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!
Ten years later, check out our 2004 Top Picks in Mystery:
January 2004: The Frumious Bandersnatch by Ed McBain
In the 53rd book featuring the cops of the 87th Precinct, McBain (aka Evan Hunter) spun a "hilarious and diabolical"—and topical—web, skewering the music industry, sensationalist cable news coverage, George W and the Patriot Act. Read our review.
February 2004: Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos
Pelecanos fills us in on the backstory of D.C. private investigator Derek Strange, star of such titles as Soul Circus and Hell to Pay, from coming of age in the early '60s to his experience as a cop during the riots following the assassination of Dr. King. "Hard Revolution plants the reader in the middle of a population run amok, where the major difference between the criminals and the cops is possession of a badge." Read our review.
March 2004: Deep Pockets by Linda Barnes
Private investigator Carlotta Carlyle takes on the task of unearthing a blackmailer who threatens a Harvard professor over his illict affair with a student. First the student turns up dead, then the blackmailer, and the professor seems to be the culprit. As might be expected, he claims innocence, and it falls to Carlotta to uncover the truth. This pageturner comes highly recommended for fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. Read our review.
April 2004: Sleeping Beauty by Phillip Margolin
In Margolin's chilling novel, true-crime author Miles Van Meter's bestseller told the story of the serial killer who killed several people in Miles' life and put his sister in a coma. Flash back six years to the story of high school soccer star Ashley Spencer, who escapes the murderer who kills her mother and father—the same killer who leaves Miles' sister comatose. But back in present-day, Miles reveals that all is not as it seems. "Sleeping Beauty is a must for suspense fans; red herrings abound, and the twists are as convoluted as the whorls of a killer's fingerprint." Read our review.
May 2004: Live Bait by P.J. Tracy
This Minnesota mystery comes from mother-daughter writing team P.J. and Traci Lambrecht. Homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth follow up their Monkeewrench (2003) adventure with an investigation into a string of octogenarian murders—and some of the victims were Holocaust survivors. Read our review.
June 2004: Loaded Dice by James Swain
Retired cop and gamesman Tony Valentine makes a living uncovering crooked gamblers. In his fourth appearance, he ravels to Las Vegas to investigate a lovely blackjack amateur who bears an uncanny resemblance to Valentine's deceased wife. "Swain is a master storyteller, often mentioned in the same breath with Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen." Read our review.
July 2004: Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley
In the summer of 1965, the Watts riots rage in L.A., and Easy Rawlins is charged with investigating the murder of a young black woman, one who cared for a white man who narrowly escaped a mob of angry black youths. "Mosley captures the nuance of atmosphere and time better than any mystery author since Raymond Chandler; he is the unchallenged modern master of the craft." Read our review.
August 2004: The Wake-Up by Robert Ferrigno
"Robert Ferrigno is in many ways the consummate author," and in this edgy noir, who proves just that. Mostly-retired black-ops specialist Frank Thorpe comes to the aid of a mistreated vendor in an airport, and with that small act, "the first domino is pushed, the carefully arranged pattern goes awry remarkably quickly." The villains in this one make it a true standout mystery. Read our review.
September 2004: Destination: Morgue! by James Ellroy
This collection, packed to the brim with crime and murder, is composed of 14 pieces including three novellas, a profile of celebrity defendant Robert Blake, several true-crime stories and a wealth of autobiographical material that provide a template for writing a mystery novel. "If you feel that your favorites have gone a bit too soft around the middle, a touch mainstream, give James Ellroy a shot." Read our review.
October 2004: California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker
Part family drama, part murder mystery, this California tale is "first-rate; the true success of the book, though, is how well it captures the time and place, a sun-drenched, orange-scented utopia gone but affectionately remembered." Read our review.
November 2004: The Rottweiler by Ruth Rendell
A serial killer christened "The Rottweiler" starts picking off girls one by one and steals one token from each. When the victims' belongings turn up in an antique shop, the police begin to investigate the many quirky characters who reside in the building. Read our review.
December 2004: Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer
Modern-day Rumpole shares with readers the details of his very first case, the defense of a young man accused of killing his war-hero father. "The Rumpole books are equally appealing to fans of British mysteries and aficionados of the bad-boy English authors of the '50s. They are clever, exceptionally relevant and crammed full of the sort of weird and wonderful quotes that stick with you long after you put the book down." Read our review.
Were you reading any of these winners in 2004?
The BookPage editors spend so much time talking about new books, sometimes it's extra fun to look back on old favorites. What was our Whodunit columnist, Bruce Tierney, reading five years ago, and what were his Top Picks?
Travel back in time with us . . . all the way back . . . to the year . . . 2009!
