The Unknowable Teenage Girl: When Fandom and Politics Collide

I love teenage girls. I love them with the affection of an older sister and the nostalgia of a once-was. I love their spirit and fire and wit and imagination. I love their energy and loyalty and humour. I love how they are remaking the world, even as it tries so hard to contain them within its borders and limitations and rules.

As a writer of YA, I’ve often been asked – with genuine bewilderment – why teenage girls?, as if teenagehood represents some kind of a subspecies of humanity instead of an age range we have all lived through. But there is an assumption in our society – sometimes implicit, often brazen – that something created for teenage girls is intrinsically lesser. It must be easier; it must be frivolous; it must be, y’know, like all emotional and stuff? Oh em gee, babes, and the like. Hashtag, what is life.

This is patent nonsense, of course. Teenage girls contain multitudes, just like teenage boys do. Just like adult women do. Just like we all do. There are countless stories to tell about them and for them. Stories that are light and dark and hope and shade; love and tears and life and death.

Last month, the story of the General Election took an unexpected turn thanks to the wit and wiles of a 17 year old student called Abby. She didn’t like the relentless attempts of much of the media to portray Ed Miliband so negatively and decided to tackle this with the truest 21st century weapons that a teenage girl can have: a hashtag and a sense of righteousness.

My favourite thing about the Milifandom phenomenon is how unpredictable it was. Not a single one of the brains behind the Labour campaign would have even dreamed of presenting Ed Miliband as an object of affection, let alone to girls under 18 – who can’t even vote.

But the reason the Milifandom took off and succeeded as it did was because of exactly this. It was spontaneous and genuine, and there is something utterly irresistible about that. Amongst all the contrivances of any election campaign, here was something truly grass-roots. For all the attempts that were made to dig up some dirt on the irrepressible Abby, to undermine her intelligence and sneer at her enthusiasm, no conspiracy or puppetry has come to light. This is so baffling to many – particularly (but not exclusively) the Old White Man – that the only solution is to patronise and dismiss. Oh, those teenage girls with their incomprehensible language and stupid slang.

This article, printed in the Guardian of all places, typifies this response. It does not attempt to understand the origins of the Milifandom and the very valid reasons for its success, because why would it? It’s just teenage girls. Instead it turns the whole thing into a joke at the expense of the very people it should be celebrating, and in doing so reinforces the most fortified of cultural myths that batter teenage girls generation by generation: this does not matter, because it matters to you.

When Zayn Malik left One Direction, the news had barely broken before the mocking tweets and thinkpieces about broken-hearted girls and their silly obsessions began, as if grown men were not throwing their toys out of the pram on the very same day because Jeremy Clarkson had been (rightfully) sacked from Top Gear. This dissonance matters because it is explicitly telling girls that their grief (and yes, it is a kind of grief) and their feelings are somehow invalid. And worse,fodder for mockery.

For me, all of this comes down to the fact that adults – particularly adult men – just don’t understand teenage girls. It is this unknowability that makes them frightening and unpredictable, and dangerous. A 17 year old girl with a Twitter account can change the narrative of an entire election. And she did it against the full force of a media rolling its eyes at her impertinence and silliness.

And this is the saddest thing. Just imagine what all the other teenage girls could achieve if they were encouraged to believe that what they want and love and hope for matters.

The week I went to Norway and got Goodreads Official

Welcome to May, everyone! I am currently in Norway, where it is Labour Day. I drank peach Fanta in the sun. I went from Oslo to Stavanger by train. I went on a boat. This has been an exciting week for me, partly because of said Norwegian adventures, but also because this is the week Beautiful Broken Things was added to Goodreads. Hooray!

As a big reader and all round lover of digital/social media, I’m a bit of a Goodreads addict. I love adding books to my lists and reading what other people think of books I love (and hate, let’s be honest). And now, mine is among them! Mine is an add-able book, with a blurb, and an ISBN, and a RELEASE DATE.

No mistake, these are exciting times for me. Hopeful writers share many dreams, I’m sure, but we all have our little, personal dreams alongside them. For me, Goodreads is right up there, because I associate it so much with everything I love about books nowadays, which goes beyond the physical reading experience. Now we can share the experience, build a community, receive and make recommendations. There’s never been a better time to be a reader.

I should add here that I’ve heard stories about how being a Goodreads Author is very different to being a Goodreads reader, and not in a good way. But I guess I’ll just let my future self worry about that.

So! Along with the title, I can now tell you a little more about what Beautiful Broken Things is about. It’s YA, set in contemporary Brighton and is, in essence, about girls, friendship and recovery from trauma.

Here’s the proper blurby blurb:

I was brave
She was reckless
We were trouble

Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable. Their differences have brought them closer, but as she turns sixteen Caddy begins to wish she could be a bit more like Rosie – confident, funny and interesting. Then Suzanne comes into their lives: beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious, and things get a whole lot more complicated. As Suzanne’s past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be. But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realises, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own.

I plan to write a blog at some point in the near future that will go into a little more detail about BBT, how and why I wrote it and the long process from first draft to book deal. If there is anything specific you’d like to know, just let me know in the comments.

If you missed my previous flailing about getting said book deal, you can catch it here.

For now, tusen takk for reading!

Ha en fin dag 🙂