Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Book Review: Dancing in My Nuddy Pants

Title: Dancing in My Nuddy-Pants

(It went into multiple editions and translations. Amazon shows three different covers; the book I have has yet another cover. You're looking at the current printing.)

Author: Louise Rennison

Date: 2002

Publisher: Harper Tempest

ISBN: 0-06-009746-9

Length: 214 pages

Quote: “I am writing to you from my bedroom to welcome you to another exciting(ish) diary of my fabulous life. Within these pages I run the gamut of emotions from A to—er—C, with just a dash of heavy snogging.”

If Judy Blume had been younger, English, and blessed with a sense of humor, she would have been Louise Rennison.

Georgia, the narrator of Rennison's global-seller series, has all the self-centered, sex-ridden whininess of the narrators in Deenie and Are You There God It's Me Margaret. As a young teenager I felt insulted by publishers, teachers, and librarians who suggested that such awful girls could have anything in common with me or with anyone I wanted for a friend. I still think Judy Blume's teenaged girl characters are sad, whiny little bores. Louise Rennison's are almost as bad...but not quite, because they're funny. They're parodies. I'm convinced that Rennison is laughing at her younger self.

My own standard for novels aimed at teenaged girls is generally higher than this. I think writers who actually like teenaged girls need to present a clear message:

1. Many novels and other bits of pop culture that have been aimed at teenaged girls seem to say “Your life would be perfect if you only had a boyfriend.”

2. Reality-check: Is that true for your friends who have boyfriends? Duh.

3. The idea that you need to have a boyfriend is something some people are trying to sell you, in order to sell you all those cosmetic products that they hope you hope will help you attract a boyfriend.

4. Reality-check: When all you apply to your body is soap and water, you probably look like a teenaged girl. (If you're in the minority of teenaged girls who do look as if you might be old enough to date men, that's what's known as “being too good-looking for your own good,” and carries a whole truckload of problems. If you're a normal baby-face teen-troll, count your blessings.) When you use all those cosmetic products, you look like a teenaged girl who wastes a lot of time and money on cosmetic products that aren't very Green. Which way you want to look may depend on where you have or want a part-time job, but a lot of people, including other teenagers, prefer to look at a teenaged girl who looks as if she spent her time and money on something more interesting than trying to change her face.

5. So, find something interesting to do, and get a life. Boyfriends will appear, and then they will fade. This is known as Teen Angst and happens to everybody (except in cultures where marriages are arranged). Eventually, probably after you and your friends are twenty-five or even thirty and have outgrown talking about “boyfriends and girlfriends,” you may be blessed with a Partner for Life. Not everyone is so blessed, but your chances will be much better if you don't already have a husband and/or ex-husband and/or babies from any adolescent “boyfriend” mistakes.

(By now readers may be muttering, “You should talk, writer known as Priscilla King. Who wants to end up like you, husband-less and penniless?” Nobody, obviously, although—also obviously—when a couple are married and not divorced, it's almost guaranteed that one of them will eventually be a widow. But we are not talking here about how to avoid being a widow, about which I obviously do not know enough to teach others. We are talking here about how to find a Partner for Life in the first place. About that I do know something.)

Georgia Nicolson is not much of a role model for getting a life. She has bad-role-model parents who are not encouraging her to cultivate any talents, and although her “snogging” seems to stay within the boundaries currently considered age-appropriate her approach to boys seems to be the “Oh, whistle and I'll come to you, lad(s),” approach that has never been liberating for any girl, anywhere. She acts as if she thinks the boys she allows to kiss her were doing her favors. This sort of thing is what we call Letting the Side Down, and at some schools it's dealt with very severely..."Eww, G. Nicolson, that disgusting tramp! I'm not even going on that trip if she is, are you? Oh for pity's sake don't ask Robbie whatever-his-name-is, haven't you heard he's been seen with the Nicolson?" etc. etc. etc.

