Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill looks at one of our favorite classic YA novels, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison.
Teen Read Week kicks off this Sunday! As an annual celebration of reading for fun, this is the perfect time to look back on one of the most fun YA books of all time.
Fourteen years ago, 14-year-old Georgia Nicolson made her debut in the pages of Louise Rennison's laugh-out-loud funny Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson. Nine more books, an online short story and a movie would follow.
In hour by hour—and sometimes minute by minute—diary-style entries filled with British slang and her own neologisms, Georgia relates her adventures with her half-wild cat Angus ("I used to drag him around on a lead, but as I explained to Mrs. Next Door, he ate it"), her 3-year-old sister Libby, her best friends Jas, Ellen, Rosie and Jools, and most of all her attempt to snag—and snog—Robbie, the Sex God. In between, she and her classmates study geoggers and blodge (geography and biology), debate what boys really mean when they say "see you later" and handle various beauty mishaps, like shaved eyebrows and attempts at hair dying.
If these seem like silly concerns, they're supposed to be. As Rennison told BookPage in 2003, her path to writing about Georgia started when a newspaper column of hers caught a publisher's attention in an unusual way. (The publisher "asked me if I would consider writing a teenage girl's diary book. I said, er . . . why me? and they said, because we have never read anything quite so self-obsessed and childish, so we thought you could do a really good job.")
The glossary at the end of the book might be even more fun the main story. Georgia spells out the exact meanings of deely-boppers (an amusing piece of headwear), nuddy-pants ("literally nude-colored pants, and you know what nude-colored pants are? They are no pants"), "double cool with knobs" (which means "very" but is "altogether snappier") and other terms, to hilarious effect.
Recently the Guardian featured a guest piece by author Louise Rennison reflecting on how well the British humor of Angus, Thongs and its sequels has translated to "Hamburger-a-go-go land"—that is, the United States. Among other points, Rennison relates a confusion as to whether or not Americans wear knickers and an oddly impossible interpretation of the British title of the fifth book, . . . And That's When It Fell Off in My Hand.
Rennison's article was perfect timing, because I had recently been reminiscing on the bizarre incidents, urban folklore and noteworthy reputations that've accumulated around this cult classic over time.
First, there's Rennison's unusual path to writing about Georgia's "fabbity fab fab" life. As Rennison told BookPage in 2003, a newspaper column of hers had caught a publisher's attention in an unexpected way. (The publisher "asked me if I would consider writing a teenage girl's diary book. I said, er . . . why me? and they said, because we have never read anything quite so self-obsessed and childish, so we thought you could do a really good job.")
Then there's the climate of YA lit into which Rennison was writing. Angus, Thongs, a 2001 Printz Honor book, entered the American YA lit scene in April 2000, at a time when the Printz Award had just recognized its first crop of winners, John Green was about to graduate from college, and Harry Potter fans were eagerly awaiting the upcoming fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Technology was different, too: Georgia and her friends pass notes in class rather than texting, call each other from "phone boxes" and listen to music on audiotapes. But their desire to evade school rules, their interest in kissing lessons and their frustrations with their parents are universal teen themes.
And don't forget about the longstanding appeal of the diary format itself. Georgia's entries are immediate and highly emotionally charged, with the quick ups and downs characteristic of teens' feelings ("6:00pm: Is my life over? Is this all there is? . . . 8:05pm: Jas has just phoned to say we've been invited to a party at Katie Steadman's and . . . Katie has asked Tom and Robbie. YESSSSS!!!!")
Although Angus, Thongs didn't invent diary format or even bring it to YA lit for the first time (it's a defining feature of 1971's anonymous Go Ask Alice, for example), Rennison's book might very well have popularized and encouraged this way of telling stories. Diary format has gone on to be used in dozens of other YA novels, ranging from The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (also published in 2000) to Girls Like Us, longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
And finally, there's the book challenges, the complaints and the apologies. In 2005, the second book, On The Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God, was challenged in a Bozeman, Montana, middle school on the grounds that "an unstable person seeing a girl reading the book might think from the title that the girl was promiscuous and stalk her." (Louise Rennison had appeared on the American Library Association's most frequently challenged authors list two years before, in 2003.)
In another incident posted on a children's lit listserv at the time, a bookseller found herself awkwardly explaining to a horrified parent what "snogging" meant (it means kissing, not to be confused with the significantly more R-rated "shagging").
Lastly, one of my own YA lit students shared an incident of her own with our class. Echoing Seventeen magazine's review—"You might want to refrain from reading this one in public"—my student found that Angus, Thongs and public transportation didn't quite mix. "I was reading it on the bus and laughing hysterically, and everyone was looking at me funny," she mock-complained.
