Friday 12 July 2013

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Review: About a Girl by Joanne Horniman

About A Girl by Joanne HornimanAbout a Girl by Joanne Horniman (review copy) - I remember the first time that we lay together and I felt the crackle of her dark hair between my fingers, and closed my eyes and breathed her in, so that she became my entire world.

Anna is afraid she must be unlovable - until she meets Flynn. Together, the girls swim, eat banana cake, laugh and love. Some days Flynn is unreachable; other days she's at Anna's window - but when Anna discovers her secret, she wonders if she knows Flynn at all.

A beautifully crafted novel that explores the tension between the things that pull people together and the things that push them apart.
From Amazon UK

About a Girl is another book that was recommended to me for LGBTQ YA Month, and one that features lesbians. It's a great story, but one that's hard to pin down. It's about the relationship - a romantic relationship - between two girls, yet to say it was a romance wouldn't be entirely correct. About a Girl is not a light, fluffy, sweet read.

After moving to Lismore from Canberra to try and start over, Anna goes to a local gig and sees Flynn on stage, and from the moment Anna lays eyes on her, she can think of nothing else. Anna is filled with intense longing for Flynn, and is beyond floored when she discovers Flynn has feelings for her too. A budding romance begins, but both have secrets about their past they haven't shared, secrets that are getting in the way.

About a Girl is such an interesting story! From the very start, just by it's tone, you can tell this is not going to be a happy story, and it's fascinating to discover why - not because of events, but because of the people. The story is told in three parts, with Part 1 and Part 3 covering Anna's time in Lismore, and with Part 2 covering her time in Canberra since she was 16, leading up to her move to Lismore, at 19. Telling the story like this is genius on Joanne Horniman's part, because we need to understand Anna's past to understand why she is completely and utterly enthralled by Flynn - yet it's because she is enthralled that we need to know her past. Having the story told chronologically wouldn't have worked as well; as interesting as the past is, it would have taken a little while to get to the real meat of the story, and it becomes more interesting in light of the present because we know where it will eventually lead. And Anna has such a unique way of looking at things, the descriptions and imagery in this book are just beautiful!

Anna has known she likes girls since she was six, and has felt she was different since then. Not because of the thoughts of other people, but because she could see she wasn't like them. Couples were male and female, this was "normal", and since a young age has felt abnormal because of her sexuality. This feeling of being different, of being an outcast, led to really low self-esteem; she has never believed she will be loved, that she'll never have a life partner, someone to just be with. She harbours doubts, especially when Flynn comes into her life, but is completely overwhelmed by the fact that this beautiful creature wants to be with her - her - and so ignores the doubt. However, the doubt is not only her low self-esteem talking to her, it's also real niggles about their relationship.

Flynn, at first, seems shy and sweet, but she is super quirky and feels everything intensely. As out there as she is, doing things on a whim, she's also very introverted, and Anna hardly has any clue what's going through her head most of the time. They can be together, yet Flynn will be so absorbed in writing songs, or what she's thinking, Anna might as well be alone. Flynn can be so distant, and can be unintentionally hurtful with it; she'll arrange to do something with Anna, yet be off in her own world for hours, that I often thought what is the point?! It's never said whether it's because this is Flynn's first relationship with a girl or if this is how she is in all relationships, but if there is an argument, or a conversation that freaks her out a bit, she will leave, sometimes in the middle of the night, and disappear off the face of the earth for days. No contact whatsoever. And will then all of a sudden turn up at Anna's door and takes her to bed. Their relationship seems really unhealthy to me; Anna loves Flynn possibly too much, and Flynn doesn't seem to care enough. It was difficult.

Anna's view on sexuality is, although true, a little sad. She feels she has no choice on whether she's a lesbian or not, but wishes she did. Although she doesn't come right out and say it, it's obvious she feels trapped by her sexuality and what that means for her and relationships.
"When I told Michael that I liked girls, I didn't mean it was simply a trivial matter of choice.
liking girls was a fundamental part of my nature. It had been acquired involuntarily, the way I had red hair and pale skin. Even my liking for books like Finnegans Wake and Crime and Punishment seemed to be something I had no control over. Sometimes I wondered whether free will existed at all." (p90-91)
As I've mentioned already, this is Flynn's first relationship with a girl. She says she's not actually attracted to girls, that Anna is the first girl that she's ever taken notice of, and is usually into guys. This is something Anna struggles with, because, in her eyes, Flynn has a choice. She can choose to be "normal", choose not to be an outcast and outsider like she is, and just can't see Flynn choosing her - especially when Flynn is so flighty. It's heartbreaking. Anna finds the novel Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky relatable, and the following quote, where she likens her life to that of the novel, shows exactly how she feels about her sexuality and her relationship with Flynn:
"And I saw then that what I had done was to invite her out into the snow with me, and why would she want to stand outside the ballroom with tattered boots and icy breath and no street signs? Because that's the way it would be - of course she'd want to be in there, drinking wine and dancing with bare shoulders far into the scented night." (p168-169)
It's just heartbreaking, as is the whole story, really. In case I haven't been clear, this isn't a story about being a lesbian, it's a story about a relationship. The fact that it's a lesbian relationship plays a part with Anna's thoughts on sexuality, but it's less about sexuality, and more about those two girls, and how they are jigsaw pieces that just don't quite fit. A fantastic story - a very quick read at 190 pages - and one I would highly recommend!

Thank you to Allen and Unwin for the review copy.

add to Goodreads

Published: 4th April 2010
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Joanne Horniman's Author Page on Allen and Unwin's Website


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