I read Puberty Blues along with the Top Chicks Shirley, Jess, Lissa, Zoe and Mandee a couple of weeks ago, and because I'm a slack-arsed moll I'm only getting around to writing my review now.
My first encounter with Puberty Blues was when I was a young teenager; my mum would sing the theme song from the movie whenever I would get all angsty. It was as annoying as it sounds. When I was a little older I watched the movie, and was pretty horrified, cringing the whole way through. When I was a little older than that, I watched it again, and this time thought it was equal parts horrifying and hilarious. Having now read the book, I can say my feelings for the source material are pretty much the same - I found it both horrifying and hilarious, often at the same time.
If you live under a rock - or, y'know, not in Australia - Puberty Blues is the semi-autobiographical account of two teen girls trying to fit in with the popular surfie crowd in 1970s Sydney. It's sparse in both length and language, with a frankness that emphasises the rawness of story. The narrator, Deb, describes characters and relays events in a matter-of-fact manner that leaves you with eyes wide and pearls clutched. I'm talking 13-year-olds having sex, doing drugs, being gang raped... I want to give a copy of this to every person who claims "kids today" are more sexualised than ever and say, o rly?
Interestingly, the fact that internal narration or reflection is limited works to highlight how awful the whole situation is, especially because when Deb does comment, it's very tongue-in-cheek. As they look back on events a few years down the track, it's clear Deb and Sue are wiser and definitely not OK with how they were treated in the past. There's a kind of credulity in certain parts; it's as though they're saying, "Yep, we did that, can you believe it?" But, importantly, while they may shake their heads at their naivety and invite others to do so, it's not about passing judgement on the girls. If there is judgement, it's on the boys who treated them so abysmally and the culture that not only allowed but encouraged this kind of behaviour.
Shirley mentioned in her review that she considers Puberty Blues to be a feminist book, and I agree. While it recounts some very sexist words and actions from a group of misogynistic boys (and girls, actually), the perspective of hindsight discussed above means that this sexism, while not overtly criticised, is purposely shown in a negative light. The closing scene, in which the girls triumphantly decide to forget about what others think, get their own surfboard and teach themselves to surf (something that was previously taboo) reinforces the ultimately feminist message. I would have liked this scene and their victory to have been expanded upon, but really, its brevity is in keeping with the rest of the novel.
I did appreciate the book, and there were parts that were really funny, but more than anything I was disturbed. It's scary to think that that's the way things used to be for girls - and even scarier to contemplate whether much has changed. I certainly hope it has!
While I think the writing was really effective overall, the first person narration didn't quite work at times. Although Deb is the main narrator, she would talk about events and conversations that she wasn't present for. Of course, it could be explained in that Sue (or someone else) told her about them - but it's not. I just found it sloppy and distracting. It could be due to the writers' inexperience at the time, but I would think an editor at least would pick it up. It's not a major problem, and I can see why this book is such a cult classic, even if it's not entirely enjoyable. At just over a hundred pages, it's a quick read - but not an easy one.
So excited for the TV show that starts tomorrow night, although it looks like they've seriously toned it down.
Genre: I guess this would be young adult, although it deals with pretty mature themes and has been around since before YA was officially a genre.
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