A British debut novel, penned by a (then) 16-year-old author, offers the intense immediacy of teenage youth—though often without the forward momentum and richness of texture of a fully accomplished work.
The unnamed narrator is a 14-year-old girl who describes, in detail at times biting and at others long-winded, the travails of teenage life in a coastal English town. A bit awkward when she begins school, she learns how to fit in with the cool kids by letting the boys stick their hands up her skirt during break. Soon she has a clique of friends and a mean-spirited, acne-covered boyfriend named Robin, whom she meets for lunch to smoke pot and roll around on the grass with. Slowly her real psyche is revealed when Robin begins to hit her: she likes it, or, more accurately, craves the extreme sensation to feel alive. So begins the narrator’s masochism. When Robin falls in love with her, she pushes away his gentleness and begins dating 31-year-old Oliver. More interesting, though, than her romantic relationships are her familial ones—with her loving if volatile father and silent mother, left-wingers who have slipped into a life of disillusionment and endless arguing. Her parents’ fighting, the increasingly violent relationship with Oliver, and her gradual withdrawal from school life set the stage for self-mutilation as she cuts herself repeatedly—another desperate act for some kind of cold comfort. While the speaker provides a bleak, honest assessment of youthful angst, too much, given all that happens, is left unsaid or unexplained: her parents’ acceptance of a grown man sleeping with their daughter (in their house); her largely undisclosed relationships with friends; and, most importantly, the lack of self-reflection on the teller’s part.
Graphic and guileless, as well as underdeveloped, though admittedly intriguing if only because of the author’s youth.