Fans of Rennison's latest work might want to check out last year's The Taming of the Tights, her third book featuring Georgia's theater-loving cousin Tallulah Casey. But to some readers, nothing quite compares to their very first encounter with one of YA lit's funniest teens.
What retro YA book have you been meaning to read . . . or re-read? Let us know in the comments!
So you're a fan of Jojo Moyes' best-selling, tear-jerking 2012 release, Me Before You. (Who isn't?) This story of the relationship between down-and-out Louisa Clark and the wealthy, quadriplegic she becomes a caregiver for is as touching and warm as it is thought-provoking, making it a perfect fit for book clubs.
Other than tearing through Moyes' backlist (she's published 10+ other books, including a new one out this summer) what's a Me Before You fan to do next? Not to worry: BookPage has some ideas.
(Warning: minor plot spoilers; after all, this is for those who have already read Me Before You!)
OK, so this one might not be much of a surprise, but no one does the ethical dilemma novel™ better than Picoult, and My Sister's Keeper is one of her most controversial. If debating right to life/quality of life issues was what turned you on about Me Before You, give this one a whirl. Read it already? Go for the not-yet-adapted-for-film Second Glance.
Speaking of medical ethics . . . best-selling author Gawande may not write novels, but his essays on the challenges of medicine, especially when it comes to drawing the line between treatment and quality of life, certainly make for compelling reading. Anyone who came out of Me Before You with questions about the medical issues involved should pick up this sensitive and smart new colllection that will leave you wiser.
One of the most compelling storylines in Me Before You was Lou's journey of self-discovery—the way she realizes there's more to who she can be. Shortridge's fifth novel offers a more extreme version of that theme. It's the story of Lucie Walker, who awakens in the San Francisco Bay with no idea who she is or how she got there. She doesn't recognize the handsome man who shows up claiming to be her fiancé.
If the "odd-couple" dynamic between Louisa and Will was your favorite part of Me Before You, don't miss The Rosie Project, last year's word-of-mouth hit that chronicled the romance between a professor who is logical to a fault and a whimsical, fun-loving bartender who comes to him for help finding her biological father.
So you liked Me Before You because it was a tear-jerker? Try Maria de los Santos, especially the poignant Belong to Me, which follows a 30-something who is dying of cancer.
One of the themes of Me Before You is appreciating the joy to be found in life, no matter what your situation might be. In Jackson's compassionate sixth novel, Someone Else's Love Story, her heroine Shandi has to do just that, even as she uncovers some uncomfortable truths about her life and meets the equally wounded, but less resiliant, William.
Readers, what do you think of these picks? What did you read after Me Before You? Tell us in the comments!
RELATED CONTENT: Read our previous "Read it Next" posts.
The BookPage offices are located in Nashville, so the Southern Festival of Books is our favorite event of the year! Will you be attending? Check out a list of the events we're most looking forward to this weekend, and say hi if you see us!
Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train
12:00pm - 1:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Laird Hunt, author of Neverhome
Kevin Powers, author of Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting
Destruction and Creation: Poetry and Prose Inspired by War
2:00pm - 3:00pm | Nashville Public Library Auditorium
Lauren Oliver, author of Rooms
2:00pm - 3:00pm | Room 12, Legislative Plaza
James McPherson, author of Embattled Rebel
2:00pm - 3:00pm | Room 16, Legislative Plaza
Frances Mayes, author of Under Magnolia
2:00pm - 3:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Third Floor Program Room
Gabrielle Zevin, author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
3:00pm - 4:00pm | Nashville Public Library Auditorium
Richard Blanco, author of The Prince of Los Cocuyos
10:00am - 11:00am | Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
Julie Danielson and Betsy Bird, authors of Wild Things!
