Female trouble

Elaine Williams

GIRLS IN LOVE. Jacqueline Wilson. Doubleday Pounds 9.99.

THE GIRLS: Sophie. Rosie Rushton. Piccadilly Pounds 5.99.

THE LIFE AND LOVES Of ZO T CURLEY. Martin Waddell. Walker Books Pounds 8.99.

CITY LIMITS: Stitch Up. Bernard Ashley. Orchard Pounds 9.99.

Life gets bumpy for girls at 13. Hormones go out of control, school gets tougher, boys seem more interesting and more dangerous, friendships become more intense and raw, parents are a problem (especially if they're separated or divorced).

This crop of girl-friendly romances reflects these tribulations. Love at first sight is given some down-to-earth treatment. Stories build up to the thrills of meeting Him and going weak at the knees, but what is He like and what kind of person are you becoming and what's happening to parents and friends around you?

Jacqueline Wilson follows girlfriends Ellie, Magda and Nadine through these ups and downs with poignant hilarity. The cosy threesome is threatened when vampish Nadine is pursued by Liam, an older college boy, and Ellie feels obliged to make up stories about the boy she met on holiday - in reality an eccentric, swotty 12-year-old called Dan. Like many of Wilson's characters, Ellie has a tortuous family life - her mother is dead and she resents her stepmother and baby stepbrother. Wilson sometimes spreads the pathos too thickly, but here the family problems add bite to the girlie humour.

There are social and moral lessons to be learned from the adolescent predicaments in these novels. In Girls in Love, Liam puts Nadine under too much sexual pressure and Dan turns out to be a self-possessed hero - a nice turn to a sparky story.

Rosie Rushton also makes a challenging and absorbing read from romantic ingredients. Tony, a bespectacled, mixed-race boy who attends an independent school on an art scholarship, helps middle-class Sophie see that her upwardly mobile single mother really does have her best interests at heart. She has to come to terms with the fact that her hero father, who does exciting charitable works in far-flung locations, has his own set of inadequacies. A touching story of a girl's developing maturity and awareness of complex social issues.

Martin Waddell's The Life and Loves of Zo T Curley is engaging and zany. Zo Thelma ("but nobody must ever know this") Curley, a precocious aspiring writer, keeps a notebook for a month "while I am still young enough to see things clearly". In it she charts the preoccupations of her 13-ish age - puppy fat, her brace, would-be boyfriends, trouble with brothers and parents.

Martin Waddell tackles the children's picture book and the young adult novel (the latter usually under the pseudonym of Catherine Sefton) with equal agility and flair. This book is a wonderfully funny recreation of the workings of a young girl's mind, a light-touch piece of writing that revels in the black and white passions of early teenagehood.

In the City Limits series, Bernard Ashley makes a bold attempt to create romance that would also appeal to boys. The City Limits cafe belongs to Dean's father, Renny, and is the focus for a set of relationships and adventures that present Dean with a series of dilemmas. In Stitch Up, the first of the series, for example, Dean is forced to face up to his own brand of racism. Although the narratives are gripping, one cannot help feeling that in his use of language, Ashley is trying a little too hard to be cool.

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Elaine Williams

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