My Three Favourite…Teen Diaries
25th Aug 2010
For me, reading teen diary novels often requires a suspension of disbelief. What teen has the time to scribble constantly? Why is this fourteen year-old’s command of grammar so perfect? Where are the repetitious “OMGs” and abuse of exclamation marks? But there are few better ways to capture teen angst than in journal format. This first-person form is perfect for self-obsessed teenagers and allows trivial situations – from an ill-timed spot to falling out with a mate – to become disasters of epic proportions.
Fictional teen diaries tend to be written by a socially inept outcast with few close friends, a dysfunctional family and an unrequited love interest. But what stops this genre from reading like a real teen’s diary is the humour. When done well, everyday teen issues – boobs not big enough, too much homework, parents all up in their grill – become hilarious and interesting.
It’s not often I’ll return to my favourite teen diaries, but when I feel like a comfort read or a dose of nostalgia, these are the first books I’ll pick from my shelf. Who said you need wizards or vampires to be popular with the kids?
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend
On first thought the diary of a 13 year-old boy doesn’t sound particularly interesting (why don’t I just buy a copy of Nuts instead?). But young Adrian Mole, despite thinking of himself as an intellectual, has a charming and hilarious habit of wildly misinterpreting the events around him.
Published in 1982, the novel is a year in the life of a teen boy growing up in a town that could be pretty much anywhere in the country. Townsend cleverly manages to capture the zeitgeist of Thatcher’s Britain and older readers will appreciate the themes of change in society – feminism, immigration, treatment of the elderly (remember Bert Baxter?) and more are covered. Of course, this was lost on me as a young ‘un but I enjoyed the book nonetheless.
Sue Townsend continued to write the diaries of Adrian Mole in another seven novels, right up until 2009 – not bad going for a character who first appeared in a BBC Radio 4 play nearly thirty years ago.
The diaries of a New York teen who discovers that she is the sole successor to the throne of Genovia (a fictional European country south of France) contained just the right amount of escapism for me during dull school holidays. But rather than being thrilled to pieces that she’s now officially a princess, Greenpeace-supporting vegetarian Mia Thermopolis regards her new status as a massive disruption to her life. Being a princess doesn’t stop her from failing algebra, being unpopular or stomping around in size 9 Doc Martens. And it doesn’t make her best friend’s older brother Michael Moscovitz – a computer genius who looks like a Heath Ledger/Josh Hartnett hybrid – notice her.
But despite Mia’s crushing insecurity and constant proclamations that her “life is so over”, she doesn’t come across as whiny or irritating. She’s incredibly likeable, loyal and the type of person you’d definitely want as a close friend. Throw in a huge cast of delightfully weird and varied characters and there’s more than enough reason to devour all ten books.
Like Adrian Mole, Georgia Nicolson could be practically any 14 year-old in Britain. There are the embarrassing family members, but this series of books is one of the few to have made me cry with laughter even though, at 18, I really should have been reading something more highbrow than “Angus, Thongs & Full-Frontal Snogging“ or “….and that’s when it fell off in my hand”.
The recurring themes of teenage life – nasty teachers, crushes, dysfunctional family members – are all present, so the plot isn’t anything new. But Georgia’s dry humour turns these everyday observations into comedic material worthy of any stand-up show. At times, the books do feel like one comedy scenario after another but this isn’t a complaint – they’re totally worthy of being called the Bridget Jones for teens.
The books enjoyed moderate success in the UK, but went inexplicably massive stateside. So much so that later editions of the book included a glossary enabling readers in “Hamburger-a-gogo land” to understand the Brit girl slang (and the many phrases that Georgia and her pals made up). This takes some getting used to, but it’s an excellent way for Rennison to slip in references to kissing, sex and everything in between without making the book too raunchy for younger readers.
Flickr image from kiwanja’s photostream
Post by Alex Sheppard