10:00am - 11:00am | Room 29, Legislative Plaza
Charles M. Blow, author of Fire Shut Up in My Bones
11:00am - 12:00pm | Room 16, Legislative Plaza
Marja Mills, author of The Mockingbird Next Door
11:00am - 12:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Tony Earley, author of Mr. Tall
11:00am - 12:00pm | Nashville Public Library Auditorium
Karen Abbott, author of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
12:00pm - 1:00pm | Room 31, Legislative Plaza
Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven
12:00pm - 1:00pm | Nashville Public Library Auditorium
James Ellroy, author of Perfidia
12:00pm - 1:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Rick Bragg, author of Jerry Lee Lewis
12:30pm - 1:30pm | War Memorial Auditorium
Ishmael Beah, author of Radiance of Tomorrow
1:00pm - 2:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Brock Clarke, author of The Happiest People in the World
1:00pm - 2:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This
Rebecca Makkai, author of The Hundred-Year House
Maggie Shipstead, author of Astonish Me
Backward Through Time: Fiction and Reckoning
2:00pm - 3:30pm | Room 12, Legislative Plaza
Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure
2:00pm - 3:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Maureen Corrigan, author of And So We Read On
3:00pm - 4:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Scott Stossel, author of My Age of Anxiety
3:00pm - 4:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Third Floor Program Room
Kendra DeColo, author of Thieves in the Afterlife
Patricia Lockwood, author of Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexual
Profundities, Profanities, and Wry Poetics
3:00pm - 4:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room
Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This
Patricia Lockwood, author of Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexual
Adrian Matejka, author of The Big Smoke
Abraham Smith, author of Only Jesus Could Icefish in Summer
Literary Death Match
8:00 pm | Third Man Records, 623 Seventh Ave. S., Nashville
$15 | 21+ | Tickets
Joshilyn Jackson, author of Someone Else's Love Story
12:00pm - 1:00pm | Room 12, Legislative Plaza
Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming
1:00pm - 2:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1AB
Lily King, author of Euphoria
Allegra Jordan, author of The End of Innocence
Danger, Desire, and Discovery: Captivating Historical Novels
1:00pm - 2:00pm | Nashville Public Library, Conference Room III
Drink coffee and wear good shoes, because the fun kicks off tomorrow. Plus there are so many other great sessions—how do we choose?!
Where will you be this weekend at SoFB?
Yotam Ottolenghi's sublime second collection of vegetarian recipes, Plenty More, is our Top Pick in Cookbooks for October! The Middle Eastern magic abounds in his 120 recipes, which are organized by cooking method over 12 chapters.
Apricot, Walnut and Lavender Cake
The combination of walnuts, apricots and lavender is as French as a good baguette with butter and ripe Brie, and it is every bit as invincible. I seriously urge you to try this cake, and not just as a French classic. It has a moist and soft crumb and a delicate fruity topping, and it will keep well, covered, for a few days
Preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC.
Place the butter, oil, superfine sugar and almonds in a stand mixer and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs in small additions and continue to beat until well incorporated. Fold in the walnuts, flour, vanilla, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon of the lavender and ⅛ teaspoon salt.
Line the base and sides of a 9-inch/23-cm cake pan with parchment paper. Pour in cake batter and level the top. Arrange the apricot halves, skin side down and slightly overlapping, over the top, right to the edge. Bake in the oven for 70 to 80 minutes, covering with aluminum foil if the top starts to brown too much.
While the cake is baking, make the icing. Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice to get a light, pourable icing, adjusting the amount of sugar or juice if needed. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, brush the icing on top. Sprinkle the remaining ½ teaspoon lavender over the top and leave the cake to cool before serving.
Novelist John Boyne has written a dozen novels—perhaps the best known of which is The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a YA novel about the Holocaust that was adapted for film. He'll be back in 2015 with A History of Loneliness (FSG), which will be published on February 3.
Boyne is writing about his native Ireland for the first time in this powerful story. It begins in the 1970s, when young Odran Yates dedicates himself to the priesthood. Flash forward to the modern day: Odran, somewhat disillusioned by the scandals and suffering the Catholic Church has gone through during his time in the pulpit, must also confront a personal tragedy that means he can no longer deny the corruptions of the institution he has spent his lifetime serving.
Will you read it?
Miranda James is the pseudonym for Dean James, a seventh-generation Mississippian who now lives in Texas and is the author of the best-selling Cat in the Stacks mysteries.
James' new Southern Ladies series introduces the "sassy mouths and big hearts" of two ladies we won't soon forget. And as James shares in a guest post, these women aren't as fictional as you might expect.
Every small Southern town has them—those indomitable women who run all kinds of organizations, from garden and bridge clubs to charitable agencies. Often they come from the town’s oldest families, generation after generation of club women who oil the wheels of the social engine. These were exactly the women I needed when I was working on Out of Circulation, the fourth book in my Cat in the Stacks series.
The story revolved around fund-raising efforts for the local public library—in this case, the fictional Athena (Mississippi) Public Library. I needed strong characters for the Friends of the Library Board of Directors, and I counted on disagreements among the members. Has there ever been a committee when members didn’t butt heads over even the most minute of details? Perfect starting point for conflict in a murder mystery, I thought.
