Thursday, 29 August 2013

Review: The Completely Fab Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, by Louise Rennison

Ages and ages ago, I blogged about Literary Nostalgia, which was essentially just an excuse for me to reminisce about my favourite childhood stories. I discussed what kind of books people seem to remember most, and compiled a list of my own personal favourites. Yet throughout the whole process, I had forgotten about a series of books I read as a teenager, following the exploits of a group of girls as they negotiated boys, school, boys, parents and boys. However, when I discovered that I could download the entire collection of Georgia Nicolson books for less than five quid (the very same e-collection is now retailing at £49.99, which is crazy), all the memories of those books came flooding back, and I very nearly had what Georgia would term a 'nervy b' (nervous breakdown) from excitement. What you have to understand is that I discovered the first book when I was about 12 (which is a guesstimate based on the fact that I can recall thinking the 14 year-old Georgia seeming very grown up to me), and read the first three books on a very regular basis until I felt I had 'outgrown' them. Now, I was to find that not only were there another seven books in the series, but I could read them all in one go! Naturally, I didn't hesitate to buy, and whilst I had to wait a few weeks until the books came out, I found myself looking forward to a trip down memory lane to visit my teenage self.

There was, of course, some trepidation, the main concern being - what if I don't find them as funny as I did back then? I'm - theoretically - a grown-up now, and I did wonder if maybe my sense of humour would have changed so much that I wouldn't find them funny anymore. Also, what if my initial reason for leaving these books behind - that I had outgrown them - still remained? After all, over ten years have passed since I first started reading these books, and I like to think my priorities have changed in that time; you see, part of Georgia's charm back then was that I could empathise with her, because I too was a teenage girl with parents who annoyed and embarrassed me. Now, however, I quite like my parents, and frequently embarrass myself without any assistance. I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that it's always a bit of a risk to rediscover something you once loved, especially if it was something from a long time ago; you've changed, your life has changed, and there's no telling that a few good memories will be enough to keep the magic going. I don't think I'm far off the mark by comparing it to meeting up with an old schoolfriend who you were once close with - after the initial buzz of seeing each other, there's always the risk that once that's died down, you'll realise you have nothing in common anymore. I feared a similar fate with Georgia.

Within about three pages, all fears were cast out the window. Georgia's life was still as hilarious to me now as it was over a decade ago. The escapades of a group of fourteen/fifteen year old girls is not the usual reading fare on your average commuter train, yet I found myself repeatedly suppressing laughs every morning as I travelled in to work. It's essentially Bridget Jones for teenagers; told in a diary format, chronicling life as teenagers know it, with all the ups, downs and embarrassing situations one would expect the average teen to encounter. Admittedly, the focus of the story is around Georgia's attempts to ensnare various boys - from Robbie the Sex God to Masimo the Italian Stallion, the epicentre of the stories move where the boyfolk move. As a theoretical adult, I'd quite like to scoff at Georgia's boy-mad behaviour, but if I'm honest, part of the appeal of these books is that it reminds me of being that age too - including, of course, being boy-mad. In fact, Georgia is actually more adept at getting her man than I imagine the average teenage girl is - I certainly never got myself a Sex God, or a Lurve God, or even a minor deity, and on the occasion that I did manage to persuade a boy that he might quite like me, it fizzled out just as quickly as the crush flared up. Mind you, though, I never employed quite the same tactics as Georgia did.

Then there's the nostalgia factor; there's something really poignant to reading about something that reminds you of your own childhood. For example, in one of the books, the 'Ace Gang', as they call themselves, go on a school trip to Paris, which of course brought to mind all the school trips I went on, including a visit to a German theme park, making a friend a makeshift showercap out of a plastic bag and hairbands in Paris, and getting lost orienteering in the wilds of Essex. They were fantastic trips where I never laughed so hard and had such a great time, yet I barely thought about them until recently. Then, of course, there are the endless battles with teachers, which made me think about the constant fear my friends and I all lived in of being caught with our skirts rolled up, especially by certain teachers. And that's not even considering the non-school related stuff, like references to now-defunct magazines or using phoneboxes to ring friends.

Admittedly, there were some points were my adult side did tut at Georgia internally ("if I counted up the number of times I've been tutted at... I could open a tutting shop"). I mean, she's 14 in the first book, and when she gets her first boyfriend, he's about 17 or 18. Now, I remember being 14 (just about) and I can safely say that I was terrified of everyone over the age of 16, and very reluctant to talk to any of them, let alone try to snog them, so reading about her pursuing of boys of that age did cause me to raise an eyebrow. But then, I also remember reading these books when I was in the age-group at which they were aimed, and I'm pretty sure I was thoroughly impressed with Georgia back then, so what do I know?

I flipping loved these books back in the day - I had forgotten I did, but I remember now that they were the best books I owned. They weren't just funny, or a reminder that I wasn't the only teen with impossible parents and mad plans to get boys to like me - they were also my bible for life (which probably explains why none of my boy-entrapping plans worked). I even, for a long time, mentally referred to the Ace Gang's Snogging Scale (which, if you're interested in, can be found here) when talking to my friends about our latest boyscapades, never mind the endless beauty tips (lemon and hot water cleans your skin; don't shave your eyebrows; don't fall asleep after applying fake tan, etc). Sure, the plots are repetitive, and yes, the characters are somewhat bland - with the exception of Sven, an enormously tall Swedish exchange student with flashing trousers and no self-awareness - but then it's a book told from a schoolgirl's point of view; it was never going to be on the same level as Samuel Pepys. You don't read Georgia Nicolson for the story, you read Georgia Nicolson for the laughs and the memories her life will conjure up - and in some ways, that give them as much worth as a Booker-winner.

P.S: the full list of Georgia Nicolson books can be found here - there's ten of 'em, and they've all got long titles, so I'm not writing them out!

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