Teenage fiction

21st September 2001 at 01:00
HOLLY STARCROSS. By Berlie Doherty. Hamish Hamilton pound;10.99.

ME AND MY SHADOW. By Joan Lingard. Puffin pound;4.99.

For many writers, teenage first-person narrative means emulating the latest coolspeak. While some of them succeed, there's a certain sameness about the results, and an associated risk that the books will date quickly.

It takes a skilled writer to convince us that we're genuinely listening to the voice of a 14 or 15-year-old without overusing the bland, common currency of teen idiom, and Berlie Doherty and Joan Lingard are certainly that.

Without an "I'm, likeI" in sight, Doherty creates Holly, ordinary and extraordinary, caught between childhood and adolescence and between estranged parents - city-dwelling, fashion-conscious mother and unworldly Derbyshire father who is devoted to his horses and his elderly parents and just wants his daughter back. (And yes, Doherty does convince us that the brief marriage is plausible.) When Holly is "kidnapped" by her father, both choose to ignore the possible consequences, enjoying each other's company and stories of family history. Later, she is faced with the too-adult responsibility of choosing which parent to live with. Holly Starcross is a beautiful, moving story with characters to believe in and a sense of the uniqueness of every human life.

Joan Lingard's Emily, in Me and My Shadow, also has dad trouble. Her happily married parents are celebrating their silver wedding anniversary at the outset, but trouble soon arrives in the form of a girl who seems to be stalking her. To her shock, Emily discovers that Eve is her half-sister, in Edinburgh to trace her father. As in Doherty's story, there are two possible lives: for Emily, protective parents, a posh girls' school and home in an affluent suburb; for Eve, a shabby caravan, a dubious male companion and a precarious hand-to-mouth existence.

When Emily finds herself mistaken for Eve and arrested, the startling denouement leaves readers wondering which character most deserves sympathy. Eve? Either of the two mothers? The father? Or Emily herself, whose comfortable preconceptions have been so thoroughly shaken? The first-person narrative sweeps the reader along in this absorbing novel.


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