I am never going to discuss this book with my mother. The only book group I can imagine choosing to discuss this is one run by a young, rebellious branch of the WI. And that’s fine. Really. In fact, that’s one of this book’s strengths. It isn’t written to make you feel comfortable, and it isn’t always enjoyable reading. Occasionally, I laughed out loud, but on the whole, I was cringing. This is not a bad thing, but it does sometimes feel like hard work.
Although Johanna (the main character) is perhaps the most extreme teenager on record (this is the Anti-Pride and Prejudice), her mad trips through puberty via highly painful sexual development, masturbation, borderline alcoholism and a succession of truly crappy men, her progression throughout the book does make the rest of us feel better. That boss I was in love with at 15 who possessed a rat-like ponytail? Peanuts. My obsession with rainbow-patterned clothing before there was any Pride to be had in it, Gay or otherwise? Meh.
She takes chaos to such an extreme that it borders on the unbelievable, but the similarities with the author’s own life are stark. A precociously talented teenager tries to find her way through a life where expectations are at an all-time low. Moran’s subtle (and occasionally not-so-subtle) digs at the political system of the time are entirely warranted, but shown in a way that doesn’t judge, instead simply stating the effect that living in what many of us would now call poverty can have on a young person and their family. The passage where Johanna is terrified that she is the cause for her family’s situation will haunt me for a long long time.
I want to say I loved this book, but I’m not sure that’s the point of it. At times I bloody hated it, but I wanted to continue, I needed to know she was going to turn out ok.
I cannot recommend Moran’s previous book, How To Be A Girl highly enough. I force it on everyone I know with shocking regularity. I’m glad I read her latest foray into fiction, and it will stay with me for a long time, but I’m not going to throw it at everyone (for starters, I have the hardback edition. That would hurt). As ever, the writing is witty, pithy and incredibly well formed; the young Johanna has an amazing ability to put words together into pretty perfect phrases, and you can tell how much her real-life counterpart has enjoyed this linguistic playtime.
Read this if you can, because it deserves to be read. But don’t expect to love it. Expect it to educate you.