A punk London schoolgirl discovers some of the many things she doesn’t know about life and love in a snappy first novel that’s meant to tug at your heartstrings too.
If Viva Cohen had a résumé, it would say that she’s in her final year at Griffins School for Girls. The life she’s cast herself in, though, is a lot more glamorous, even when it’s retro-glam and tawdry-glam. Her role models are Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and her gay Uncle Manny, the only important authority figure in her life who isn’t dead and thumbtacked to her wall. Viva is so cool that her best friend, the impossibly beautiful Treena, couldn’t pick a single one of her Hollywood heroes out of a Photoplay pictorial, and her other best friend, mid-range pop star Ray Devlin, hasn’t even slept with her. She sees 17 as an awkward age, too young for adult relationships, too old to play Lolita to men even older than Ray. Hundreds of waiflike insights like these, delivered from different locations and postures, drive the story, through which other figures drift mainly to provide setup lines or dispense wisdom of their own. (It figures that a depressive singer with the group Kindness of Strangers, the one character who seems to draw Viva into a connection with something outside herself, disappears early on.) Viva floridly fails her exams, joins Ray on a Hollywood junket, compares the real movie stars at the Château Marmont to the ones on the wall back home, runs the cultural gamut from Sartre to Smarties, and eventually realizes that “just because someone likes some of the same films as you, it doesn’t mean you’re going to live happily ever after.”
The antic Viva is fine in small doses, but the worldly-wise Viva who struggles to the kinds of realizations actual kids have before they’re well into their teens, is a little hard to take.