In the spring of 2011 I attended the first-ever Daddy’s Girls Weekend, an event put together by my friend and fellow writer, Carolyn Haines, author of the Sarah Booth Delaney series. There I met two sisters, An’gel Ducote Molpus and Dickce Ducote Little, who inspired me to create their fictional counterparts, Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce Ducote.
The fictional sisters are several decades older, unmarried and childless, yet their characters owe much to their real-life inspirations. The Ducote sisters are the true grandes dames of Athena society—intelligent, hard-working and intolerant of pretention and snobbery. The conflict between them and the character of Vera Cassity was an essential element of the story, and I had great fun with the scenes involving these characters.
Not long after I finished Out of Circulation, I was working on ideas for a second series, one that would feature two older women characters. After discussion with my agent and my editor, we settled on making the Ducote sisters the main characters. I loved them, my editor loved them, and evidently so did my readers. Thus was the new series born.
The first book in the Southern Ladies mysteries, Bless Her Dead Little Heart, is officially out on October 7. The Ducote sisters are on their own as amateur detectives, because Charlie Harris and his family are in France on vacation. They do have the assistance of Diesel, the Maine Coon cat, who makes a cameo appearance in the book. An old sorority sister, Rosabelle Sultan, turns up on the sisters’ doorstep one August afternoon and claims that someone in her family is trying to murder her. Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce know that Rosabelle loves being the center of attention, but this sounds a bit over-the-top even for this self-absorbed socialite. When Rosabelle’s family members follow her to Athena, however, the sisters quickly discover that one of them does have murder in mind.
I had great fun writing this book, letting the sisters have their way. I hope readers will have fun, too, getting to know Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce.
Thanks, Miranda/Dean! Readers, Bless Her Dead Little Heart is out now!
Author photo credit Kathryn Krause.
Is it me, or is 2014 the year of the essay? I've raved in previous posts over The Empathy Exams and Bad Feminist; On Immunity is another essay that moved me, entertained me and made me think. Biss, who teaches at Northwestern, won a Guggenheim Fellowship and used it to support her work on her third book, a combination of mythology, morality, medicine and mortality that is like nothing you've ever read before.
Blending personal experience with social history and myth, Biss takes on the thorny topic of immunization—moving from the story of Achilles, whose dip in the water was perhaps the first documented attempt of a parent to innoculate their child against harm, to modern-day anti-vacciners in a meditation on the concept of immunization and what it means on a personal level as well as a societal one.
Though this is a short book, it's not something to be read quickly. Biss' thoughful writing contains levels of meaning and plenty to ponder on every page.
When my son asks me about his belly button, I describe the near-mythological umbilical cord that once connected us. I point to my belly button and tell him that all of us were once contained within another body on which our lives depended. Even a three-year-old, who is still wholly dependent on me but already accustomed to thinking of himself as independent, finds this perplexing. Speaking from a moment just before the Enlightenment, Queen Elizabeth expressed a paradox that eludes us to this day—our bodies may belong to us, but we ourselves belong to a greater body composed of many bodies. We are, bodily, both independent and dependent.
What are you reading this week?
Halloween is around the corner, and it's the perfect time to pick up a romance novel with a some ghoulish twists. Heather Graham's The Betrayed is set in modern-day Sleepy Hollow, but it seems like the small town's haunted past is being replayed when a missing man is found . . . sans head. As paranormal investigators Maureen and Aiden try to solve the strange mystery, they can't help but notice their growing attraction to each other. In this guest post, Graham writes about her visit to charming (and spooky!) Sleepy Hollow, New York.
The Betrayed takes place in and around Sleepy Hollow, New York, a place I was able to visit for the first time last year.
While what we think of as Sleepy Hollow—the Old Dutch Church, the cemetery, the shores of the Tappan Zee—certainly dates back to before Washington Irving’s time, the village officially took the name in 1996, after having been originally incorporated as North Tarrytown. Seriously, what’s in a name—except, I say, yes! Use the romantic one!
I was instantly in love with this place; entranced by it. The Hudson Valley is beautiful, but there’s something extra-charming about Sleepy Hollow. The shops are different, many of them one-of-a-kind. Above all, the history is fascinating. Here are old Dutch farmsteads, a melding of nationalities—and memories of the creation of a country. Armies battled throughout this region while the fledgling United States fought to achieve its independence. Generals became spies and spies became traitors in this land of glorious forests, sparkling rivers and deep mists. Tales about General André are rife, as are Native American legends.
