Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Girl Defective by Simmone Howell

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 tragic-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.

Guys, I have shamefully been procrastinating reviewing Simmone Howell's outstanding new book.  I felt intimidated to review this one because I truly just want to get my review right. I struggle to find words that will encapsulate my reading experience, the heart and the essence of the book and also the brilliant, careful and loving way in which it is written.

This book is truly as awesome as the cover (and the wickedly funny/awesome/crazy/unique blurb)suggests. 

I loved the prose. Howell has this wicked way of delivering lines. Her dialogue cracks, her characters are painted in just a few swift words. She coins phrases and pitches words against each other that seem like an unlikely pairing but are actually brilliantly perfect.

She nails, nails, the coming of age stuff. It's this perfect blend of naivety banging up against loss of innocence and the underside of a very gritty world. It's hopeful and lonely and full of longing and wishes and, on one hand you see how idealistic the characters can be while at the same time they come to terms with just how real and tough the world can be.  Take a look at this gorgeous quote:

I had a shock of yearning, of wishing I was Nancy  The feeling was sharp and it carried a shadow  I was always on the edge of something that was never going to happen. (page 46)

This is another one of those Aussie YA books that bring Melbourne to full colour, thriving life. I love how the setting itself becomes a character. The nightclubs, the streets, the artwork and the houses all add this incredible atmosphere. Most of all, the record shop. It felt timeless and true and like an homage to all the great music that has come before. 

This is such a beautiful and original book. To be frank, Simmone's work here is grittier than my preference. I remain eternally idealistic, optimistic and naive and seeing a darker side of things usually leaves me uncomfortable, a tiny feeling of unease pooling in my belly. Not so, here. It was balanced out beautifully by our sweet narrator. Sky is just beautiful and genuine, Gully tugged at my heart strings, and Nancy, in spite of her flaws, was appealing as that lost charismatic/wild girl. (check this snippet from Nancy, talking to Sky: 'I don't want to see the world, kid. I want to see the weird.' (Nancy, page 9)) And another one,Sky on Nancy: Kid, was what she called me. or little sister, or girlfriend, or dollbaby, or monkeyface. Sometimes she even used my name - Skylark, Sky - all in that drawl that felt like fingernails on my back lightly scratching itches I didn't even know I had.' (page 3)

I love the family vibe in this one. Full of ache and brokenness and despair and genuine love. I love that Howell takes all these quirky things (mannerisms and personalities and obsessions) and somehow makes them seem so entirely normal and true. This is possibly one of my all time fave quotes about family: 

Gully and I groaned and laughed. With the lights soft and everyone's faces all shiny happy I felt flooded with warmth - it was like we'd been infected with a buzzing, shaggy, loveliness that I guessed meant the best kind of family. (page 139)

I loved the mystery. There was also some swoon: I was not interested in Luke Casey. I was not going to jump him or fall for his hot and tragic combo. (page 81) Well, the hot and tragic combo pretty much had me interested from the get-go, haha. 

And, oh my gosh, isn't Sky just the most charmingest of narrators: And the more I drank the less weird I felt. Then we were laughing again, and nothing was serious and we were in the moment and the moment was everything. [...] The grass in the dark looked like velvet. I lay upon it and stared up at the sky. The stars were spinning. I might have hugged a tree before puking. (page 171)

Okay, so my review is all over the place and I have tried to piece it together but it's just not happening. I hope somewhere in my review you can catch just the tiniest glimpse of the magic and heart inside these pages  I bookmarked this book to pieces. It's got charm and originality and heartbreak and mystery and these awesome detective style reports interspersed. It has the Melbourne vibe going on (you know what I mean). It is also lonely and sad in just the right amounts (and I like that in a book). 

Note on the cover: it is so much more awesome in person. Also, it's from the book! The poster had appeared the week before on the wall opposite the shop. It was a stencil of a girls' face, three feet high below a concrete sky. She had black hair and eyes. her lips were slightly parted and a single tear rolled down her cheek (page 9)

Girl Defective @ goodreads

Girl Defective @ Pan Macmillan (an extract included on publisher's site)

Please forgive my quote-heavy review. I just couldn't help myself :) Plus, the best way to try and encapsulate this book is to show you a peek of some gems that lie inside.

Thanks so much to Pan Macmillan for my review copy :)


  1. Love this review! I had spotted this book on Goodreads and since I love Aussie YA and I LOVE when authors nail coming-of-age stuff, I just might have to go order a copy!

    That said, I ordered a copy of the new Rebecca James from Fishpond like six weeks ago and it hasn't even been shipped yet. Quite the wait!

  2. "I remain eternally idealistic, optimistic and naive..." Love you, Nomes! I'm with you on this, and it's also why I stay away from authors like Courtney Summers, but I'm glad you said this one is beautifully balanced. I can't wait to read it! I've been carrying my copy around for weeks, forcing myself to wait until I write at least one review first, but f*** it with a frying pan. I'm starting this asap! :) Great review.

  3. "I bookmarked this book to pieces." - totally. Always the mark of a truly impressive read, when I've loved it and dog-eared :)

    Beautiful review.

  4. Love this review, Nomes! I think this is definitely one of my favourites of the year.. so gorgeous. Simmone Howell's writing is seriously amazing.

  5. Oh this is such a fabulous review Nomes! Based on it and the wonderful quotes you shared I clearly MUST have this book!

  6. Another amazing Aussie YA novel? I definitely want to read this! I've been curious about this since I first saw the cover and premise and now I'm seeing rave reviews from Aussie bloggers and that just makes me want to read it more. I haven't read any of Simmone Howell's novels and this seems like a good one to start with. Sometimes Aussie books are available here in Singapore so I asked around for this one but couldn't find it here.

  7. Your review really shows off this book, Nomes! I am a bit of a cynic but deep down I do want everything to be happy and good, so your comment about this being a tiny bit darker made me realise as I hadn't thought about that. And yet, it really was so balanced - I adore Sky and Gully!

  8. Lovely Review. I am so happy to find another Australian Blogger because i'm a aussie teen book blogger myself. This looks good, new follower.

    - Sunny @ www.asupersunnyspot.blogspot.com

  9. Oh yes! This book was just amazing. And so hard to review haha! You've done a fab job though, you make me want to read it again right now :D


Thanks for the commenty love :)