________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 4 . . . . October 12, 2007


A is for Angst.

Barbara Haworth-Attard.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2007.
223 pp., pbk., $14.99.
ISBN 978-00-0-200820-4.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Pam Klassen-Dueck.

**** /4


How would you feel if you knew deep down that your Ken doll preferred Barbie, with her big plastic boobs, to you? Obviously he didn’t tell me that, but I’m pretty sure he does. Seems all boys do. Prefer big boobs, I mean, though not necessarily plastic ones. However, some boys don’t seem to mind those either—you know, plastic fake boobs. Confused? Welcome to my life.

Life for Teresa isn’t as easy as A to Z. The night before her first day of Grade 10, Teresa’s mother walks into her bedroom and discovers her in bed with Ken . . . her doll, that is. Her family is half-Maltese, half-English, completely Catholic, and 100% crazy. Her mom, at the possible detriment to her health at the ripe old age of 42, is expecting an unexpected “Boo-Boo.” Her shy father can’t even say ‘boo.’ Her beloved gnome-ish grandfather can’t remember who she is. Her sister is a wedding bridezilla, and her brother is sub-human (barely). No wonder Teresa must pray to the HP (Higher Power) to get a boyfriend, namely AAA (Achingly Adorable Adam), who is an AN (Above-Normal), A.S.A.P. (you know what I mean). No amount of list-making can possibly keep this all straight. Welcome to her life!

     In A Is for Angst, Barbara Haworth-Attard, author of the poignant Love-Lies-Bleeding, has crafted a juicy romp through the mind of an uncertain, hyperbolic, and delightfully flawed 14-year-old girl. In the vein of such YA chick lit series as Susan Juby’s Alice, I Think, Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, and Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts, Haworth-Attard introduces the boy-crazy Teresa and her all-consuming quest to obtain the unattainable Achingly Adorable Adam. Teresa, who struggles with her self-image, is willing to do anything, say anything, and be anything in order to enter her school’s upper echelon of teenaged society. For instance, she is obsessed with her plastic confidantes: her perfect Barbie and Ken dolls. She compares herself unfavourably (with great comedic effect) to the pert Barbie: “how can any girl live up to those Barbie breasts? The dolls should be recalled as contributing to poor self-esteem in females.”

     In an effort to increase her self-esteem (and hopefully to trap the AAA), Teresa and her BFF, Biff, spend all of August planning their back-to-school outfits. In an amusing scene reminiscent of the teen parody movie Clueless, they cross-reference various combinations and settle on the perfect match: “It went great, except now I hated my outfit. It was all wrong!” However, Teresa’s plans to ascend the social ladder never seem to work, as her air-bag bra deflates, zits erupt at every opportunity, her pseudo-sophisticated “multilingualism” runs away on itself, and she can’t make enough money baby-sitting to pay for the expensive proposition of remaining in the ultra-exclusive ANs. As a result, she seems destined to remain outside of the popular group at school. Teresa’s acceptance of the school class system, in which she is N (Normal), longs to be AN (Above-Normal), and dreads falling into the undesirable group of SNs (Sub-Normals), is an aching reflection of high school culture. Although she realizes that the system is prejudiced and unjust, and makes wry comments that undermine its validity, she is unwilling to make a stand against it, or to float above it in the same way Biff does: “I know I should stand up for the injustice of it all, the school class system, blah, blah, blah, but hey, I didn’t make the rules.” Teresa’s head is full of nasty, unbidden thoughts about her socially undesirable peers, such as the geeky Phillip and the overweight Talia: “Didn’t some of these SNs just set themselves up for this kind of teasing from the ANs?” For example, she admits her belief that if the SNs just lost weight, or changed their names, or stopped using briefcases at school, the harassment and teasing they endure at the hands of the ANs would end. However, no matter how Teresa attempts to level the playing field in her favour, particularly by wooing “Ashla-a-y” as her new AN mall buddy in order to capture the interest of AAA, she just can’t win.

     Incidentally, the narration’s depiction of the textual life of twenty-first century young adults is both convincing and amusing. For example, Teresa’s lists, Internet encyclopedia definitions, notes to self, horoscopes, mottos, MSN conversations, and phone dialogue are reminders of the multi-generic nature of many teenagers in the twenty-first century. As well, they provide a variety of stages from which Teresa displays her impish sense of humour. For example, the following is part of her written procedure for kissing, which she admits is “Mostly Theoretical”:

  1. Look deep into the other person’s eyes. (But not so deep that he thinks you’re a staring weirdo.)
  2. Tilt head opposite way to the other person’s tilt. (You can’t both tilt the same way. Reason in No. 3.)
  3. Watch noses. (Nothing is more awkward than giving your guy a bloody nose.)
  4. Open lips slightly. This is a very delicate area. You need to open your lips enough so that they are soft and the guy gets the idea he isn’t getting a buff from his mother, but not open so much that he thinks you’re a slut.

     A Is for Angst lives up to the cover art’s promise of a nifty read as it is a funny, angst-ridden addition to the YA chick lit catalog. Teresa’s high school agonies and ecstasies will ring true for many adolescent girls for whom one wrong move at school can forever determine the rung on the social ladder. Hopefully, a sequel to A is for Angst is in the works, but not featuring a Teresa who has become too reformed and well-mannered!

Highly Recommended.

Pam Klassen-Dueck, a Middle Years teacher, is currently working on her M.Ed. at Brock University.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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