Monday, August 18, 2008

Children’s Books: The (Not Quite) Perfect Boyfriend by Lili Wilkinson

The (Not Quite) Perfect Boyfriend is the latest in Allen and Unwin’s Girlfriend Fiction series. If they were all the kind of book suggested by the hearts on the covers and the series titles throughout I would probably not be reviewing all of them. Some of the Girlfriend Fiction series are simply teen romances, if well-written ones, but others could be published as straight young adult fiction. In some ways, The (Not Quite) Perfect Boyfriend is one of them. Yes, it’s a teen romance and yes, it sticks to the formula that the heroine, something of a Cinderella, falls for the good-looking guy, who turns out to be a pill, and then ends up with the nice boy she has considered just a friend throughout the story (or, in this story, the one she finds irritating, but has to work with). But there’s more to it and this one is very funny.

Midge (whose full, cringeworthy name, is Imogen) is “sweet sixteen and never been kissed,” unlike her best friend Tahni, who always comes back from holidays with stories about all the cute guys she has dated.

To get Tahni off her back, Midge invents a boy she supposedly met during the holidays. His name is Ben, he is British and romantic and, best of all, he went back to England, so she doesn’t have to introduce him to anyone and after a couple of weeks, she can pretend to break up with him. As she’s intelligent and good with language, she writes e-mail in his name and invents a Facebook profile for him, to fit with the romantic image she has built.

The trouble is, when a gorgeous British boy called Ben turns up at the school soon after, everyone assumes he’s the non-existent boyfriend. Ben is willing to go along with it, and for a while, Midge enjoys her new “boyfriend,” but he has a price for his co-operation. Is Midge willing to go along with this blackmail or will she decide it isn’t worth the price? (And no, it isn’t anything physical). How will Tahni feel, now that Midge has overtaken her one source of pride, her ability to get boys?

And what about George, the other new boy at the school, nowhere near as attractive, with a mysterious past and with whom Midge is stuck on an English assignment? What is he doing on those days he disappears? Why does he doodle all those dragons and medieval images on his schoolbooks? And where did that injury come from?

I must admit, I figured out the mystery about George pretty quickly, but only because I was in the Society for Creative Anachronism and have a half-finished novel on my computer that begins, “The trouble is, my mother spends her weekends hitting Vikings with broom handles.” I doubt the girls reading this novel will work it out so easily and what they will think then, I can’t be sure. But they will have had a good laugh along the way, and thought about friendship and beauty being only skin deep.


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