I fell in love with Washington Irving’s cottage, the land surrounding it and the historians so happy to teach us about the writer and the area. If you’re able to visit (or you might already know it better than I do!) the cottage is a must-see. Of course, I was scared by and in awe of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and many of Washington Irving’s works when I was very young (and since then, too!). Actually being there was wonderful. To imagine him living at his cottage and pondering his tales, to see what he saw, was absolutely enthralling.
We took the nighttime cemetery tour. Wow—Darkness like you wouldn’t believe. The guides don’t try to scare you; they tell you stories about people and history. But there’s one lantern for every two people, and may I suggest you not stray too far from your lantern buddy! You won’t need anyone to scare you. The darkness, the monuments, the vaults and mausoleums . . . Yes, trust me. You’ll want a friend.
Perhaps one grave, not related to Irving or a headless horseman, struck me the most. I think it’s because my dad was a Scot—a bit stern, generous to a fault and yet, at the same time, frugal in all things. While many of our country’s rich industrialists had mausoleums that could house a small country, Carnegie has a simple, lovely Celtic cross. I couldn’t help thinking that he was a true Scot, a man who’d never put a fortune into a grave!
I’m sure the new television series based on the area has awakened new interest, and that’s not a bad thing! Sleepy Hollow is brimming with history, wonderful things to do and some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever get to see. If you haven’t been, go! And, just a hint—go around Halloween. They really do know how to create headless horsemen, ghosts, ghouls and old-fashioned fun with all kinds of thrills and chills.
And, of course, I hope you’ll enjoy The Betrayed and my version of this wonderful little nook in the Hudson Valley!
Looking for the best paperback releases to suggest to your reading group? Good news! To celebrate National Reading Group Month, we've rounded up the cream of the crop from a year's worth of Reading Group Top Picks from our Book Clubs column. Find all of our Reading Group Month coverage here!
This historical romance follows the unlikely love affair of the author Robert Louis Stevenson and the strong-willed American Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. When they meet in a small French artists' colony, Fanny is slow to warm to the Scottish writer. But as he persists in his attentions towards her, she finds it hard to resist his undeniable charm.
Louis Zamperini beat the odds when, after a difficult childhood, he became a track star in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. But when his Air Force bomber was shot down in the Pacific Ocean and he was taken prisoner, he beat the odds once again in order to survive. This is a remarkable true story of resilience from the author of Seabiscuit.
Winner of the 2013 National Book Award in fiction, The Good Lord Bird follows the intense, violent buildup to the Civil War as viewed through the eyes of Henry, a young slave on the run with famed abolitionist John Brown. At turns hilarious and heartrending, McBride writes about pivotal events in American history with wildly imaginative style.
Despite their distance, a mother and daughter's lives refuse to remain separate in the latest from Amy Tan. Flashing between early 20th-century China and 1800s San Francisco, this novel is rich with detail and insight.
The ripple effects of a desperate act are felt through five generations of an Afghani family in this powerful novel. Spanning continents, Hosseini's new novel maps the difficult relationships so many of us have with that place called "home" and those people called "family."
You haven't read this yet?! The movie just came out—and you'll definitely want to read it before you see the big-screen adaptation.
Based on a true story, this chilling novel set in a bleak 19th-century Iceland centers around a mysterious woman who is accused of murder and sent off to an isolated farm to await her execution. But as her execution date looms, the farmer's family can't help but become fascinated by the oddly alluring alleged murderer in their midst.
This rich, funny and vibrant novel deftly tackles themes as varied as racism and teenage crushes. Americanah is a beautiful novel, and it's more than worthy of the copious amounts of praise heaped upon it.
A brilliantly imagined female protagonist, Reno, attempts to find meaning and beauty among motorcycles and radical anarchists in this contender for the 2013 National Book Award. The Flamethrowers is fast-paced, inventive and energetic, and much like youth, it speeds by fast.
Ursula Todd keeps dying. But every time, she is born again and her world starts anew with her mind wiped clean. Her life always begins on a snowy night in 1910, but each new life brings new opportunities, failures and tragedies for Ursula. This is a detailed, vast work that is filled with death, but also with Atkinson's witty, dry sense of humor.
Although her life is marked by achievements, shy Anne Morrow easily fades into the shadows in the presence of her husband, celebrated aviator Charles Lindbergh. In this novel about her life, Morrow struggles to find her identity and move past the tragedy that threatened to destroy her.
In this debut novel, a New York City lawyer becomes fascinated by Josephine, an 18th-century slave who may have been hiding artistic genius. As she digs deeper into Josephine's life, she discovers truths about herself and her family that have unexpected consequences.
See any potentials for your next reading group book selection?