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What Came First, The Music Or The Misery?

Simmone Howell paints an achingly honest and delightfully off-kilter portrait of adolescence in Girl Defective.

What Came First, The Music Or The Misery?

BOOK REPORT for Girl Defective by Simmone Howell

Cover Story: Banksy
BFF Charm: Yay!
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: Offbeat
Bonus Factors: Record Store, Charles Wallace, Holly Golightly
Relationship Status: Harmonious

Cover Story: Banksy

Before you start throwing the term "Big Face" at me, you should know that this image is actually straight from the book. It's stencil graffiti of a dead girl, Mia Casey, who haunts the thoughts of Skylark Martin, the protagonist. Although I'm not a huge fan of that typeface, I do like the edgy feel this cover, and its look, like its contents, is pretty unique.

I went with the Australian version, because while the American artwork is clever, it's a bit too twee for the tone of this story:

Plus, you know how I feel about PDA.

The Deal:

Sky Martin lives with her dad and little brother, Gully, above her father's record shop in St. Kilda, a beachy suburb of Melbourne. All three of the Martins could loosely be described as functioning; Dad is a functioning alcoholic, Gully is a functioning autistic, and Sky is a functioning outsider. Ever since her mother left to fully realize her dreams of performance art, Sky has wondered about her place in the world, because she certainly doesn't seem to fit in anywhere familiar. Her newfound friend, the glamorous Nancy, offers a glimmer of hope with her wild ways, but it's not until Luke Casey walks through the door of the record shop that Sky begins to truly find herself-- in the mystery of Luke's dead sister, in the light beyond her mother's shadow and in the brilliantly jumbled mess of her family.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Sky is so awesome, and she doesn't even know it. From her insane knowledge of music to her endless patience for her little brother, this girl is gold. She's hip enough to be cool but awkward enough not to act like it, while the lack of a maternal figure has saddled her with anxiety and loneliness, coated in a cynical sheen. Lost but brave, Sky is blazing her own path, and I love the fact that, even when she's at her most rebellious, her love for her tiny, unconventional family never wavers.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

I came this close to calling Luke an MLD, because he certainly fits the profile. He's nursing a pretty painful history, plus he seems to be on his own, but he's not necessarily enigmatic, and I am totally okay with that. Unlike certain kids who can't read, he's nice to Sky, and more often than not, she's the one who's being distant. I relished the sweet, slowly building tension between them as well as the lack of drama, because there's enough of that happening in other corners of this story.

On a less romantic but (in my opinion) more interesting note, Simmone Howell explores a different side of desire through Sky's relationship with Nancy. The latter, with her exotic ways and bohemian lifestyle, awakens something in the former, and Sky is left grappling with a confusing array of urges. Does she want to be with Nancy, or does she want to be Nancy? In brewing Sky's bubbling soup of emotion, Howell perfectly encapsulates that murky maze of adolescent hormones and burgeoning self-awareness.

Talky Talk: Offbeat

Sure, I have a thing for Australian authors. But while there's definitely something about the smattering of foreign terms and funny slang that adds a lively tang, the vibrancy of this book is entirely due to Sky's voice. Howell has crafted a narrative that feels intimate with candor and bewitching with color, and she skillfully uses a lens of quirk to examine serious topics. There are times when the blunt force of her words hits you like a punch in the gut, but it's actually the more playful turns of phrase that impacted me the most, like this one:

"Kid," that was what she called me. Or "little sister," or "girlfriend," or "dollbaby," or "monkeyface." Sometimes she even used my name-- Skylark, Sky-- all in that drawl that felt like fingernails on my back, lightly scratching itches I didn't even know I had.

The style of this book is completely unique without being obvious about it, because it never sacrifices authenticity for the sake of eccentricity.

Bonus Factor: Record Store

Sky spends most of her time in her dad's store, The Wishing Well, which only sells vinyl albums released before 1995. Like any good music shop, it's full of extreme opinions, weirdo customers and the constant beat of music. Even with descriptions like this, it still sounds GREAT:

St. Kilda throbbed, but the Wishing Well was as sedate as a gentleman caller. The sun slanted in the window, highlighting acne pits, shiny pates, and dandruff. Wishing Well customers were mostly old and male and nerdy. They could tell you why Paul McCartney was barefoot on the cover of Abbey Road, but they couldn't manage basic hygiene.

Bonus Factor: Charles Wallace

Sky's little brother Gully (short for Seagull) is odd and imaginative and beyond endearing. He wears a pig-snout (a gift from his absent mother) 24/7 and sends police-style memos to his family to inform them of important news. I love the crap out of him.

Bonus Factor: Holly Golightly

When the book begins, Nancy has waltzed into Sky's life a few months prior and quickly become her only friend. She's carefree and beautiful, yet tragic and deeply flawed. Just like Sky, I was enchanted by her charming mannerisms and appetite for life, but unlike Sky, I was old enough to see that Nancy was set to self-destruct. And that's probably the thing that makes her so very Golightly.

As Sky puts it:

I don't know why it had to hurt, the way she dialed the world with her little finger.

Casting Call:

Oh, you mean I get to cast Australian actors? NO PROBLEM.

Ashleigh Cummings as Sky

Phoebe Tonkin as Nancy

Tom Green as Luke

You KNOW Dance Academy had to represent.

Relationship Status: Harmonious

Book, you've got a distinct melody that truly resonated with me and a hook that stayed in my head for days. You march to the beat of your own drummer, but you play in a key that's universal, and your coming of age story was pitch perfect.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Atheneum Books for Young Readers. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Girl Defective is available now.

Posh Deluxe's photo About the Author: Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).