Let’s flash back to 2001, shall we? A young Anni Becker mopes around in 7th grade Homeroom, desperate for distraction from a boring day at school. On the bookshelf of her classroom sits the lime green spine of a paperback, its title in intriguingly small type. When young, naïve Anni picks up said book, she is shocked, embarrassed, and a bit amused by its title: Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging. This book will change her life.
I must thank Christ in His infinite wisdom and grace that my twelve-year-old self didn’t have Bella Swan, pouting and slouching her way through miserable Washington fog (hoping for a titillating and menacing encounter with her stalker boyfriend). My twelve-year-old self had Georgia Nicholson, a big-nosed and good-for-a-laugh teen skipping through Bristol, awkwardly chatting up the green grocer’s son and dancing at home on Friday nights with her “fab gang” of equally awkward girlfriends.
The book is written in a diary-style format—and seriously, what twelve-year-old can resist a juicy peek at someone’s private journal? The text follows Georgia from the last weeks of her summer holidays through approximately one year at school. It details her friendships, the escapades of her cat Angus, her disgust with thongs and other forms of “boycatching,” and her determination to master the art of snogging (British slang for “making out”).
With Georgia’s diary and experiences, author Louise Rennison doesn’t necessarily create a strong feminist role model for girls. Our young protagonist jumps headfirst into the pitfalls of popularity seeking, body shaming, and betrayal of friends. She often cow-tows directly to industry standards of beauty and feelings of self worth based on male attention. Poor Georgia probably doesn’t even know what patriarchy is, but what fourteen-year-old does? What Rennison shows us through Georgia’s wit and often cringe-inducing social gaffes is a young girl trying to find her place in this world. Yes she tries to change her looks through makeup; but she also stands up against pressure to be a certain type of girl, one example of which has her show up at a party in a ludicrous (and truly awesome) costume. The other girls are all in sexy “catsuits” and animal ears (a la Mean Girls), but Georgia shows herself to be beyond this by dressing as a stuffed olive, her hair dyed pimento-red and all.
This book is far from perfect. Its literary merit might be challenged by some based on its informal tone, strange slang, and less-than-scholarly subject matter. But for young women everywhere, I think Georgia’s screw-ups and small triumphs can be a sign of hope and aspiration. She can show girls that you can wear makeup and like boys, but still be funny, interesting, and stand up for (and to) your friends. Or, at the very least, hers may serve as a cautionary tale to never shave your eyebrows, dye your hair at home with peroxide, or let your little sister anywhere near your good stockings.