It’s 1994 on Guernsey and the girls of Tudor Falls are returning to school. Flo’s father has just moved out and she’s left holding the baby; well her 4 year-old sister, Abi, who her mother refuses to look after. At school, she lives in the shadow of her controlling best friend, never making any choices for herself or holding her own. Outgoing Renée lost her mother when she was seven but still misses her. Struggling to live under her grandparents’ roof she is also concerned about her sister Nell, who refuses to eat and wants to go live with their father in Spain. The two girls live their lives apart until one drunken night brings them together, and the friendship starts to blossom with the help of notes folded into paper aeroplanes.
If you were at high school in the 90’s you should read this. It not only transported me back through time but also felt completely believable. There are no romantic liaisons or incredibly beautiful yet modest and kind girls in this story. Partly based on Dawn’s own diary entries from her teens, Flo and Renée act like real teenagers, right down to getting ridiculously drunk and being completely embarrassing. If you can remember any of yourself in them, you will laugh but their story is also a sad one.
Both girls are struggling with the loss of parents and a lack of support from their existing guardians. Flo is “best friends” with Sally but doesn’t like her all that much and certainly can’t talk to her about her problems. Sally is controlling and verging on a bully but Flo prefers that fake friendship to being alone. Renée on the other hand is outgoing, flirts with boys and has plenty of friends but no real, meaningful relationships with any of them. The other girls are nice enough but they have their own bonds. I think both girls’ scenarios are ones that are common in schools, even today. So many children don’t have anyone they can talk to about the things that matter. In addition to their broken families, you really feel for them, egging them on to close the gap.
One thing I know is that if you are in a boy’s bedroom and they suggest turning the lights off and watching a film, they have no intention of watching a film at all. It’s just an excuse to get you comfortable so they can try to get their hands in your pants. I immediately feel like an idiot for getting as far as his bedroom.
How refreshing is it to not have dreamy love interests? Yes the girls are interested in boys but they are not romanticised in the slightest. Sexual encounters are fumbling. Feelings are not always mutual. Sometimes teenagers settle for one person just because they’re there.
“Computers?” says Pop as he comes into the kitchen. “What a waste of time. They should be teaching you trade skills rather than wasting your time on those machines. Don’t wake your sister up as you get dressed. She needs her sleep.”
I walk past the calendar on the kitchen wall. It’s still on December. Life in our house is officially not moving forward.
I can see the 90’s becoming a more popular setting, especially for young adult fiction. It’s hard to write about growing up now without the internet and mobile phones being involved. Whilst we had the internet in the 90’s it was pretty basic and much more about finding out information. It’s the last time you can set something where a paper aeroplane is a viable form of communication.
The only downside was that I often found myself getting confused between Flo and Renée. The first person narrative alternates between the two girls and their voices are pretty much the same. With them both having problems at home, it took me a long time to be able to differentiate between them. But this is minor issue in an otherwise fabulous book about being a teenager. It’s tough but we get through it the best we can.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book via newbooks magazine's featured books scheme. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.