January 20, 2006
LBD: Les Bambinos Dangereuses
"Mean girl" books, my Secret Agent Man tells me, are falling out of vogue, and stories of happy girls are all the rage. My cheerfully melancholy soul sort of blanches at that, but I suspect that "happy" is less a state of mind in fiction and more an absence of deliberate character malice. Cool, I thought, I can live with that.
I was a little unsure of my brave assertion when I picked up Grace Dent's novel LBD - it's a girl thing. First, this book packs more whacked out adults into the first three chapters than I have ever met, or I could ever dream up. The girls are written as helter-skelter 'scamp' types in a happily broad UK style, and there is page upon page of witty banter simply for the sake of witty banter, clueless teachers, impromptu screams, text messaging and girls wearing thong underwear above the waistline of their jeans, (and I tell you I was millimeters from flinging the book across the room just for that) and more stuff that is designed to notify the reader of the characters' cool quotient, and purposefully annoy any adults in the vicinity and in the story. I couldn't get any kind of depth from the stupid creatures, and I was pretty sure I wouldn't. They weren't 'my' kind of girls, and I about abandoned them... then suddenly... there was a flicker. They'd been dealt a disappointment, and found a creative and very cool way to counter it! Wow! That little flicker of real character was quickly followed up by more and more sense, and I was relieved. Yes, there was life beneath that carefully cultivated air of air-headedness. The girls are very young, for all that they're dying to be snogging and tearing down the town, and their immaturity suddenly becomes understandable. I found this a very satisfying read, as yet another 'girls' friendships' book found its mark. I have its sequel, LBD: live and fabulous on my nightstand, and expect that it will be equally entertainingly escapist YA girls BritLit.
Jodi Lynn Anderson has penned another 'girly' friendship novel called Peaches, which is her first for the YA audience. The friendships in this novel start out slowly and uncertainly. Birdie is boring and timid and, actually, kind of fat. She lives on a peach farm that is temporary home to migrant laborers, herself, and her father. Temporary, because the farm is failing, and Dad is going to sell. Birdie has never known life anywhere else, nor does she truly know herself.
Birdie's perfect swan of a cousin, Leeda, is beautiful, effortless, and graceful. Her teeth are professionally whitened, and she lives a perfect country-club existence in the shadow of her sister, Danay, of whom she is painfully, horribly jealous. Painful, horrible jealousy, though, is unattractive. Leeda does nothing that is not attractive, so her feelings for her sister, her mother and father who love her best, and the world around her are distant specks on her horizon. She is well bred and as polite as her hyphenated last name. Birdie makes her tired just to look at her. She doesn't want to spend her Spring Break on a peach far at the edge of the known universe, visiting her lame, broke uncle whose wife just left him... but it isn't gracious to say so.
Murphy is trouble. Everyone knows her mother's a slut, and most people think Murphy's pretty fast and loose too. She gets caught breaking into Birdie's house, and is sentenced to work on the peach farm during Spring Break.
A volatile mix of personalities, issues and realities blends and diffuses the characters in this tale. There's no reason for these girls to like each other, much less trust each other, but against the backdrop of a beautiful peach orchard that changes throughout the seasons, these girls go through a metamorphosis that is realistic and heartening. A quieter novel that begins slowly, it's well worth following the peaches from blossom to their fragrant fruiting stage, and eventual harvest.