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Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (1999)

Louise Rennison, HarperCollins Children’s Books, 256pp, 978-0007218677, £6.99 pbk

Louise Rennison’s Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series – all 10 laugh-out-loud volumes – is firmly in the my-so-called-life tradition of teenage diary fiction. The tales are for and about girls who are trying to beat puberty into submission, and Rennison understands the need for stimulation, fun and comfort in this age group. Georgia is self-obsessed, melodramatic and boy-crazy but also funny, loyal, and deft with language. She has sensible friends who curb her excesses with kindness, like fun teachers or adventurous aunties. The books are much more substantial than the covers make them appear. Above all, they teach non-acceptance of the adults’ design for living, with laughter the best weapon in the battle for teenage identity.

Lady: My Life as a Bitch (2001)

Melvin Burgess, Puffin, 208pp, 978-0141310282, O/P

A funny, poignant tale about a 17-year-old girl and her relationship with sexual desire. When Sandra turns into a dog, a world of extremes opens to her. The excited fascination with sex that had led her into conflict with adults when she was a human (although it was legal) is now expected behaviour. The message is that sex can be fun but that compulsive promiscuity is not a wise lifestyle choice and even dogs might not be allowed to enjoy it for long. Thoughtful readers will enjoy the canine debate on what it means to be human, and note that Sandra is becoming “sensible” without adults’ intervention before her dog life even starts.

A Gathering Light (2003)

Jennifer Donnelly, Bloomsbury, 400pp, 978-0747570639, £6.99 pbk

A glimpse of rural women’s and girls’ lives in the startlingly recent past as a desperately poor logger’s daughter born early in the 20th century in upstate New York has to fight all the way for her education while filling her dead mother’s role at home. A multi-layered tale

Geraldine Brennan is a journalist specialising in children’s books and education, regularly reviews for the Observer and has judged several literary awards.

embracing the true story of the murder of Grace Brown by her lover on Big Moose Lake in 1906 (the same case that inspired An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser), it introduces concerns of race, gender, class and poverty through Mattie’s determination to increase her choices in life. The most chilling predicament is that of Mattie’s teacher, whose husband once tried to have her committed for writing poetry.

Just Like Tomorrow (2004)

Faïza Guène, translated by Sarah Ardizzone, Definitions, 192pp, 978-1862301580, £5.99 pbk

Doria, a second-generation Moroccan immigrant, lives in a grotty suburb north of Paris, a million miles in spirit from the tourists’ City of Lights. Her father has abandoned her mother in search of a younger wife who can give him a son. We follow Doria’s inner thoughts, stoical but packed with attitude, through her fifteenth year. While she struggles with being patronised by officialdom and misunderstood by males, she and her mother take small steps towards a better future. The translation breathes the life of the streets through its Franco-Arabic slang, allowing us to live inside Doria’s head. This proves to be a turbulent but illuminating place.

Daughters of Time (2014)

The History Girls, Templar, 352pp, 978-1848771697, £7.99 pbk

From Boudicca to the Greenham Common protestors via Aphra Behn, Mary Seacole, Emily Davison and Amy Johnson, the group of significant writers for children behind The History Girls blog (Mary Hoffman, Catherine Johnson, Celia Rees among others) correct myths and bring reputations to life in stories about remarkable women through the ages. n

Books for Keeps No.206 May 2014 15

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