Teenage Fiction

By Glober, Michael | New Statesman (1996), December 5, 1997 | Go to article overview

Teenage Fiction


Glober, Michael, New Statesman (1996)


Michael Glover finds love and war top of the agenda for an "uneasy" category Things have moved on a long way since the Bodley Head (then a major force in the world of children's books) decided 30 years ago to create a readership category called "young adults" - an uneasy and patronising description of teenagers, as if they were too old for their own good and too young to be trusted.

Today's teenage fiction has to compete in a world of instant global information about crime, war and sexual brutality. The prim notion that it is possible to shield teenagers from difficult and disturbing information is over. Books must deal fairly and responsibly with the world. Here are a few novels for teenagers that do that.

Jacqueline Wilson's books are brash in their visual appeal, written in simple and engaging language, and thoughtful in content. In Girls in Love (Doubleday, [pounds]9.99), the first in a new trilogy, three teenage schoolgirls are beset by boyfriend trouble - one boyfriend is a nerd, another a ruthless puller of virgins. The book is good on the club scene, the torments of jealousy, and low-level warfare between parents and offspring.

Martin Waddell, an extraordinarily versatile writer of picture books and children's fiction, fights over similar terrain with a novel written in the form of a month of diary entries. The Life and Loves of Zoe T Curley (Walker Books, [pounds]8.99) offers the fantasies of a young teenager about the possibility of falling in love with a boy. But the young girl who describes herself as Zoe in this snippet of funny and precocious autobiography is both younger and more self-consciously literary than any of Wilson's characters. Zoe's interests range widely over her family - which includes a desperately unsuccessful writer-father of cartoon scripts, and two bothersome brothers called Creep and Ob-Noxious - and the neighbourhood. Her tormenting preoccupations are that she has a brace on her teeth and the body of a "fat elephant".

Some sharp-eyed editor recently discovered a short story by Mervyn Peake that had been hiding away in a long out-of-print anthology. Boy in Darkness (Hodder Signature, [pounds]3.99) is an episode in the life of Titus Groan, the same character that appears in the Gormenghast trilogy of fantasies, and this could serve as a good appetiser for those books. …

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