Monday, 18 July 2016

Songs About a Girl, by Chris Russell

Songs About a Girl is the debut novel from Chris Russell, and also the title of the debut album from hot new superstar boyband Fire&lights. The book opens with Olly Samson, a formerly ordinary 18 year old from Reading, who went to school and liked singing and had a lot a friends. Olly Samson has just got in touch with protagonist Charlie Bloom; a shy, retiring nobody, a year 11 student and amateur photographer that is invisible to the majority of the school population. That’s fine by her because she prefers to go unnoticed. Olly Samson is also a member of Fire&Lights and he’s just messaged Charlie on Facebook asking her to attend one of their sell out arena gigs as a backstage photographer.

Initially freaked out, she declines and shares the news with her computer nerd best friend Melissa (incidentally a hardcore Fire&Ligts obsessive) who talks her into changing her mind. Charlie attends the gig with her battered, second hand camera and bonds with the band. They get friendly, her candid shots are good, they go down well with the fans and the management. She becomes something of a regular at their shows, travelling around the UK to different cities, growing closer to moody Gabe and nice guy Ollie. But when a photo of her and Gabe is leaked onto a fan blog, her identity is revealed by online trolls and Charlie gets plunged into the paparazzi filled world of celebrity and anonymous, online abuse.

There’s also a bit of mystery thrown in when Charlie realises that a lot of Fire&Light’s lyrics bear a striking resemblance to snippets of poetry in her dead mother’s notebooks, lifted word for word from the pages. How can that be? Are the songs about her? Are her and Gabe connected in ways deeper than rock star and a girl ‘not-like-other-girls’?

I must guiltily confess, as bad and as awful as it probably makes me, that I really did not get on with this book. I’ve thought hard about whether or not I should review it or just let it go- but I want to be properly honest. It falls into quite a few of the YA pitfalls (Kooky best friend, at least one deceased parent, love triangle, not like other girls) and I found the prose style quite disjointed and bitty and a bit too propped up by adverbs.

Firstly, I found the characters incredibly one dimensional. As the reader, I wanted to get in Charlie’ s head more, really connect with her insecurities and fears. I love the introvert character type, identify with it hugely. But there was nothing here. I wanted to go with her on a journey somewhere, be there when she realises her true worth. Unfortunately she is characterised mostly by a beanie hat. Her only worth seems to come from having lads punching each other in the face over her. I was just wistfully remembering Toria from Juno Dawson’s All of The Above and what an EXCELLENT hipster loner weirdo she is.

The members of Fire&Lights were also flat, stock characters that were more annoying than anything else. Yuki was immature and irritating, throwing food literally ALL THE TIME, engaging in lame, cringey banter that I guess was supposed to be funny and endearing but just made him seem like an overgrown child. Aiden, the blonde Irish one (wonder who that’s supposed to be?) was just straight up dull. The sensitive one, has a guitar, the one that seems really normal. Gabe and Olly. Fire and light. One a lean, intense feisty bad boy, the other a muscular nice guy and impulsive protector. Points two and three of the love triangle.

Speaking of which, the Young Adult audience has had more than its fair share of love triangles, and this book just delivers another average arc. The steamy, volatile bad boy; dangerous, exciting, sexy. Or the guy who’s just really nice. The one that treats you well, is there when he says he will be, and doesn’t let you down. Lots of to-ing and fro-ing, while still quite being convinced that *neither* of them could possibly like her.

I get that I’m not the target audience for this. I know that Boy Band Lit is alive and well, and that this will almost certainly be a welcome and much enjoyed addition to that genre. Fans of Girl Online are going to love it; girl with camera forms unlikely relationship with sex god rock star. Internet fandom launches hate campaign against girl. Girl regroups.

This book will probably be very popular, and I hope that it is a success. It’s wish fulfilment fame fantasy of the highest, most fulfilling order. It’s Cinderella for the tumblr generation. I just really didn’t like it- but I’m going to assume that won’t have any impact on its popularity.

Thank you to @HachetteKids for the review copy- I'm sorry I wasn't feeling it on this occasion

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