Louise Rennison: How teen books teach you to be yourself

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The sad passing of ‘Queen of Teen’ Louise Rennison, author of Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, got me thinking about the importance of these types of teen books when you’re trying to carve a path through adolescence with as little embarrassment as possible.

Rennison’s fourteen year old protagonist Georgia Nicholson and ‘The Ace Gang’ had 2.6 million of us cringing and laughing for ten glorious books. In 1999, before linguistic nuances like ‘lol’ and ‘rofl’ had been tired, she had us doing just that. Rennison didn’t just give us side-splitting laughs, she gave us a handbook of funny phrases; ’nunga-nungas’, ‘marvy’ and ‘glaciosity’ jazz up any conversation. She just seemed to understand that made-up patois that only makes sense to you and your mates, and the camaraderie and competitiveness that characterises teenage girls’ friendships (and how annoying a friend’s fringe could be). Publisher Harper Collins introduced a glossary for the American editions, which described ‘snogging’ to non-native readers as ‘French kissing’. Withering Tights, the first in a series starring Georgia’s cousin, won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2010. Rennison’s comic voice truthfully relayed the hysteria of adolescence, and how unfunny it can be when your best friend rates your nose a three out of ten. After all, as Georgia articulates in Dancing in My Nuddy-Pants, “He who laughs last laughs the laughiest.”

Rennison managed to capture the hilarious horrors of adolescence, making Georgia’s character completely relatable for those in the throes of it. Perhaps Rennison was able to do this because she based many of the incidents on her own teenage years in Leeds – I’m hoping dressing up as a stuffed-olive was one of them – and conducted visits to secondary schools for research (on boys, bras and make-up). The stories are so true to life that her friends were able to identify themselves by name in Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (she had planned to use pseudonyms before publication, but then forgot to do so).

Georgia was self-conscious, sex-god-crazy and self-deprecating. But she imparted the wisdom to readers that all of our insecurities, that we feel no one else could possibly understand, are completely normal (and it’s better to go for a boy that makes you laugh than a sex-god). Her struggle to be the best version of herself in the face of her own insecurities is eminently relatable. The fact that she spends so much time fixating over the size of her nose, spots that “lurk in a red way for the next two years”, perfecting a “natural” make-up look and being utterly preoccupied with getting a boyfriend; underlines the true message of the books, even if you didn’t know it at the time. Contrary to what much of the world would have women believe; being yourself is the best, most attractive thing you can be.

 

Hannah Holmes

 

Image courtesy of The Guardian. 

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