Thursday, May 01, 2008

Children’s Books: “Girlfriend Fiction” 3 & 4

The first two books in Allen & Unwin’s “Girlfriend series,” My Life and Other Catastrophes by Rowena Mohr and The Indigo Girls by Penni Russon, were perfectly good teen fiction that would have worked without those hearts on the covers. The new books are more like the kind of fiction the covers suggest, except that things happen in them that you would never have found in fiction aimed at very young women and older girls back in the 1980s: especially Kate Constable’s Always Mackenzie.

She’s With The Band by Georgia Clark is the story of Mia Mannix. Mia has moved to Sydney from the small Snowy Mountains town where she had lived with her father, a famous artist. She has promised him faithfully to drop the music and concentrate on her art, in exchange for the move. Of course, she doesn’t keep the promise for long. Not with a battle of the bands and two new friends. After all, she’s at a school for the arts, like the one in Fame, except nearly everyone is snooty and unpleasant, all of them wealthy because they or their parents are famous.

And there are boys. A few pages in, we meet the boy who is clearly going to be the one Mia ends up with, but she spends the book picking the wrong boys. Needless to say, it’s happily ever after and she learns her lesson. This book reads like a teen soap, which is fair enough since the author works for a popular Australian teen soapie, so it will probably do well. Girls will like it, though it has a gay character, something that tells you this is the 21st century and teen fiction has changed. Teenagers haven’t, though; “That’s so gay,” is still an insult in most schools.

Always Mackenzie, by fantasy writer Kate Constable, starts as a standard teen friendship story. Girls will understand it because their own lives are full of friends and enemies and wondering why your friend has suddenly stopped talking to you... Nerdy Jem meets popular Mackenzie Woodrow at camp. They make friends. Jem is gradually losing touch with her closest friends, for reasons unconnected with Mackenzie.

Jem finds joy in her new friendship. And then, suddenly, Mackenzie stops talking to her, for no reason she can fathom, and those bitchy girls with whom Mackenzie hangs out become even bitchier.

Well, there’s a kiss on the last page all right, but not the kind teenage girls generally expect in a book with hearts on the cover. Whether this will appeal to the average girl or embarrass her I don’t know. There’s a lot of truth in all that girl angst in the course of the book, but what readers will think of the ending, I’m not sure. Kate Constable is a brave woman -- but this is the 21st century, after all. We can only wish her well.

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