I was an adolescent in the 1980s. I went to my local comprehensive, had too much enthusiasm for the lessons, according to my peers, and so was bullied throughout. I do have found memories of a school play, choir, and the Duke of Edinburgh Award, which at my school united me with a group of other slight misfits. It also ignited a lifelong love of the outdoors, hiking and sense of service and giving back. So, I guess it met its aim! I went through all the usual teenage crushes on bands and TV stars, joining a few fan clubs, following unsuitable fashion, and dreaming of being successful and gorgeous as the heroines of all my favourite novels were, and I read the teenage angst in the problem pages of ‘Jackie’ with interest. I think the excitement of Adrian Mole, the iconic 80’s teenager passed me by a little. I was too much into Agatha christie and the like at the time. Despite being an only child with a dysfunctional step-family, little money to spare and an occasionally stormy home life, I don’t remember my teenage years as being awful.
I suppose you accept what you have if it’s all you know. Plus, I always had the total love, support and involvement of my Mum and grandma in my life. This brings me to this month’s first review, its Your Forever Friend by Zena Barrie and published by Unbound (www.unbound.com) 21st April 2021.
Your forever friend is based in Preston in 1981 and Maud is twelve and lives with her dysfunctional parents and her elder brother. She finds the PO Box address of Tom Harding, the lead singer of a Punk band called Horsefly. No one understands her or tries to, and she thinks Tom may just have some of the answers to her many, many, questions.
This book has been described as an Adrian Mole for the 21st Century and I’d have to agree with that. Although it is mainly in the form of letters, rather than a diary, it charts the day to day existence of Maud. It has a lot of humour. Maud has a great dry turn of phrase. I loved the different ways she addresses Tom Harding and describes her own address at the beginning of each letter. Also, the many postscripts. I always remember adding several of those myself in my own teenage letters to pen pals! I’m still one of those annoying people who send multiple text messages with after thoughts! I really loved the letter in ‘French’ when Maud is enthused by learning a new language. There are other methods of communication used here too, press cuttings, interviews and as the story moves forward in time to Maud’s adult life by, emails text exchanges.
Despite the laughs, I can’t say it’s an easy book to read. Its really sad and I felt frustrated about the lack of carers in Maud’s life. No extended family? No social workers? No sympathetic teachers? And her best friend has her own problems to deal with. I was surprised, if relieved, to see no bullying in the school time section. Maud would have been ripe for that in my own experience. A good thing too, as she had so much else to deal with. And the story moves into darker territory in terms of abuse in places. This certainly has moved forward from Adrian Mole territory in the 80’s, at a time where your parent’s possible divorce marked you out as unusual, and when I know we were also so sex obsessed as teenagers but probably wouldn’t have written such graphic comments in letters to strangers or friends!
This is English author Zena Barrie’s (www.zenabarrie.com) first novel. Her day job is producer of the Greater Manchester and Camden fringe Festivals. Prior to that she she was landlady and manager at the Kings Arms Pub and theatre in Salford, while also previously managing the Etcetera theatre in Camden as well as occupying a various roles at the Edinburgh Fringe. She has a degree in drama and theatre arts from the Queen Margaret University in Manchester. Upon till recently she has been co-hosting the award-winning Spoken-Word night Verbose in Manchester, where she lives.
Maud’s outpourings and ponderings are a little ‘Milkman’ like in style. This a prose style that seems popular now, but I find irritating. I found myself skipping a few passages because it was all too much. Despite this, Maud was such a kind, bright and vulnerable character, you couldn’t help but root for her and so I was pleased to find a happy ending of sorts for her.
So if you like your humour dark, your social situation deprived but your character bright, this is an ideal read for you .
Reviewed by : Georgina Murphy
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