Saturday 30 October 2010

Pink, Lili Wilkinson

When Ava Simpson transfers to private school, she takes the chance to make a new start, change her image and try to be "normal." She is quickly befriended by popular girl Alexis who persuades her to try out for the school musical. After a disastrous audition, Ava decides to help out behind the scenes and join the stage crew. However, her teammates are a group of quirky misfits who do nothing for her image as one of the popular girls. Who in turn are not the people Chloe, Ava's intellectual and stylish girlfriend, would approve of. Ava finds herself trying to fit in to three different worlds and be three different people, but she can't keep these three lives separate forever.

The title refers, first, to the jumper Ava wears to school, a pink cashmere sweater after years of nothing but black. For Ava, this jumper, and the colour pink represents being an "ordinary" girl, feminine, dressy, interested in gossip and proms and magazines - and boys. Despite her relationship with Chloe, Ava finds herself drawn to one of the boys in the play, Ethan, and as she befriends the stage crew it becomes clear to the experienced YA reader that her friendship with another boy - named Sam, of course! - is something a bit special too.

The plotline was fairly standard modern school-story, and one subplot involving Alexis's former friendship with science fiction nerd Jen was taken straight out of Mean Girls. Just for once, I would like to read a modern school story where the popular kids aren't the evil, manipulative, two-faced queen bee that is so prevalent in the genre! But Alexis has another, secret side to her personality that adds a little characterisation to the stereotype. Certainly, the best-realised characters are the stage crew misfits: Jules, Jacob, Sam, Kobe and Jen, and the book shows the other side of the high school musical. The author shows that she knows her subjects, and I was tickled by some of the references to science fiction geekery - in particular Alexis' use of Battlestar Galactica expletives and Doctor Who's timey-wimey detector. (It goes ding when there's stuff.) I would have loved to have seen the characters go to see Rocky Horror, though.

There are a lot of stories out there that explore the ideas of popularity, identity and being true to yourself in a high school setting, but this one is a bit different in that its overall message is that being you doesn't have to mean categorising yourself and putting yourself in a neat little box.*

*After all, you'll end up in a box given enough time.

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