International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year:
Understanding: My Year in Agony
By Lara Fox
Published by Hodder Childrens Books
Callum Graham review
aka Miss understanding has, during her parents break
up, been forced away from her friendship group in Clifton and moved
to the down market side of town. Starting a new life with her hippie
mother Jocosta and six year old brother Marley, she feels frustrated
by the responsibilities thrust upon her.
beginning the academic year at a new school The Adam Woodyatt
Academy, she finds that her only real communication with her
new class mates is through her online agony column where she offers
advice to her peers. As she writes it becomes apparent that it is
not only students who are reading her blog and asking for advice.
Her exposés of the lives behind classroom doors have unforeseen
consequences for both her and her readers alike.
My Year in Agony
is the first in a trilogy from the childrens publisher Hodder
and is aimed at a younger teenage female audience. The narrative follows
Anyas life through the blogs she writes on her website misunderstanding.net,
and the emails and text messages she sends and receives from friends.
The book is saturated with pop culture references such as quips about
Amy Winehouse and Pete Dohertys drug habits, Keira knightleys
weight issues and even a nod towards Louise Rennison the writer of,
among many Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging. This although
sometimes clever and amusing, does become a little irritating and unnecessary
after a while. The dialogue is littered with plenty of abbreviated text
speak which Im sure some readers will understand but will have
others, like myself, running to as Anya would say, wiki
(wikipedia) for translations.
Inevitably the premise of the narrative revolves around Anya spending
too much time solving other peoples problems and not enough time
sorting out her own life. However, through out the book I remained unconvinced
that much of the advice she was offering was of any use. Most of it
seemed to contain insults to the person seeking help and a reference
or two back to her own tangled life, which although sometimes relevant
undermined her wish to solve others problems. In spite of this there
were a few knowledgeable gems thrown in here and there and My Year
in Agony obviously has some good moral messages for any teenagers
reading the book, especially those looking for some un-patronising moral
guidance on sex, drinking and drugs. I was surprised by the relaxed
and balanced attitude the book has towards smoking and drinking. It
aims not to castigate these pastimes but rather portrays Anya as having
a mature and responsible attitude towards them (even if her friends
didnt). However, this does become a little nanny-ish at times.
The complex nature of teenage relationships is well crafted in the narrative.
An interesting mirror is created reflecting the similarities between
the younger relationships of Anya and her friends and those of her parents
and their partners. Also, through the book Lara Fox explores the notion
of how little we actually know about our parents pasts when we
are children. As Anya begins to ask questions about her parents broken
marriage she realises that her mother and father are not just parent
figures but also human beings too. This can also be seen with the teachers
at Adam Woodyatt Academy who, as Anya finds out to her cost, are more
than just emotionless figures who run the classes.
The book nicely compartmentalises the multi-faceted nature of teenage
anxiety and the plot isnt as obvious as I had first expected it
to be. If you are a teenager and open to some relatively light hearted
dilemmas, peppered with some home spun philosophy than this book is
probably worth checking out. You might even want to keep your eye open
for the rest of the trilogy.
© Callum Graham June 10th 2009
callum.graham at btinternet.com
Master of Fallen Chairs By Henry Porter
Orchard Books; (Sep 2008)
ISBN13: 9781846166259: Paperback
Reviewed by Callum Graham
I was compelled by the quirkiness of the world that Henry Porter
has created and the phenomenon of the magic house was highly inventive
Callum is studying
Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth
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