In this volume of her adventures, Georgia even confesses having kissed her friend Ellen's boyfriend Dave. Oh mercy...not that my schoolmates used to have any. “What sort of mamma bird could hatch her, the Dreaded Red-Beaked Boyfriend-Snatcher? Tramp tramp tramp, the boys are march-ing...”

It's possible that I was able to tolerate this story, brisk, brief, and whimsical though it is, because Georgia's cat Angus shows signs of being a social cat. The snobby Neighbors Across the Road accuse him of having seduced their pedigreed purr-princess. The Nicolsons say he couldn't have because he's been neutered. The cats quietly continue to purr and cuddle. The pedigreed cat gives birth to seven kittens who look like Angus. Many tomcats are interested in the mother of their kittens if, and only if, she's interested in a quick round of probably-safe sex immediately after the kittens are born. Many mother cats shun the father of their kittens because tomcats have been known to eat kittens in the hope of persuading the mother cat to start a new litter. Once in a while, though, a tomcat actually tries to be a father to his young, and then you know you've found a truly special social cat family. What a pity Angus was neutered; his DNA was so much more valuable than a pedigreed cat's special, usually dysfunctional look.

(Just for the real-world Across the Road types...I'm not the only one who thinks social cats are valuable. We've all heard the animal haters' propaganda, “There aren't enough homes for them all,” but in the case of social cats, a minority type that can't be recognized by a "look" or bred for commercial profit, there aren't enough cats for all the homes that want them.)

Toward the end of the book, Georgia and her friends finally stop thinking about sex and gossip long enough to do something public-spirited, for once. Meh. I'm glad to see them noticing something outside of their own skins. Is this enough of a payoff for trudging through almost 200 pages of teenaged me-me-me-me-me-and-my-little-feelings? No. The payoff is that, even at her whiniest and most self-absorbed, Georgia always comes across as exaggerating her own whininess and self-absorption for comic effect.

I don't particularly recommend this series to teenagers, especially the ones who are honestly trying to control their moods of “redbottomosity”...because recommending a book to teenagers is likely to be interpreted as recommending the choices the characters make, even when the book is about why those choices aren't good ones. If you don't want to become a parent just because your hormones are telling you to have sex with everything in the universe, long discussions of every lip-nibble and nerve-tingle do not help

But I do recommend the series to adults who need to be reminded what adolescent hormone surges feel like. Y'know, we enjoy every minute of the few surges of those hormones we still get, and some of us even consider artificial estrogen or testosterone supplements in the hope of getting those surges more often. We forget that, when our hormone tides were flooding in and out every few days, they gave us about as much grief, worry, and weariness as they did thrills or crazy teenage energy. We remember the estrogen-enhanced sunsets and forget the estrogen-enhanced frustrations of being fourteen. And Georgia, with her days where she posts to her diary or blog every few minutes and weeks when she doesn't post at all, prods us to remember—the whole of it.

Is this payoff enough to justify ten short novels, plus two nonfiction rants and a three-volume spin-off (about Georgia's young cousin)? According to Amazon, a lot of readers got tired of Georgia's shallowness...but many more did not. Rennison was turning out a book a year in this series for the last fifteen years of her life, and all the books sold well, internationally. 

If you want to laugh along with a fictional teenager and give thanks for middle age, it is possible to buy Dancing in My Nuddy Pants and any or all of its fourteen companion books from this web site: $5 per book, $5 per package (for the first editions, which are the ones I've read, you could plan on four books shipping in a $5 package), $1 per online payment. If you send a U.S. postal money order for $10 (for this volume) or $95 (for the whole set) or whatever in-between price may apply, to Boxholder, P.O. Box 322, the post office will collect its own surcharge from you. If you pay via Paypal to the address salolianigodagewi @ yahoo will send you, Paypal will demand the surcharge from me, so you'll need to send $11 or $96 or whatever applies in between.

If you want the best possible bargain and aren't sure you'd keep laughing all the way through four whole books about Georgia Nicolson, of course, you may also mix books by different authors in the package--e.g. Dancing in My Nuddy Pants could be packed together with Dave Barry Talks Back and The Bachelor Home Companion and Rock This for the same $25, or $26.