Friday 5 August 2011

Review of Lottie Biggs is (Not) Mad by Hayley Long

Lottie Biggs is about to turn 15. She has a job which she doesn’t mind, as Head Saturday Girl at shoe shop Sole Mates, a fantastic best friend in the ultra-cool Goose, and a crush on the divine Mad Alien (or Neil Adam, as his name reads slightly less-excitingly forwards.) All that her and Goose are thinking about at the moment (except for Neil) is getting their GCSE’s so they can get out of the boring suburb of Cardiff they live in. Things are about to change for Lottie, though…

I was enjoying this one right from the first few pages – Lottie is an exceptionally warm narrator, reminiscent of a teenage Nessa from hit sit-com Gavin and Stacey in some ways (they’re both Welsh and they both have fantastic dialogue, I may be stretching the comparison a little bit but it’s there in my mind so I’m leaving it!) As a sample, I give you her thoughts on Shakespeare’s famous ‘’Sonnet CXXX’’ (My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun…)

‘’When I read this, two things immediately became apparent to me. Firstly, William Shakespeare may have written a lot of stuff that is widely admired, but his spelling is disastrous and, secondly, anybody who looks like this has no business being rude about the personal appearance of anybody else.’’

The first half of the book rocks along in this kind of style – wonderfully narrated, with quirky characters, and a fast-moving plot – but it’s the second part, in which Lottie starts to realise that she’s having some rather serious mental health problems, which completely blew me away. The tone of the book changes to a much darker one, although it’s still funny enough to keep it in ‘easy read’ territory, and the way she and the people around her come to terms with her illness is handled beautifully. Every moment of her struggle with a malady which is never really specifically revaled seems completely real and this is potentially a book which will be incredibly helpful to teens struggling with similar issues as a stepping stone towards recognising that there is support available.

Also of note, the setout of the book is fantastic – with illustrations by Lottie all over the narrative, which takes the form of her creative writing coursework in English. Having said, this, the one slight quibble I have is that both the cover and the blurb seem to be aiming at the younger end of the teenage years while I’d say this was actually more suited to older teens and adults given the subject matter.

Absolutely massive recommendation as brilliantly, staggeringly, life-affirmingly superb.

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