Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Review: My Mad, Fat, Teenage Diary, Rae Earl

My Mad, Fat, Teenage Diary

Rae Earl

Hodder, 2007

It's 1989 and Rae is a fat, boy-mad 17-year-old girl, living in Stamford, Lincolnshire with her mum and their deaf white cat in a council house with a mint off-green bath suite and a larder Rae can't keep away from. This is the hilarious and touching real-life diary she kept during that fateful year - with characters like her evil friend Bethany, Bethany's besotted boyfriend, and the boys from the grammar school up the road (who have code names like Haddock and Battered Sausage).

My Fat, Mad Teenage Diary evokes a vanished time when Charles and Di are still together, the Berlin wall is up, Kylie is expected to disappear from the charts at any moment and it's £1 for a Snakebite and Black in the Vaults pub. My Fat, Mad Teenage Diary will appeal to anyone who's lived through the 1980s. But it will also strike a chord with anyone who's ever been a confused, lonely teenager who clashes with their mother, takes themselves VERY seriously and has no idea how hilarious they are.

Rae Earl is 17 and living in Stamford, Lincolnshire. If that wasn't bad enough, she's just had a spell in a mental health facility, and she's addicted to food. Hence the title: my mad, fat, teenage diary. It's 1989, and Rae is juggling mock A levels with nights down the pub, crumbling friendships, and boys. Not to mention - can a Sagittarius really ever get off with a Scorpio without it all going to pieces?

Rae's diary is a joy to read - not because it's particularly happy, and not even because it's jammed full of entertaining events, but because it is undeniably real throughout. And of course it's real - this is Rae's real diary - but more than that it's full of that strange and yet completely relatable teenage minutiae: lists of boys and their current status with regard to Rae (friends? more than friends?); conversations rendered in exquisite detail, a few lines imbued with the hefty weight of meaning; lines of poetry; rants at her mum.

I have read a few reviews that have been disappointed with the lack of things happening in this book, with the unresolved ending, with the repetitive diary entries, and I was a little bit apprehensive going into this - having really enjoyed the TV series that was made recently for Channel 4 - but all I can say is: give it a try. There were some proper laugh out loud moments - one of my personal favourites was the list Rae made of illnesses and conditions she could expect to suffer from in later life, courtesy of her mum (my mum does this to me, too). Rae's diary isn't trying to be anything, because it already is something: a year in the life of a teenager dealing with bitchy friends and ridiculous boys and that awkward point between childhood and adulthood (no, Britney, no).

In Rae's case, everything is made that much harder by the fact that she is fat - fat enough that a group of boys will routinely chant "Jabba" at her when she passes, and her best friends will suggest that if only she could lose some weight, a boy might like her in more than a pitying way. Rae's struggle with her weight and her self-image was all the more powerful for not being an easy fix: this is not fiction, and Rae does not suddenly transform just by willing it to be so. Those reviews I have read that appear frustrated with Rae - "why doesn't she just stop eating biscuits?" - seem to miss the point. This is not a redemptive piece of teenage fiction: this is real life, where the narrative isn't always just going in one, better direction.

Overall rating: 8/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

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