With her television career, presenting gig’s, vintage clothes design and young-adult novels, Dawn O’Porter is a lady with real talent and bags on potential. Her recent success includes her coming-of-age novels Paper Aeroplanes, published in 2013 and it’s sequel, Goose, published in April of this year. Her ability to weave charming stories that flow with ease and enjoyment seems natural to O’Porter and the effort put in certainly oozes from each paragraph and page.
Paper Aeroplanes introduces readers to school girls Flo and Renée, two impossibly different girls with intensely similar emotions. After the early death of her beloved mother, Renée lives with her Nana and Pop on the island of Guernsey. Her Nana is quiet, her Pop is immensely abrasive and her sister, Nell, is fighting her own grief and a rapidly increasing eating disorder. Renée is a ballsy kid, loud and proud with a tenancy to run her mouth but beneath all that is a sensitive and fragile girl, who’s haunted by her longing for her mum.
Flo also lives on the small island with her cold mother, distant brother, Julian and younger sister, Abi. Her Father is the only one that seems to understand Flo’s quiet nature and he lives away from the family, a shell of his former self since his divorce from Flo’s mum. School should be a safe place for a girl like Flo but with a hideous best friend like Sally, she doesn’t get much peace. Sally spends all her energy making Flo feels smaller than she thought she could and manipulates her sweet nature.
Paper Aeroplanes’ narrative follows the story of how the girls become the closest of friends and rely on each other as they tackle the regular issues of adolescence. Hormones, periods, boys- you name it, they cover it. However, what is so appealing about O’Porter’s story is the depth and seriousness of these girls issues and how they’re dealt with in a subtle yet honest way. Both girls suffer hideous grief in their lives and this issue is explored in a way that shows real bravery on O’Porter’s part. She allows the girls to be very frank about their feelings on death. Readers are privileged to get a glimpse of these young girls’ emotions.
O’Porter captures the true essence of being a kid at this age, the increasing, adult situations that creep into young peoples lives goes fairly unnoticed but O’Porter tackles them with honesty and understanding. She bravely tackles the issue of sexual-power and the misuse of that. Something that young people are being introduced to in a hideously casual way. O’Porter faces these issues head on with the novel and leads the girls to understanding their own power and learning their own worth.
Along side this, she also captures the fun and often cringe-worthy nature of being a young adult in the 90’s. Young readers will be amused at the comedic way in which O’Porter weaves her embarrassing and amusing anecdotes from the girls and older readers will find themselves covering their blushing face as memories of teenage parties and hopeful crushes comes flooding back.
As readers move on to the first book’s sequel, Goose, they quickly fall back into the girls deepened friendship as they stumble through their last year of their A-Levels. The situations the girls find themselves in are, albeit heightened and more intense, fairly similar to the first book. This could have felt slightly repetitive if O’Porter didn’t write with such wit and honesty. Her ballsy way of writing is refreshing and a particular favorite line has to be; “IT WAS MY VAGINA, NOT MY BUM”. Well done O’Porter, well done.
What is so fantastic about Goose though is the brilliantly varied and celebrated, different types of female characters. It really is a celebration of woman, both positive and negative. She opens readers up to a range of multi-dimensional range of female characters, something difficult to find in contemporary literature. The girls and their supporting, female characters are never categorized into heroes and villains. O’Porter allows them to be human and embrace the negative and positives sides of their personalities. For once, a young adult novel doesn’t focus on the male characters that come in and save the young, impressionable girls. They save themselves, or at least try. Too often are young readers disillusioned about how their lives should be playing out, according to the novels they read but O’Porter’s stories are genuinely true to life and she doesn’t shy away from all the very real issues these girls go through.
Generally, Paper Aeroplanes & Goose are two easily read, easily enjoyed novels that brilliantly capture the lives of two teenage girls. Readers of similar age will feel reassured about some of the more embarrassing moments adolescence and older readers will enjoy knowing they got through that time, with just as much grace as Flo and Renée-meaning very little.