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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

'No Such Thing as Forever' Girl Heart Boy #1 by Ali Cronin

 Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:

Four girls, three boys, turning 18. Get set to follow their eventful final year at school.

Cass is Ms Monogamy. Ashley is a player. Donna is a party girl. But what about Sarah? Her friends tease her for being uptight, but she's waiting for The One. Now she's found him, but is he forever - or is Sarah just his summer fling?

Girl Heart Boy is the irresistible new romantic series for teenage readers. Immerse yourself in the stories and engage with the characters through our books, ebooks and online webisodes. Real love, real lives, real sex: Girl Heart Boy is the most thrilling must-read series.

Sarah was happy in her role as the stable, reliable one in the friendship group. Ash is ‘doing it like a dude’, Donna is the wild child, and Cass is ‘Ms Monogamy’. Sarah was the happy-medium; not a prude, but certainly not about to give it up for just any boy who thinks romance is a spare bedroom at a house party. Sarah wanted her first time to be special – maybe she doesn’t (entirely) believe in the Hallmark fallacy of rainbows, unicorns and chocolate hearts when it comes to popping your V-card . . . but having a spark with the boy you’re giving it up to? Maybe an inkling that he’s ‘The One’ and not just ‘There’ would be nice?

What Sarah wanted was a smidge of romance; sweaty palms and butterflies in stomach. Maybe even the possibility of forever?

What she got was Joe, while on holidays with her family in Spain.

And while Sarah didn’t necessarily believe in the aforementioned rainbows, unicorns and chocolate hearts, Joe makes her question everything she ever felt or thought about ‘The One’, as she falls into obsession with her holiday romance . . . But what happens when only one of you is falling and believing in forever?

‘No Such Thing as Forever’ is the first book in a new young adult contemporary series called ‘Girl Heart Boy’, from British author Ali Cronin.

Once upon a time teen readers had Judy Blume to teach them all about love, sex, pain, relationships, boys affectionately calling their junk ‘Ralph’ and horrifying descriptions of menstruation contraptions called ‘belts’ (seriously, it was a thing – look it up and blow your mind). Since Ms Blume (and largely thanks to her) the contemporary young adult genre has grown up quite a bit, and what was titillating and risqué in the 70s now pales in comparison to what some young adult authors explore these days. But Blume never really set out to titillate and excite – she really just wanted to write about normal teen experiences like love and breaking up, and to occasionally explore mature teenage sexual relationships that didn’t end in disease or pregnancy. And I feel like that’s what Cronin is doing in her ‘Girl Heart Boy’ series. She’s not here to write ground-breaking tear-jerkers about teenagers in mental institutions or suffering from deep, emotional traumas. She’s just writing about normal, adolescent behaviour. And that’s okay, heck, it’s even commendable. But it also means that ‘No Such Thing as Forever’ is kind of ho-hum as a result, and just ‘okay’. Cronin isn’t reinventing the wheel, or reinventing the Blume, if you will.

We meet Sarah as she recounts the tale of her recent Spanish holiday to her three best friends – Ash, Donna and Cass. But this is not your typical dull summer holiday recollection, because on this particular trip Sarah met Joe – and that has changed everything. Sarah is no longer the uptight wowser her friends have found to be comfortably reliable in her predictability – Sarah is now obsessing over Joe and everything they had, and everything he may (or may not?) want from their relationship.

Sarah is taking pointers from her friends as she tries to find her footing in obsessing over Joe. She takes advice from Cass, who has been with Adam for four years now and “knows the score”. Ashley, the ‘player’ of their group who they could all learn a thing or two from, and Donna, the girl who knows how to have a good time. But Sarah is learning a lot about herself in the aftermath of her summer romance, and she doesn’t necessarily like what she is becoming. But in finding out about her own romantic self, Sarah is also unearthing some interesting insights about her friends and how they all deal with the complicated ways of the heart; 

