Those of you who have been reading this blog from the beginning will remember from my intro post that I was anxiously awaiting the publication of Withering Tights (HarperTeen 2011) by Louise Rennison. I felt a bit bereft when the Georgia Nicolson series wrapped up. It was time, but I knew I’d miss the mustachioed antics of the Ace Gang. Needless to say, when I discovered that Louise had penned a new spinoff novel about Georgia’s cousin, I was ecstatic. It’s possible that I clapped with glee. No comment. And then I discovered that it was only being published in the UK. HOPES DASHED. I proceeded to do an embarrassing amount of research into how much it would cost to get one here from Britain vs. from Canada, and I discovered that it would be by far the most expensive paperback I owned. So I girded my loins and decided to wait it a few months to see if a US pub date would appear on the horizon. I may have badgered HarperTeen’s twitterer for information, which he or she did not share, much to my chagrin. And finally, a US pub date was announced. HOPES REVIVED. At long last, my copy is here.
Needless to say, I loved this book. I adore Louise Rennison’s writing style, and I think that her voice for teenage girls is spot on. This was a bit of a change from her previous work – it’s quieter and more thoughtful. Her trademark humor still shines through, but Tallulah’s personality isn’t as loud as Georgia’s was. She’s more of an introvert, so her coming into her own is more of a triumph. I really look forward to seeing more of her, so I hope it’s coming (hint, hint), and I hope that the US & UK pub dates will coincide next time (HINT, HINT).
Withering Tights is the story of Tallulah Casey, aged 14, and headed to Yorkshire for a summer program at a school for the arts. Tallulah has signed up for this program because her other option was to do some sort of camping thing with her younger brother which would result in him feeding her sandwiches filled with insects if past experience is to be trusted. Read: Tallulah did not sign up for this because of any a) known talent for the arts outside of Irish dancing, or b) passion for them. However, she likes the arts, and she’s game to try everything – singing, dancing, improv, etc. Sadly, she does not excel in any of her classes. An unfortunate predilection for saying the first thing that pops into her head eventually results in her writing and putting on a BICYCLE BALLET with her new friends (who do excel at song and dance, fortunately). It goes beautifully right up to the end when her skirt gets caught in the spokes during the grand finale and rips off so that she has to wear a trash bag around for the rest of the day. I’m not sure why she doesn’t just commandeer a bit of costume since this is a school for the arts, but they did not ask me. All is not lost, though. Dance of the Sugar Plum Bikey and other performances such as a mime owl (owls are big in this book. It’s the country) reveal Tallulah’s talent for comedy, which rebel teacher Fox, Blaise Fox noticed from the get-go. She casts Tallulah as Heathcliff in the class’s COMEDIC interpretation of Wuthering Heights, the grand finale of the summer program. Now, if I wasn’t already on board with this book because of my deep affection for the author, this would have done it. I LOVE an unreliable narrator, and thus Wuthering Heights is high on my list of top classic novels. I wrote a paper on its narrative structure once. It rocked. Ahem. So, the idea of making depressing, incestuous, star-crossed, moor-dwelling lovers into a comedy is amazing. *jumps* (This is me hopping on board.) Obviously, the play is a huge success. There’s even a dog, which the cinematic classic Shakespeare in Love teaches us is always a hit with the audience. Tallulah is revealed as an excellent comedienne, and she even gets to wear the mustache that her cousin Georgia sent with her. The discovery of her comedic gifts also ensures her place at school for the next term. I smell a sequel. Excellent.
Of course, for those of you who joined me on the Georgia Nicolson Fun Train, there is plenty of preoccupation among Tallulah and her friends with the possibility of going on first dates, first kisses (spoiler – AWKWARD), and all the other agonies of being fourteen and a half. Don’t worry that she’s found herself in an all-girls school. Dother Hall is just over the hill from a school for boys who have been sent away for bad behavior. Built-in bad boys! Of course, none of them really act like bad boys – the actual bad boys are three local brothers, one of whom inspired Tallulah’s interpretation of Heathcliff, thus cementing her place in school next term. The worst offense that I noticed from the Correctional School Crew was the shortcut they took – thereby meeting the girls – to avoid completing their 6 mile run. (I don’t blame them – running is dull. I wish I saw the appeal. Exercising would be so much better if it was fun.) I kept waiting to find out what the deep dark secret was about why they were all at this school for boys who misbehave but not enough to be sent to actual bootcamp. Unless this is just the closest thing that Yorkshire has to offer to bootcamp. It’s quite possible that it’s an American invention for unruly teenagers. Anyway, veering back to the subject at hand, even though Tallulah’s first date did not go as well as she might have hoped, and she does find someone she genuinely likes, and everything is coming up roses – he’s sweet, he admires her knobbly knees, he doesn’t mock her obsession with the owlets in the barn. What more could a girl want? And then he drops a bombshell – GIRLFRIEND. This is another reason I need the next book. WHAT WILL BECOME OF THIS NEWBORN GOING OUT-NESS? Lawks-a-mercy, as Tallulah would say.
*Yorkshire way of saying “Hurrah!” You’ll find this and more interesting vocabulary words in the handy glossary in the back.