Saturday, 23 April 2011

Sunday Supplement: Review of Notes From The Teenage Underground by Simmone Howell

Gem, only child of arty mother Bev and an absent haiku-obsessed father always found fitting in difficult until the mysterious Lo turned up at school. The trio of her, Lo and Mira have been inseparable for a while now but as they plan their summer project – an Andy Warhol inspired underground film – she starts to feel pushed out by the other two. Can she deal with exams, romance co-worker Dodgy, save her friendship with Mira and Lo and cope with her father’s reappearance?

Huge commendation to Simmone Howell for managing to portray some of the best adult characters I’ve seen in ages in a teen novel – Gem’s mother Bev, her godmother Sharon, who’s also the school counselor, and her reappearing father are all brilliantly depicted, as is the way Gem’s relationships with them change over the course of the book. For a film buff like myself, there’s also some fantastic stuff about non-mainstream films which has given me a good few recommendations to check out. The ending was also really well done, with the final scenes so well portrayed I could visualise them (in grainy black and white filmed with an ‘arty’ style!)

There were other parts of the book which I felt were something of a letdown – Gem’s two friends Mira and Lo were fairly two-dimensional, seeming to just be obsessed with being cooler than everyone around them, and because of this I never felt particularly bothered about whether their friendship would recover or not. Gem herself is something of an acquired taste; originally I found her fairly unsympathetic but as we get to know her better and see her change I grew to really like her.

Despite being set in Australia, the attitudes and interests of the teens will be just as familiar to American and British young adults and Howell does a great job of making it clear the book is set Down Under with her dialogue without it ever getting too obscure for those of us whose experience of the country is generally limited to watching Neighbours to follow. I think that a lot of indie film fans will absolutely adore this one and it’s worth at least a look for most readers. It definitely has me interested in checking out her next novel, Everything Beautiful.

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