I’ve been a fan of Claire Hennessy since my early teens. Her writing spoke to me at my different ages that I was reading it. Published in 2000 (when she was thirteen!), Dear Diary was my first introduction to a writer who would reoccur throughout my teen and early adult life. Through the teen angst years Abi and Emily (of Stereotype and Good Girls Don’t) were my touchstone. Adulthood has not changed their charm. That’s the thing with the YA fiction genre – when it’s good, it doesn’t matter what age you are. So, when I saw her latest novel “Like Other Girls” was about a teenager from Dublin, but dealt with things like the 8th amendment, questioning sexuality and the obligatory pop culture references, I was hooked.
I downloaded “Like Other Girls” onto my Kindle app, as that’s the easiest way for me to read anything these days in any quick scale of time. I did love the cover though . However, I have a feeling if I buy any more paperbacks/hardbacks without finishing the pile of unread, I’ll never clear it. For me, it took just one night to finish – three hours of constant tea and swiping to the next page. Definitely worth being tired the next day.
On The Cover
To pull from the online description:
“Here’s what Lauren knows: she’s not like other girls. She also knows it’s problematic to say that – what’s wrong with girls? She’s even fancied some in the past. But if you were stuck in St Agnes’s, her posh all-girls school, you’d feel like that too. Here everyone’s expected to be Perfect Young Ladies, it’s even a song in the painfully awful musical they’re putting on this year. And obviously said musical is directed by Lauren’s arch nemesis.
Under it all though, Lauren’s heart is bruised. Her boyfriend thinks she’s crazy and her best friend’s going through something Lauren can’t understand … so when Lauren realises she’s facing every teenage girl’s worst nightmare, she has nowhere to turn. Maybe she should just give in to everything. Be like other girls. That’s all so much easier … right?”
So, What’s It All About?
Lauren is fifteen, and discovering a lot about herself as well as the society around her. She’s got a boyfriend, who seems to be using her for sex. She’s got friends who have issues – and lives that she doesn’t really seem to be fitting in with so well anymore. She knows she should be more like them, like other girls, but she just isn’t. And her mother is the principal of her secondary school. Oh angst, here you are.
So, What Did I Think?
Going from the title I thought this was going to be along the lines of the Emily story from “Good Girls Don’t”. There are some common themes, as with much YA, but this is a fresh story which differs greatly from her previous work.
It can be easy for adults to forget just how affected by politics the younger generation is. Yes, we all have memories of not being understood and having passions about issues, but it’s easy to mop that up in the stack of “hormonally charged things we did”. Young people in Ireland today are moving in a society where discussion of things like mental health, suicide, sexuality, abortion, immigration, poverty and recession are all very much to the fore.
The handling of the 8th amendment and the difficulties and realities of accessing reproductive healthcare in Ireland was done so, so well. It wasn’t preachy and it wasn’t a PSA. Instead, it was matter of fact and didn’t take from the story as a factoid.
Reading it, I was brought back to being fifteen myself. While I wasn’t dealing with the same issues a decade ago, and Ireland as a whole has changed, the school friend issues and certain feelings ring true regardless of when you were that fifteen year old.
The character of Lauren is rather true to life. While in parts of the book she is very well able to manage herself, in others I wanted to tell her to cop on. So far, so fifteen. Similarly, I found this with her friends and her interactions with them. the only thing I never related to was the ability to bunk off school at any point because it was never something in my ether as a teenager. (Polishing my own halo here).
She doesn’t always make the wisest of choices, her thought processes in places are flawed, but as an adult I can say that I would do things differently. The teenage brain isn’t fully developed, nor have you had life experience which has taught you what to do. Hennessy’s ability to give an honest look into the mindset of someone at that stage in their life without babying them or making them permanently wise beyond their years gives this book a really authentic quality.
I’d recommend “Like Other Girls” to anyone who’s into fiction, and especially any teen readers. It might be a useful tool for parents of teenagers attempting to open up the conversation lines on important topics.
Not Hennessy’s first time writing about strong polarising issues (her previous book “Nothing Tastes As Good” dealt with eating disorders), and hopefully not her last either.