“There’s a reason that the number thirteen is bad luck: it sucks to be thirteen.” So says the cover blurb for Waiting For It, one title in a new book series for tweens called Girl V The World. Targeting the ‘forgotten girls’ who are too old for early fiction, but a little young for Twilight, these books by various Australian authors tackle the big tween issues: bras, periods, boys, body image and girlfriends who seem to love you one minute and act like complete freaks the next. Come to think of it, the boys are much the same. Oh, why doesn’t anything make sense when you’re thirteen?!
Hazel Atherton is not the most popular girl at school, but she’s not the least either. In fact, she’s number 17 on the cruel ‘hot list’ the boys have tacked to the School Events noticeboard. But Hazel cares less about what the boys think than about where she sits amongst her friendship group: Alice, for example, was the most popular girl at primary school, but on this list she hasn’t even made the top 20! A lot of things are changing now that the girls are in high school. How do you work out what it takes to ‘fit in’ while still being true to yourself?
What’s even worse for Hazel is that she’s the only person in the whole school (she feels) who hasn’t yet got her period. She worries there is something horribly wrong with her body. She forces herself to be happy for friends as they talk about the benefits of tampons over pads, hot water bottles and painkillers. She tries to join in while the other girls melodramatically check the back of each other’s uniforms every time they stand up – heroically lending a jumper to be tied around a waist if there is ANY risk of a visible spot. It is comical, with the benefit of hindsight, but a stark reminder of just how unnatural the most natural of body changes can seem when they first begin to happen. Hazel is also negotiating issues within her family, to which many kids might relate, such as the arrival on the scene of her mother’s new boyfriend and the growing distance between herself and her older sister.
Waiting For It has a very simple storyline that incorporates friendship negotiation, crushes on boys and family relationships with realistic dialogue and characterisation. There is no swearing and minimal slang, but the prose is accessible and not didactic. It is the kind of writing that kids will enjoy, but which will also be palatable to parents and school libraries. Given that the protagonist is 13, the ideal reader is probably 11 or 12 – on the cusp of the changes experienced by Hazel and her gang, and looking for guidance.
By turning Hazel’s burning questions into naturalistic conversations with her peers and family, the book serves the very important purpose of preparing young readers for what is ahead in their own lives. Waiting For It tastefully handles the gory details of puberty (what does it actually feel like to get a period?) and offers honest information in a way that is not confronting or embarrassing. As a parent, no matter how great a relationship you have with your daughter, there may still be things she would rather learn from someone other than you. It’s good to have a few trusty resources up your sleeve so that you know the information she’s getting is legitimate. Being thirteen is scary enough without misinformation leading you astray!
In reading Waiting For It I was catapulted straight back to my own school days, which shows that apart from Facebook, not much about being thirteen has changed in the last 20-odd years. It is kind of reassuring to know that ‘2 minutes in the closet’ is still one of the worst possible outcomes of Truth or Dare; though perhaps I wouldn’t find it so quaint if it was my own daughter in the closet! The Girl v the World series aims to be funny, inspiring and heartwarming. The protagonists are fundamentally strong, smart girls, even if they’re not always making the right choices. Boys are, of course, on their radar, but their friendships are equally significant, and their self-respect refreshingly solid. As the series slogan states “You’ve got to be strong to take it on”.
Waiting For It is published by Hardie Grant and I thank them kindly for my copy.
This review will also be listed as part of the 2012 Australian Women Writers reading challenge.