I was sent this book by a friend who is friends with the author. My friend didn’t know that her friend wrote teen-fiction and as soon as she found out she went and bought this copy and read it. She sent it on to me as she was curious to know what I thought. Interestingly, my friend has been gently reprimanded by her therapist a few times for infantilising herself, for playing out teenage fantasies in her adult life, so actually I’m really interested to hear what she thinks.
I hadn’t planned to write about this book, as I felt like I wasn’t entitled to have an opinion on it because I’m not a teenager any more. However, when I got to thinking about this I realised that by extension that would mean that I can’t have feelings about What is the What, or The First Bad Man by fact of not being a Somali refugee, or an American lesbian, and at least I once was a teenager, and a girl to boot, like the protagonist of this novel.
At first I was struck with how different the world of young adult fiction is now to when I was the target audience (Judy Blume!) and that seemed kind of terrifying, but then I started to see the continuity over the contrast. Teenagers are still teenagers, which is to say human beings, which is to say their concerns are the same now as they have been for a really long time given that, we – humans – don’t really evolve all that fast, it will take a good while yet until teenagers evolve to become truly alien. What has changed, however, is the backdrop against which all this teenage-ness is played out. The phone-calls over landlines, and pen friends are replaced by WhatsApp and Google Hangouts, etc. Moreover, the language, the way of expressing feelings and concerns and themes is different, but the guts of it all are the same, for the reasons.
Whilst deciding whether I was allowed to write about this book, I did something I never usually do and Googled the book to see what other opinions were out there. I happened upon a site where readers rated the book. There were a few long and angry reviews about how much readers didn’t like the protagonist amongst other things. This more than anything made me realise how really this is a novel like any other. The opinions of the teen readers seemed extra energetic and polarised, but ultimately no different to an adult talking about an adult book, or any person discussing any art work which is ultimately subjective.
I can’t really say that I enjoyed it, as it felt almost voyeuristic somehow reading about this world of which I am no longer a part, but I think that it is good to get out of your comfort (genre) zone once in a while.