January 2009: Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis
Lewis' debut thriller was already a hit among British readers when we got our hands on it. Chinese cop Jian heads to the mean streets of rural England in search of his daughter, where he crosses paths with migrant worker Ding Ming, who faces a similar search for his missing wife. "And so these two strangers in a strange land careen through the pastoral English countryside in search of the women they love." Read our review.
February 2009: A Darker Domain by Val McDermid
McDermid drew on her own childhood experiences to tell this story of intertwining cold cases. In 1984, a Scottish miner abandoned his family to join the national miners' strike and disappeared. In 1985, Scottish heiress Catriona Maclennan Grant and her infant son Adam were kidnapped, and when her father attempted to meet the demands, she ended up dead, and her son was never found. In present-day Tuscany, journalist Bel Richmond finds herself on a path to unravel both mysteries. Read our review.
March 2009: Spade and Archer by Joe Gores
It was a gutsy move for Edgar Award-winning author Gores to write a prequel to The Maltese Falcon, but he did it well, and the result is a milestone mystery. "Atmosphere: check. Hammett’s spare, clipped prose: check. Action and plot setup: check. Faithful description of Samuel Spade: check." Read our review.
April 2009: The Long Fall by Walter Mosley
In his first outing, Private Investigator Leonid McGill proved to be just as complex and engaging as Mosley's popular character Easy Rawlins. What Easy is to South L.A., McGill is to New York, though "McGill has a very different sense of the world, and a very different voice as a storyteller." Read our review.
May 2009: Woman with Birthmark by Hakan Nesser
This Swedish import has a standout premise: A young woman, obsessed with a "holy mission" of righting heinous wrongs, becomes the "angel of death," preceding murders with unsettling, happy music via phone call. Police inspector Van Veeteren is on the case. "[T]he plot development is spot-on, the characters sympathetic and well drawn (even the villainess), and the denouement richly satisfying." Read our review.
June 2009: The Ignorance of Blood by Robert Wilson
Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón is still on the trail of the terrorist bombers from The Hidden Assassins, and it appears now that the attack may have been a cover for something worse. When the son of his girlfriend is kidnapped, Falcon finds himself caught in a Sophie's Choice. Wilson's final book is "intensely personal . . . a book to be read slowly and savored, with a fine Spanish rioja." Read our review.
July 2009: Get Real by Donald E. Westlake
Another final novel, this one a "tongue-in-cheek look at both larceny and America’s love affair with mindless reality TV." John Dortmunder and his merry men play themselves on a reality television show and decide to pull a heist on the series production company. For our benefit, a hidden flaw leads to things going hilariously wrong. Read our review.
August 2009: The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
The second outing by computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Michael Blomqvist—following The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—made serious waves in 2009. "Salander is an edgy character, more than a little reminiscent of Robert Eversz’ punk photographer/detective Nina Zero; Blomqvist, for his part, is an urbane mix of relentless researcher and firebrand reformer, always stirred, never shaken." Read our review.
September 2009: Breathing Water by Timothy Hallinan
Gonzo expat travel writer Poke Rafferty has a penchant for finding trouble—this time with a ruthless mob boss who is the subject of Rafferty’s forthcoming book. It's "action-packed and steamily atmospheric, and as cleverly plotted a mystery as you are likely to read this year." Read our review.
October 2009: The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah
"Sophie Hannah’s suspense novels . . . reach back to the days of Agatha Christie, where the identity of the miscreant is hidden until the final pages of the book." A fitting comparison, as Hannah will be reviving Poirot later this year. In the third book in the acclaimed Zailer and Waterhouse series, Sally Thorning discovers that the man she had a secret affair with—Mark Bretherick—is not actually Mark Bretherick. And the real Mark's wife and children are dead. Read our review.
November 2009: G.I. Bones by Martin Limón
In their sixth adventure, military police sergeants Sueño and Bascom must find the bones of a dead G.I., who was murdered 20 years ago and is presumably haunting them. "I remain singularly impressed with his ability to whisk the reader away to an exotic place and time (the anything-goes Itaewon pleasure quarter of Seoul, Korea, in the turbulent 1970s)." Read our review.
December 2009: Hollywood Moon by Joseph Wambaugh
Wambaugh has his thumb on the insanity of Hollywood—as well as what makes an irresistible crime novel. Intersecting storylines feature LAPD veteran Dana Vaughn and "Hollywood" Nate Weiss, two surfer cops and three dubious suspects. "Like life, Wambaugh’s novels are by turns comical, whimsical, tense, gripping and, in one memorable instance in the final pages of the book, tragic." Read our review.
Think you'll check out any of these standout 2009-ers? Peruse all our 2009 coverage here.