So on Monday, I met Dawn O’Porter. It looked an awful lot like this:
After a terrible introduction speech by yours truly (with ten minutes notice, in my defense), Dawn was interviewed in Newcastle as part of her book tour to promote her second novel Goose. Nasim Asl (of local Young Writer’s group Cuckoo Young Writers) delivered a great Q&A session, as did the audience! There were plenty of laughs, some very touching, down-to-earth responses, & a huge box of free crisps. All in all, a stellar night! AND I got my books signed!
The following day, on a long train ride down to London, I polished off the rest of Goose, meaning it took me just two days to fly through. Paper Aeroplanes only took me four, to be fair – And I am *not* a fast reader… I think that tells you just how affecting, witty & touching these books are. BUT IF IT DOESN’T then I’m going to review it too, obviously. Minor spoilers from Paper Aeroplanes may follow…
Goose finds Renée & Flo two years after the first novel, both girls on the cusp of freedom, with A-Levels looming, & beyond that, the grown-up world beyond the borders of Guernsey. Flo is living a stressful, panicked life – The promise of University gives her the chance to better her life, & she’ll be damned in some poor A-Level results see her stuck in the small island life forever. Life with her mother is better than ever, but still a far cry from perfect & she feels herself crumbling under the pressure of her entire future resting on the next few months. Renée similarly cannot wait to escape the island & see the world, but whilst her best friend has her heart set on the two of them living & studying together, nothing fills Renée with more dread than the idea of more lessons, more homework & still being told what to do. So, just like GCSE year, she skips lessons, smokes in the lay-by, & flirts with boys, only now she’s 18 there’s a LOT more alcohol involved. Life with her Aunty Jo is a thousand times better than it ever was with her grandparents, but she still yearns for a taste of the world at large… She just doesn’t quite know how to tell Flo that she doesn’t find the prospect of University exactly thrilling. Whilst Renée begins to explore the new-found reality of intoxication & relationships with older, more sophisticated men, Flo turns to religion to help her deal with her losses in life, & with the crippling pressure of exams. She starts to attend worship at the local church, & meets a group of young Christians who help her feel at ease about her problems. She even meets a boy, the older, worship-band leading Gordon, & a sweet, slow romance seems to blossom. But this is Renée & Flo, & the paths of these teenage girls rarely run smoothly… With the two going in very different directions – can their friendship possibly survive the transition to adulthood?
Goose picks up much quicker than Paper Aeroplanes, & it could be because I read them so close together, but picking up Goose felt like bumping into two old friends. Warm, rich & funny, reconnecting with Renée & Flo took less than a page. That’s the strength of these characters; you can’t wait to hang out with them again.
Flo, once again I think resonated with me strongest, as a panicky, stressed out, but shy individual who hinges her life on doing well. This time however, she has an added element which didn’t connect with me, allowing her to grow in an unexpected & unusual direction: Religion. I’ve had some church-y experiences in my time, & whilst they definitely didn’t do anything for me, Dawn really captures the strange, trance-like state that I encountered at some. Rather than attack Christianity or overwhelm the reader with Doctrine, the book remains neutral, never revealing an omnipotent overseer into Flo’s life, keeping it personal & internal. Flo even tells Renée that she understands how crazy it sounds, but it’s a feeling, not a bearded man in the sky, & while that may not be enough to persuade her friend (or me), it’s at least done with taste & subtlety. I think in Goose, it’s Renée who has the biggest shift in character… In the first book, it’s Flo who comes out of her shell & shrugs off the insults of Sally, but in Goose, it’s Renée who learns an awful lot of lessons, growing from a bored Teenager with no plans on what she wants, to a bright, determined young woman with an unconventional path she wants to carve out for the future… And it takes some tragedy & heartbreak to help her break free of her need to be seen as tough & apathetic about life.
Yet again, Dawn O’Porter paints a no frills novel, with absolutely no sugar coating in sight. She’s honest & real, & it makes her characters & their misadventures tug at your heartstrings much more, particularly their naive moments where they learn lessons the hardest way possible, through embarrassment, betrayal & loss. But don’t let that fool you into thinking Goose is a bleak, harsh portrayal – It’s still just as full of warmth, love & friendship as the first novel, & just like Paper Aeroplanes, it tackles some tough problems that teenage girls should definitely be reading about rather than facing them out in the world unprepared. That’s one of the best things about Dawn O’Porter’s almost autobiographical style of writing is that it gives her a chance to pass on advice from her own youth to help steer young girls in the right direction, or more importantly, help them to understand that mistakes all add to who you grow up to be.
The book has a pretty harrowing, emotionally damaging section that really helps pull the characters back in-line, but it’s handled in a very calm, very slow & very gentle manner that makes it tasteful & moving.
All in all, Goose is another great chapter in the lives of Renée & Flo, & I cannot wait to see where their paths lead next. University is a tough one, & I don’t know of many best friendships that make it through those 3 years…
Thanks for Reading!
P.S. Goose does contain strong language & scenes of a sexual nature. You have been warned.
You can find Dawn O’Porter on Twitter here. She’s nicer than normal people & I think she might be a robot designed to be ace.
I swear I’m not in charge of promoting them, but the publish is once again Hot Key Books.