Sunday, August 22, 2010

Some girls are bigger than others - by Sarra Manning from Queen of Teen Anthology (SSM)

Before my review, just some random thoughts that have been bubbling beneath my surface for some time now:

Much has been said in the past few months about pink books for both adult females and younger female and teen readers. I'd like to offer my tiny five pence piece here which is basically: I used to be one of those who turned their noses up at pink books. They scream overly girly relationship soppiness to me and boy, that is so not what I like to read about. But after five years of reviewing and shoving my preconceptions firmly in my pocket, I have to say that I'm still not fond of the pinkness, but each book should be taken on its own merits. A lot of hard work has gone into these books by very dedicated authors and honestly, if a reader is too shallow to not look past a pink cover book, and not "get" that that 9 times out of 10 these stories are far more than what meets the eye, well then, it's that reader's loss. I'm sure you'll be happier with those dark romance covers instead where invariably the heroine is dull and gormless and the heroes are all alpha males in training and invariably quite abusive towards said heroines. Pink cover books may seem overly girly but let me tell you what I've discovered about them: the heroines are invariably sweet, caring, tough and ready to learn the error of their ways and usually, by the end of the book, our main character has managed to grow as a person and has probably learned valuable lessons along the way - usually one of independence and how to think for yourself and have a life. I'd rather spend time with these girls who have funny charming characters and eccentric ways than deeply sighing melodramatic heroines who can't think their way out of a Kellogs box.

I also love the dark cover dark romances for teens, but have become so inured to the soft weepy heroine who can't stand up for herself, I'm rapidly falling out of love with them. Are these the type of heroines we like to read about? Personally for me, not so much. Which is probably why I like books like Takeshita Demons, Hattori Hachi and Michelle Harrison's books so much - strong can-do female characters that are wonderfully thought out and engaging. Yes, give me books and characters like that I don't care what those covers look like!

From that, let me segue into my review for Sarra Manning's truly excellent Some girls are bigger than others. It is the last story in the Queen of Teen anthology and to me, a strong contender as one of the very best.

In a summer that is meant to be a summer full of boys, secret kisses and sundrenched days at the beach, Cath has the misfortune of having to stay at home whilst her best mate goes off on holiday abroad. She gets a job at the local ice cream stand on the beach and prepares herself for an awesome time of flirting with boys and generally having a great time. Sadly, what she gets instead is a lot of rain and a mousy workmate called Rosie whose only asset seems to be her tremendously large bosoms.

Through Cath's observations we learn that Rosie is quiet, shy, reticent and a reader. Cath and Rosie couldn't be more different. Rosie wears clothes not suited to her body and clearly has no idea about make-up, how to style her hair or dress, especially when it comes to the bra department.

The girls aren't really friends, but when one of the guys from the face-painting hut keeps coming around for ice cream and chatting to Rosie, Cath decides to step in and help her work colleague who clearly has some negative body-issues going on. She drags a very reluctant Rosie to local shopping centre and introduces her to the wonders of stylish underwear and decent clothes.

Rosie turns to Cath at one point and says: "I'm having this major epiphany," Rosie confessed. "I always thought it was superficial to care too much about clothes and hair and it was the inner me that counted. But maybe the outer me should look more like the inner me."

She really needed to come with sub-titles. "What does the inner you look like?" I asked.

Turned out that Rosie's inner me looked like the girls in the books she read: quirky and mysterious which I translated as a muter colour palette and lots of v-neck and wrap tops to minimise her mammaries.

Cath knows that they aren't really friends, but sees their relationship more of a teacher/student variety. She encourages Rosie to talk to David, the boy from the face painting stand and eventually she manages to get them to go out to a movie - The Great Gatsby. As Rosie starts to come into herself, both in confidence and personality, Cath's character reduces slightly. I don't think she initially realises it but she becomes a bit more brash, shinier, a false shine that attracts the wrong type of attention from the local hotshot, Kieran, who eventually asks her out.

The night end in disaster with Cath's deepest shame revealed - the fact that she stuffs her own bra with inflatable bits to make her breasts look bigger. She eventually reveals to Rosie that she desperately wants her boobs enlarged as she knows her looks are her only way out of the shitty seaside town. She wants to marry a rich bloke, maybe a footballer and just get away from her mum and the seaside town. But Rosie, being Rosie sees past this and tells Cath that as she's a very goal orientated person, that maybe what she should do is not wait for a man to take her away, but to do it for herself. Go to uni, get a decent job that pays a lot of money, make herself happy instead of waiting for some man to do it. Cath is completely taken aback. By the end of the summer, Rosie hands Cath a big mysterious box and sends her home. Once there, Cath opens the box and founds a variety of music cd's and books, all of which she's seen Rosie read during their summer at the ice cream stand together.

The letter that comes with the box reads:

"Dear Cath

Before I met you, these were the people who showed me that there's a whole big world out there and that who I am isn't who I'm going to be. I hope they do the same for you.

Love, Rosie."

I regret as a reader that the story had to end - I loved both Cath and Rosie as both were silly and wise beyond their years. I genuinely hope that Sarra Manning maybe takes us on a ride with the full story of what Cath gets up to once she digs out one of those books and starts on her journey of self.

So, the lesson I'd like to impart with this review is: don't knock it till you've tried it. I've learned my lesson and I am trying not to fall back into the trap of turning up my nose at pink books, especially for younger readers. I'm still cautious of pinkish looking adult novels, but I'm pretty sure that my aversion will be overcome. I mean, I already love the girls over at Little Black Dress Books! It's a slippery slope, this reading malarky! It threatens to open your eyes!


Linda said...

Thoroughly agree with your growing aversion to the vapid rescue-me girls we've been subjected to recently. And some pink books have strong girls, but too often in curiously restricted situations. Is this what we fought for in the sixties and seventies? I find I'm reading a lot more historical books to escape both types: 'Fallen Grace', 'Halo', 'A Most Improper Magick' for example.

Lauren said...

What bothers me about some people's aversion to pink books (er, not yours) is that I can't help but worry that it's not just about them thinking 'pink = girly' but rather 'pink = girly = unimportant / trivial / lesser in whatever way than anything UNgirly'. Maybe I'm too sensitive about it, but as someone who is both very girly and very smart (but not all that modest, obviously) that's my take on the situation. So, what you said about pink books there really strikes a chord with me. Thanks!

Sounds like the Sarra Manning story is pretty awesome. Excellent post all round. :)

asamum said...

I loved your post. You do make me giggle. I have absolutely no aversion to pink books.
The story sounds fantastic, I am trying desperately not to rush off to add it to my wishlist :D

Danielle said...

Please accept this award :)

- Danielle

Luisa Plaja said...

Excellent post, and I love that Sarra Manning story too! Thanks for this, Liz.

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

thanks for this