Hastings in the seventies is not the coolest place to be. As Rachel and Susan teeter on the brink of adolescence, they realise safety lies in numbers and the best chance of surviving their teens is to stick together. Their friendship protects them against the trials of parents, classmates, soggy chips, warm beer, aspiring guitar heroes, stoned hippies, men's clubs, derivative three-chord bands and emotional neediness and weediness.
But when Dave, sophisticated London art student and unattainable boyfriend, enters their lives, they discover that sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll aren't always everything they've dreamed of. And then punk music detonates the status quo and nothing will ever be the same again.
Jo Brand is one of my favourite comedians, so when I saw this in the library I snapped it up. It's Different For Girls focuses on Rachel and Susan, two teenage girls living in Hastings in the 70s. Rachel has just moved there from London, and the two girls become best friends (and sometimes best enemies), despite the fact that Susan's mum Terry thinks that Rachel's family are too stuck-up, and Rachel's mum Helen thinks Susan's family are common and to be avoided.
The social nuances of their friendship, and their disapproving families, were amusing and felt very genuine (I remember my mum passing judgement on some of my friends and their parents at times!). One of the strengths of the novel is the way it captures a particular period (70s Britain) and the experience of growing up in a small, slightly faded town. Hastings loses out to the glamour of Brighton and the somewhat forbidden appeal of London, and both girls seem a little bit disappointed with what their lives have to offer.
The book encompasses the period of a few years, from more benign fallings-out between the girls, accompanied by Rachel's feeling that while Susan is being felt up by boys under the pier, Rachel would rather be at home with a cup of tea, to later incidents of drinking and sex and discovering the joys of punk music. Doomed to always be the 'friend' next to pretty girl Susan, Rachel meets a boy and things all start to go right and wrong all at the same time.
The ups and downs of female friendship felt very real. There were some funny moments and lots of incisive observations, which I think comes from Brand's background as a comedian, but occasionally I felt like the writing fell a little bit flat, or that there was a bit too much 'tell' rather than 'show' when describing some of the characters and their thoughts. It often felt like it might work better written in the first person, as a more confessional account of being a teenage girl in a dull town in the 70s, as sometimes I felt a little bit distant from both girls.
I'm not sure I totally bought into the Dave storyline, although he did get a nice line - "I can't find anyone else like you anywhere". The novel seemed stronger when it focused on the girls, and Paul/Pauline was a nice addition quite late on in the book. The ending seemed a bit rushed and rather neat, and although the blurb promises punk music and lots of bands are mentioned (before they become hugely famous, like Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Sex Pistols) there's no real feeling of being immersed in any particular scene.
A good read, with some funny parts and some very dry observations, but ultimately it felt a little bit like something was missing.
Overall rating: 5.5/10
Book source: Borrowed from the library.