Monday, September 28, 2009

Realism, Romance, and Censhorship: Girl 15, Charming, but Insane.

Bibliographic Data
Limb, Sue. Girl 15, Charming but Insane. New York: Delacorte Press, 2004. ISBN 0385732147.

Plot Summary
Jordan's best friend, Flora, is beautiful, smart, everything Jordan wishes she could be. But when Flora tries to become a singer in her boyfriend's band, Jordan learns that looks and intelligence aren't everything. Sometimes, what you've really wanted has been there all along...

Critical Analysis
The plot of Girl, 15, Charming But Insane, is about a normal (?) 15 year old, Jess Jordan, who is trying to reconnoiter the whys and wherefores of growing up. First crush, first love, parents’ odd foibles, best friends who don’t know they’re perfect, trying to figure out who she is, they’re all in here. The story is told from the limited omniscient point of view, so the reader is privy to Jess’s view of her slightly crazed world. One of the funniest moments in the story is when Jess goes to a party after having stuffed her bra with minestrone soup in sandwich bags. During the party, a particularly obnoxious boy squeezes her breast and the bags burst all over the boy and Jess. Jess goes to the bathroom to clean herself up, removing her top and bra. She later finds out that somebody had placed a hidden video camera in the bathroom, and the video was going to be seen by everybody who was anybody among Jess‘s circle of acquaintances.

          ”She didn’t have to worry about being sick on CCTV. What she had
     done was much, much worse. She had stripped to the waist. She had
     thrown her homemade bra inserts down the loo. And she had washed
     minestrone off her boobs—-while talking to them and calling them
     Bonnie and Clyde! Jess wondered how far it was to the nearest
     nunnery, because her life was definitely over.” (65).

The book’s style flows like Jess’s life, in a series of ups and downs. One moment she’s in total despair, the next she’s elated. She has an argument with her mom about giving up her bedroom to her Granny, storms out and spends the night at a friend’s house. One the way home the next morning, she daydreams in the “they’ll be sorry” mode, until she reaches her house. “By the time she got home, her insides had screwed themselves up into a dreadful knot, and she wished she hadn’t eaten…”(43). Then she walks in and finds a note from her mom telling her Jess didn’t have to take the dreaded small bedroom after all. “Tears of joy ran down Jess’s cheeks. Her mum was so kind! Jess loved her so much!” (44) Within 5 minutes, Jess has gone from the pits of despair to the heights of ecstasy. For those of us who have already finished with the roller-coaster ride of adolescent hormones, this book is poignantly reminiscent. But for teens that are still deep in the throes of puberty, reading about the realistic mood swings of another ‘normal’ teen can be helpful – “Hey, other kids feel this way, too! I’m not so strange after all.”

Later in the story, Jess realizes that she is a very funny person. One of her teachers. Mr. fFthergill, encourages her to do a standup routine for the school show, but Jess is taken ill and unable to perform the routine. Mr. Fothergill, who has a copy of Jess’s standup routine, “Girl, 15, Charming but Insane,” gives it to Flora, Jess’s perfect, beautiful, gets-all-the-breaks friend. Sure enough, Flora steals the show.

          “The thought of Flora doing her stand-up routine was just
     absolute torture. It made it worse that the feeling was kind of
     selfish, and Jess felt ashamed of herself. It was all her own work,
      and though she had really loved writing it, she had been looking
     forward to getting up on the stage and performing it to a live
     audience more than she had ever looked forward to anything.
     She hated Flora for having stolen it. She couldn’t help it.
     She knew it wasn’t Flora’s fault. Mr. Fothergill had asked her
     to do it. But Jess simply hated her.“ (192).

Not only is it tough enough being an adolescent, but it’s even tougher when you have a wonderful, beautiful friend like Flora who can’t help being perfect. But learning who your real friends are and how to deal with their quirks is the theme of this book. For young adults who are trying on different aspects of the world to see how they fit, this novel shows them that no matter who you are or how you act, your real friends will always remain true to you.

Awards and Honors
Heartland Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, 2006; Finalist United States.

Review Excerpts
Frances Bradburn (Booklist, Sep. 15, 2004 (Vol. 101, No. 2))
...Limb's novel features Jess Jordan, big of bum and small of boob, who covets her best friend Flora's body, beauty, and popularity. Jess is ... friends with Fred, the class clown and nerd. After Flora confesses a crush on Fred, Jess suddenly realizes what everyone else has known for years: she and Fred are perfect together! Limb's characters are memorable. Jess is funny although occasionally over the top; her dad, whom we meet via his daily horoscopes, which delineate the chapters, is funny, too, but unreliable; and her peacenik librarian mother is a source of both embarrassment and security. Most endearing is Fred, whose wit, integrity, intelligence, and outward confidence earn him the love and respect of his peers and probably of readers, too. Full of bawdy humor, this is a charming, easy read that handles issues of body image, popularity, and adolescent insecurity with humor.

Donna Freedman (Children's Literature)
This book will no doubt be compared to Bridget Jones' Diary, and with good reason: it's written as the journal of a misfit-in-her-own-mind English gal who's at war with her own body and looking for love in all the wrong places. But Limb's story succeeds on its own as a hilariously droll and at times touching tale that hits all the usual teen-angst stops: parties, clothes, embarrassing parents and, of course, snogging.

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2004 (Vol. 72, No. 14))
Plucky and mouthy, Jess Jordan manages to get herself in a variety of messes, mostly having to do with boys. Convinced that she is hopeless compared to her best friend, Flora, she relies on her humor and dry wit to stay afloat. She soon finds that while her mouth can get her in trouble, it can also get her the kind of attention she wants. Romance blooms in improbable places as Jess makes it through a long spring full of funny adventures and lucky mishaps. A tendency towards an easy laugh keeps the story rolling, but also keeps it from reaching any depth. Timely references to pop culture will cause this one to date quickly, but an occasional well-crafted scene and witty dialogue help it along.

Book Hook
  • Sue Limb has also written a prequel and two sequels to this book:
    1. Girl, Barely 15: Flirting for England,
    2. Girl, (Nearly) 16, Absolute Torture, and
    3. Girl, Going on 17, Pants on Fire.
  • If you liked this book about teen-aged English schoolgirls, try Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison.
Online Connections
Sue Limb's website.

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