Branford-Boase Prize Longlist: Week 6

I have two great books to talk about this week.
Geek Girl by Holly Smale
 Geek Girl
“My name is Harriet Manners, and I am a geek.” Harriet Manners knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a “jiffy” lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. She knows that bats always turn left when exiting a cave and that peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite. But she doesn’t know why nobody at school seems to like her. So when Harriet is spotted by a top model agent, she grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her best friend’s dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of impossibly handsome model Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves. Veering from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, Harriet begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn’t seem to like her any more than the real world did. As her old life starts to fall apart, will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?
I love Geek Girl. It subverted my expectations, made me laugh, and is an excellent read. I reviewed it last year when it first came out – click here to read what I wrote.
It’s not just me that loves it either. My 12-year-old niece adores it (and the second book too) and brought it to at least two of our Book Clubs last year to talk about. Here are some of her thoughts:

‘I liked Geek Girl because I could relate to Harriet a lot because I think I could be like her sometimes! I also really liked the idea that she was a model or she was supposed to be, because she wasn’t the best at it to be fair. Also I really liked Lion Boy/Nick because he was really nice and caring towards Harriet.

If I had to give a rating on this book I would most definitely give it 5/5 because Harriet is so relatable to me and her thoughts can be very funny sometimes! Also it’s just an amazing good book to read!’ CJ

Geek Girl is also shortlisted for the 2014 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, and was on the Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2013 shortlist.
The Quietness by Alison Rattle
 The Quietness
When fifteen-year-old Queenie escapes from the squalid slums of nineteenth-century London, she has no idea about the dangers of the dark world she is about to become embroiled in. Initially thrilled at being taken on as a maid for the seemingly respectable Waters sisters, Queenie comes to realise that something is very wrong with the dozens of strangely silent babies being ‘adopted’ into the household. Meanwhile, lonely and unloved sixteen-year-old Ellen is delighted when her handsome and charming young cousin Jacob is sent to live with her family. She thinks she has finally found a man to fall in love with and rely on, but when Jacob cruelly betrays her she finds herself once again at the mercy of her cold-hearted father. Soon the girls’ lives become irrevocably entwined in this tension-filled drama. 

I first heard of The Quietness from M at We Sat Down(check out the review here) and I’ve wanted to read it ever since. I was not disappointed. It is a very good YA historical novel that deals with the darker side of Victorian life. Its focus on the difficulties facing young women corresponds broadly to my own, chronologically earlier, research interests. Rattle is fearless in her approach to menstruation, pregnancy and birth. Prostitution, sexual assault and rape are also tackled. All of these topics are addressed through two young women whose misfortunes lead them to a baby farm – a notorious Victorian phenomenon.
The two girls, Ellen and Queenie, come from very different social backgrounds and families. They are both naïve in their own way, and it is a combination of this and family pressure that pushes them together. The relationship that develops is very touching. The story itself is horrifying because essentially true; the historical detail is excellent. It’s also compelling and I read it in one go.
A couple of things detracted from the book for me. Firstly I didn’t like the switch in writing style between Queenie and Ellen’s sections. Ellen gets to tell her own tale but Queenie’s is told by a narrator, and I wasn’t sure why. Secondly, I actually thought it was too short! I would have liked to have found out a bit more about Ellen’s cousin for example, and little was made of any emotional aftermath or ambivalence Ellen felt about the baby because of how it happened. Still, wishing a book were longer doesn’t really count as criticism!
Do either of these books make your Shortlist?
Next week: Laure Eve’s Fearsome Dreamer and The Last Wild by Piers Torday.

2 thoughts on “Branford-Boase Prize Longlist: Week 6”

  1. Aha! I just had to go and read my own review to remind me what I said (and thank you for mentioning our blog)! Both Little M and I enjoyed The Quietness; for me this was more about subject matter rather than writing style overall. I haven't read Geek Girl but one of our teen reviewers absolutely loved it. From everything I've heard, I wouldn't be surprised to see Holly Smale and her editor on the shortlist.


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