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Wednesday 25 March 2015

Review: Notes from the Teenage Underground

Seventeen year-old Gem hangs out with best friends Mira and Lo. They are cool, sassy and edgy, risk takers who like to push the boundaries and be different to the ‘barcode’ kids. They come up with a new theme for the summer, last year’s was ‘All Things Occult’, this year it’s ‘Underground’ – to be extreme and revolutionary, inspired by Andy Warhol. They decide to make an underground film.

Gem is a film buff who lives with her mother Bev, a hippy, alternative, feminist art teacher who named Gem after her idol, Germaine Greer. They’re into movie nights, open communication and their divination book, the I Ching. But Gem can’t share everything with her mum, especially not what she gets up to with her friends or her crush on Dodgy, her co-worker at her part-time job at the video store.

Mira and Lo are experienced with boys and constantly remind the inhibited Gem that she’s not. Gem needs to catch up. There’s a power play within the trio’s fragile dynamic and troubled Lo seems to be pulling the strings. The plot centres around their movie, and the betrayals Gem endures from her friends. Mira and Lo are shallow and not entirely likeable characters, yet also struggling to find their way in life, and they make questionable choices.

Simmone Howell’s novel is a compendium of teen issues. Gem has to juggle end of year exams, lack of experience with boys, bitchy friends, and choices about future studies. To add to her list, her haiku-loving dad makes his first appearance in her life and Bev starts acting weird. The storyline around her parents does at times seem like it overshadows the main plot, however it is a realistic portrayal of teens juggling issues at home, school and within their social peer group.

Throughout, the underground movie takes centre stage and is the beginning of the end.

Gem’s is a journey of self-discovery and she learns that if she sticks to what she believes, everything else has a way of falling into place.

I enjoyed Howell’s weaved references to lesser-known movies, interesting art and famous artists. It was refreshing to see the protagonist portrayed as an intelligent teen, able to assess what is going on around her and ultimately make smart choices.

Although Bloomsbury has published this book under their children’s division, parents should note that it contains sexual references.

Title: Notes from the Teenage Underground
Author: Simmone Howell
Publisher: Bloomsbury, $16.95 RRP
Publication Date: 2006
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780747585121
For ages: 12+
Type: Young Adult Fiction