you can’t compete. You might not like your appearance, but she will complain that she is unrescuably ordinary in all particulars, an unpopular mouse who will never net a boyfriend. You might have an eating disorder, she will have a worse eating disorder. You may be disappointed in love, she will be suicidal . This is a fictional world that is skewed, anguished and exaggerated, but there is far more integrity in it than I had at first supposed. The best of these books are intense in a way that no other fiction is and reminded me, prostratingly, of how dark – and distorted – being a teenager can be. The books I’ve chosen had to pass two tests: I had to be able to read them (there were plenty too junky and illiterate to endure); and then imagine consuming them as a teenager myself. Cut by Patricia McCormick ( Collins Flamingo £4.99, pp176 ), on the unpromising but, at the moment, inescapable subject of self-harming, is a cleanly written, tense novel. It is set in Sea Pines, a psychiatric hospital with no sea, no pines but many a pining girl. Not many teenagers plumb the bottom of the psychological deep in the way that these characters do, but most will identify with some portion of their misery. Callie cuts herself and keeps seeing a shrink in a black leather chair that ‘groans like a living thing’. Callie won’t talk. And there is no comradeship to be had with over-sussed Amanda, who answers the shrink’s question about why she is cutting herself with wise-guy poise: ‘Low self-esteem. Poor impulse control. Repressed hostility. Right?’ The ending is hard-won, moving, bordering on happy. Breakers by Julia Clarke ( Collins Flamingo £4.99, pp174 ), is a delightful novel about a girl forced to be the grown-up in her family. Cat looks after her chaotic, vulnerable younger sister, Ana, and her actress mother, who will be an adolescent all her life: beautiful, feckless, with a messy sex-life. Clarke has a feeling for what it is to be at the mercy of adults while trying to discover a life for yourself. She is an attractive, sensitive writer; this novel can be polished off in a single sitting. What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones ( Orion £8.99, pp272 ) is about teenage confusion, chaos and bust-ups. It is as delicious as a cream-cake (and as unhealthy, too, no doubt). But it is so convincing that it comes as an indecent surprise to see its middle-aged author smiling out from the dust-jacket. The book is dashingly written in verse; funny, unabashed, full of comforting hyperbole – ‘My parents just had World War Twenty Seven’ – and buoyed up by a nice line in wry self-mockery. When Sophie falls in love, she can’t believe how much she and her love have in common, even ‘the same number of letters in their names’. Wicca – Book of Shadows by Cate Tiernan ( Puffin £4.99, pp192 ) is the first of a series that has achieved cult status in the US. There is an industry of books about witches addressed at teenage girls. Does the average teenage girl really want a broomstick? I thought myself witch-proof before reading Wicca , but I enjoyed it hugely. It is about a girl with an imperfect nose who falls in love with a boy with a perfect one, not to mention ‘ageless, gold coloured eyes’ and a taste for wizardry. The supernatural element is at no point scary, it is fun – and, yes, an escape from a reality in which no spells work. Inevitably, with so much angst to contend with, there are plenty of self-help books for teenagers around. Among the best is Perfect , in which young women talk about their body image ( Livewire £5.99, pp139 ). This book has the advantage of being unpatronising. Bodies are under close scrutiny; there is not a neglected nipple anywhere or a hidden tattoo (one woman describes ‘a small green and yellow lizard on my shoulder called Rupert’). But it is a forceful reminder of how difficult it is to be young and female. The perfectionists suffer most. The Diary of a Teenage Health Freak by Ann McPherson ( Oxford £4.99, pp160 ) and The Diary of the Other Health Freak , by Aidan Macfarlane and Ann McPherson ( Oxford £4.99, pp192 ), are cunning concoctions. One teenager told me he read both books avidly, but in secret. They deal with every imaginable problem (Stopping Exam Panic, Unwanted Sex and Baby Fears, Drugs, Insomnia, Aids), but in the context of two flaky teenagers keeping diaries. ‘You laugh at them,’ my informant tells me, ‘but subconsciously, they’re useful.’

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