Why reading and writing is the road to happiness...

This blog started years ago as a place to muse on the life projects keeping me entertained. It is no surprise then that it has morphed into a blog about my reading as that has been my lifelong project. Here I review lots of different types of books, with an added focus on Australian women writers. Hope you enjoy - feel free to contribute to the conversation!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Book Review: 'Girl Defective' by Simmone Howell (No 1: YA)

Girl DefectiveI absolutely loved 'Girl Defective' by Australian writer, Simmone Howell. I picked it up because I had noted it when it was reviewed on release last year, and I liked the play on words in the title. First impressions a chapter in was that the protagonist, Sky, and her father and brother Gully were too quirky, and that the novel would descend into a cliched 'we're outside mainstream society but the cool kids will accept us by the end' YA plot. Pretty quickly I realised that there was something more special here, and I really ended up loving all the characters in Howell's novel.
Sky's mum has left, leaving her alone with her beautifully eccentric younger brother and her 'stuck in the past' father; they own a record shop, doing it tough in the face of the digital world. Sky has fallen in with older St Kilda local Nancy, who appreciates Sky's retro life; Nancy lives life large, much to Sky's admiration and envy: 'After that, the pilot was lit. Nancy's presence gave Mum's stuff meaning. She got it - that everything old was good. We were retro girls. We listened to old records; we read old books. We watched old movies... I did wonder about lots of things but there was one thing I knew: when Nancy wore my mother's clothes, she looked fucking beautiful'.
The plot is constructed around the mysterious death of local teenager Mia, whose brother comes to work in the record store, and becomes an important presence in Sky's summer holidays. At the same time, Gully's obsessive interest in amateur sleuthing adds to the detective theme in the novel, and his dispatches to the family regarding his investigation of a vandal's attack on the store are truly delightful: 'The subject doesn't know his height but I would pick him at six feet. He is caucasian, has dark hair that could use a cut and he wears black-rimmed glasses. A casual dresser, he was born and educated in Adelaide, the city of churches and serial killers.' The novel is a lovely ode to St Kilda: 'I could live without the tourists but there were things I loved - like the palm trees and poppy seed kugelhopf; like the monster goldfish at the botanical gardens and the sad song of the marina boats. The wind played their masts like a bow on strings and the sound was eerie and lovely and more lonesome than anything I could imagine'.
'Girl Defective' is not afraid to touch on darker adult issues, and explores the relationship between a single dad and a teenaged daughter realistically without too much saccharine. I liked how it was clear to Sky that she and her family were 'different' and that she had mixed feelings about wanting to be more maintsream but at the same time relishing that they were left of centre. The coming of age romance was nicely developed, and the end resolved well. My only concern is that with all the references to seventies and eighties music, as Sky and her father delve into the record store's treasures, YA readers might be lost to the soundtrack that is created by the plot. I could 'hear' all the tracks as Sky put them on her turntable; but maybe it would encourage a younger reader to google eighties gold such as 'Hold The Line'?
It is clear that Simmone Howell has a fantastic 'voice' for YA: I missed Sky's voice as soon as I finished the novel. You can't get a better recommendation than that.

*This review is part of the Australian Womens Writers Challenge 2014


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