lizbee: (Default)
[personal profile] lizbee
Photobucket There was a lot of interest from my friends list when I posted about this book, so I thought I'd review it here as well as on Vox.

In some ways, it's a very simple story -- and short, too, at only 198 pages. Catherine is fifteen, and a nerd. Not just in the sense of wearing glasses and knowing a lot about obscure subjects, but she is totally and utterly socially inept. Her father, a scientist, has given her a poster of Richard Feynman, and Catherine's diary entries take the form of letters to the dead physicist.

Catherine is a gloriously unreliable narrator, but she paints vivid portraits of her family and classmates, from the popular kids who make her life hell, to the new boy who sweeps into her elite maths team and drives her insane. In some ways, the book is incredibly painful to read, because Catherine's inability to interact with other humans is a bit too close to reality, and one doesn't like to find one's fifteen-year-old self immortalised in fiction. Defensive and prickly, looking down on her peers without quite understanding them, Catherine might as well hold up a sign that says KICK ME. But she's oddly likable in spite of it, and so are the other teen characters -- Felix, the new kid, whose mask of humour conceals some bigger problems; Harry, "the only ex-anarchist socialist pacifist in Year Ten. Sometimes Harry gets in trouble, but if he had chained himself up to anything recently I would have heard about it"; Chloe, whose punk image is somewhat spoiled by the fact she has to use pastel-headed safety pins made for babies; and others.

The novel covers only a few months, the lead-up to an inter-school maths competition, and its immediate fall-out. I felt like it could have done with another fifty pages, but possibly I was just having a sulk because it was over so soon. The developing friendships, the shift and breakdown in cliques, and the changes in Catherine's relationship with her family were all great to read, and there's a lovely sequence where she leaves it all behind to spend time with a university-age cousin in Melbourne. ("Isn't Catherine the most delicious box of nerdery you ever encountered?")

My main beef is that Tangey recreates teen slang a little too accurately, with a few jarring incidents of ableist language. "Look like a spaz", "act like a retard". I'm a bit torn by this -- it's like the "You're so gay" line in Doctor Who -- without descending to the level of censorship, the thoughtless use of -ist language was troubling, especially as Catherine never hesitates to point out any sexist, homophobic or otherwise failtastic remark.

I don't believe it's available outside of Australia yet, but as far as I can tell, Fishpond.com.au sells internationally, so try here.

Date: 2009-08-31 02:57 pm (UTC)
danni: (Default)
From: [personal profile] danni
I just finished reading it.

I agree, she is a likeable but unreliable narrator, and the story does kind of come off the rails a bit at the end. Still it feels very well written and researched, like it's entirely possible that the story could have taken place.

Overall, I enjoyed it.

I nerdily enjoy references to Australian pop-culture (or not-so-pop-culture), like going to see 48 Shades (I love that film, but missed it at the cinema due to a cancelled date and never saw it until it came out on DVD -- I think I love that book/film mostly for the same inclusion of Australian pop-culture).

Date: 2009-08-31 10:27 pm (UTC)
cesy: "Cesy" - An old-fashioned quill and ink (Default)
From: [personal profile] cesy
This sounds interesting.

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