Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Mates, Dates and Pullling Power by Cathy Hopkins


There are several books written for teens that resemble chick-lit but are written for younger women. I like to call these chicklet-lit. There is  also what might be called “staglet-lit” literature which has a male focus. These books are characterised by lots of parties, interest in other sexes, and fun with peers. Yet there is also peer pressure and on the whole these texts are slightly more serious than their adult counterparts. Cathy Hopkins Mates Dates series offers us plenty of examples. 

In the opening scene of Mates, Dates and Pulling Power (Hopkins 2003) the girls are together and “We were covered in some homemade gloop that Lucy and Izzie had concocted in the kitchen and were discussing the local boy talent in North London” (2). Much of their chatter is about boys. 

The girls are generally lighthearted. One of their father’s is a university lecturer and recommends books to his daughter. But Nesta, our protagonist, says “Not my cup of tea at all, I’d rather watch a good soap on telly” (7). Retail therapy is an option: Netsa buys new underwear when she is annoyed about having a brace on her teeth. Her friend questions this. She replies: ”Distraction …. Obvious, isn't it?” (62). They don't take themselves too seriously. “’Yeah, bugger unrequited love and passion,” said Lucy. “Chocolate never lets you down” 968).   

Nesta isn’t all that ordinary; her father is  a film director and her mother is a TV announcer. Dad is also partly Italian (21-22). Yet her mother’s hours are cut and when Netsa asks to join an acting class that will cot £5.00 a week her mother says that they can’t afford it. She takes a job stacking shelves to raise the money.  He father confirms that this is a good move: “he says that loads of movie stars  start out working in dead end jobs, so that they can pay their way before they make their  big break” (48).  

There is humour. Nesta visits the dentist. The dentist asks her a question. She replies: “‘Urg, argle, oof,’ I attempted to say. I mean how ridiculous? Asking people questions when they’re lying on their backs with their mouths full of fingers,” (28-29). Later she is not amused; the dentist recommends that she  wears a brace. She exaggerates on the day the brace is fitted:” I emerged form the orthodontist’s looking to the world like a normal teenager, but inside I was a wounded soul cut down in the prime of my life (35). 

Also, when she invites Luke for a meal she switches the grill on instead of the oven, she takes creamed fish out of the freezer instead of vanilla ice cream and finally sets fire to her hair with a candle (Chapter 8).  

The book is peppered with good advice for teen girls. The advice isn’t totally impractical and may give hope. This includes: recipes for face masks, explanation of the meanings of difficult words, how to fit a bra, visualisation / affirmation exercises and a recipe for pesto.    

The peer pressure is there from page 4. Our protagonist reminisces about her former boyfriend but her thoughts are really more aobut her girlfriends. “Maybe they thought I only dated him because he was loaded. I decided to find out what they really thought about me in a really subtle way”(4). There is also peer support: after she has the dreaded brace fitted her friends rally round (Chapter 4).   

There is is a distinct dark side to this novel. Nesta’s dad reacts strangely to Luke. There is  history between his family and Luke’s. He bans Nesta from seeing Luke ( Chapter 9). We learn in Chapter 13 that Nesta’s father blames Luke’s father for his sister’s death. She was killed when a drunken driver ran into the car she was driving. Luke’s dad had let her drive when she had only just passed her test. Netsa has grand ideas of staging a reconciliation between the two Italian men. It doesn’t  quite go according to plan. Luke’s father takes over and the reconciliation happens after all. 

Though this novel has its darker side but it has a feel-good ending. There is also some wisdom as Nesta realises there is room for garlic and for roses in the world (Chapter 16).         

The book is 169 pages in blocked text and a simple font. 

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