Surprised, I turned to her. ‘You’ve got an actual list?’ Ash nodded. ‘What else is on it?’
Without pause, Ash reeled them off. ‘Round-the-world trip, perform at Glastonbury, write novel, have sex with girl, get married, have children, have general anaesthetic, fly plane, learn to cook.’
I mulled over those for a minute. Sex with a girl? Interesting. General anaesthetic? Weird, but I could sort of see her thinking. I rubbed my eye. ‘You want to get married and have children?’
Ash smirked. ‘I knew you’d pick up on that.’ Her expression was light, but her mouth was tense. This list business was obviously no joke, then. I altered my expression accordingly.
‘I can’t help what I want, can I?’ she said. We walked in silence for a few seconds. ‘It’s like . . . ’ She stopped. ‘Do you believe in God?’
I shrugged. ‘Dunno. I suppose so.’
‘Well, I've thought about it a lot,’ she said. ‘It’d be nice to believe in heaven and all that, but I don’t. I can’t . . . It’s the same with the marriage-and-children thing. I'd rather not want them, but I do.’

I did like this book. It was easy enough for me to keep getting stuck back into it as it languished on my bedside table for a few weeks. I chuckled quite a bit in reading, and nodded understandingly at some of Sarah’s cringe-worthy antics, performed in the name of obsession. But I didn’t love this book, and I’m not sure I'd make the trek to the second instalment, ‘Rumour Has It’.

Partly, for me at least, it was the British barrier that stopped me from really investing in the book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of TV show ‘Skins’ (well, until Franky came along at least) and I really loved Gareth Russell’s YA book ‘Popular’ (set in Ireland). I have no problems with the United Kingdom teen front. But while reading ‘No Such Thing as Forever’, I couldn’t help but think that I would be more invested in this if it were set in Australia . . . if the entire concept of the ‘Girl Heart Boy’ teen series had been executed by an Aussie author. There was just something in this book being quintessentially British that stopped me from taking it entirely seriously – maybe it was the ‘blimey’ talk or the confusing ‘forms’ school grade system. In ‘Popular’ I found it really interesting to read a YA novel that had such a different setting as an Irish Catholic high school. But in ‘No Such Thing as Forever’ I just couldn’t help thinking it would mean so much more to me if it had been Aussie . . . So, just to be clear, I’m not nit-picking Ali Cronin being a British author. I actually really like the entire concept of a Judy Blume-esque ‘Girl Heart Boy’ series that is straight-up about love, sex and relationships for teenagers. I would just, given the choice, rather read an Australian YA contemporary romance series.

There were things about ‘No Such Thing’ and the entire concept of ‘Girl Heart Boy’ that I really loved. Like the girls’ guy-friends; Ollie, Rich, and Jack. These guys were so adorable; a little bit hopeless but oddly, endearingly, crush-worthy. I can see that if they are all given a big focus, this series could go far. But at the same time, some things in the book felt very forced and self-consciously ‘YA’. Little things, like mentioning ‘Glee’, which I think will date the book fairly quickly (the same way readers nowadays raise their eyebrows at the mention of menstruation belts in Judy Blume novels of yesteryear?). There were just a few times when I really felt like Cronin had quite obviously set out to write the quintessential YA contemporary romance novel – and had jam-packed it with the expected pre-requisites accordingly. That meant that sometimes I didn’t feel like the book had much heart. Like how the girls’ foursome felt a little bit ‘Sex and the City’ for the younger set – complete with Ashley as the ‘player’ (Samantha), Ms Monogamy Cass (Charlotte), party girl Donna (Miranda. Kinda?) and our narrator in Sarah (Carrie). That just felt very much like the essential ingredients to a girl friendship group in a YA novel.

All in all, I can honestly and objectively see that ‘No Such Thing as Forever’ and the entire ‘Girl Heart Boy’ series concept will find a strong, teen audience. And it’s great that those readers will be getting stuck into a series that’s very straight-talking about love, sex and heartbreak (and how those things tend to go hand-in-hand when you’re young). It’s even great that there’s a ‘Parental Advisory - Explicit Content’ sticker on the back of the book – Judy Blume, eat your heart out! But, for me, when it comes to these kinds of contemporary YA novels I'd much prefer to read those of my homeland, for a stronger sense of connection.


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