Girl Defective by Simmone Howell

Sunday, March 17, 2013

We, the Martin family, were like inverse superheroes, marked by our defects. Dad was addicted to beer and bootlegs. Gully had "social difficulties" that manifested in his wearing a pig snout mask 24-7. I was surface clean but underneath a weird hormonal stew was simmering...

It's summer in St Kilda. Fifteen-year-old Sky is looking forward to great records and nefarious activities with Nancy, her older, wilder friend. Her brother – Super Agent Gully – is on a mission to unmask the degenerate who bricked the shop window. Bill the Patriarch seems content to drink while the shop slides into bankruptcy. A poster of a mysterious girl and her connection to Luke, the tragi-hot new employee sends Sky on an exploration into the dark heart of the suburb. Love is strange. Family Rules. In between there are teenage messes, rock star spawn, violent fangirls, creepy old guys and accidents waiting to happen. If the world truly is going to hell in a hand-basket then at least the soundtrack is kicking. Sky Martin is Girl Defective: funny, real and dark at the edges.
This is so very unlike anything else I have read lately. It's set in the present day but it's quite timeless, very nostalgic - the Martin family own and run a record shop (which they live in a flat above), so how could it not be a novel about nostalgia? There is something sort of innocent about Nancy, even in all her wildness, like she is a girl from another time - hence Sky's romanticised idea of her friend.

Not quite as much sleuthing as the title suggests. There is a mystery, and the younger brother is a spy hobbyist - which I too was very keen on as a ten-year-old, I wonder whether every child wants to be a spy at some point - but of course this is not a straight mystery. Things aren't really strictly solved, because it would be unrealistic if they were

I've been waiting since 2008 for another Simmone Howell novel and the wait was well worth it (fifteen-year-old Steph, of course, would expect a novel a year, because fifteen-year-old Steph is a rabid fan with no concept of how long is takes to write a novel, really. Nineteen-year-old Steph doesn't mind waiting four years for another marvellous book. Enough third-person, though.)

The characters are all beautiful and raw and lovely, especially the teenagers (even with all their darkness). The dialogue is brilliant, and the writing gorgeous (you know when you're reading and you can never really find a place to stop? You just keep moving forward because it is so well-written?). It's set in St Kilda so it's familiar and very realistic but enchanting and unreal at once (some of the night scenes like the one at Luna Park especially), reminding me somewhat of Leanne Hall's This is Shyness only more cemented in our reality.

It's really very splendid, and if you like contemporary Australian YA (it's a bit on the literary side) it's a really-really-should-read (I'm trying to avoid saying must-read because that phrase is severely overused). It is always lovely when a much-anticipated book lives up to your expectations.

P.S. It's going to be published in the US! I do not know when yet, but you should read it as soon as you can.

Girl Defective on Goodreads.
Girl Defective on the publisher's website.
The author's blog.
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