Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison review

18663722In the run-up to the announcement of the UK YA Book Prize I’m reading each of the books on the shortlist. For more details about my reading challenge and the shortlist click here.

Sam and Hannah have just the summer before uni to find ‘The One’. Their lobster. But fate works against them, with awkward misunderstandings, the plotting of friends and their own fears of being virgins forever. In the end though, it all boils down to love…

I just finished reading Half Bad before I got onto Lobsters – and wow, what a contrast!

I laughed a lot while reading this book. Sometimes because it was funny, other times because it was so true it was funny. The characters find themselves in a lot of ridiculous and embarrassing situations, and you can’t help but laugh along with them (and OK, maybe at some of them!).

The premise is pretty simple: the story follows two groups of friends the summer after they finish sixth form and before they head off to uni. Items to tick off the list are: getting drunk at wild parties, on wild holidays and at music festivals, and (for a select few of them) losing their virginity. Our lead characters are Hannah and Sam. They meet briefly in a bathroom at Hannah’s best friend Stella’s party and bond over hot Ribena… then spend the rest of the summer obsessing about each other and almost but not quite hooking up in a series of near misses that keeps us guessing almost right until the end.

Hannah and Sam’s story is very sweet, and I enjoyed reading about it from their different POVs, seeing their various misunderstandings from both perspectives and grinning with frustration at just how wrong they get things at times. It’s almost as if fate is working against them, but at the same time they are their own worst enemies – it was their lack of self belief and self esteem that really made them stuff things up, their own bad opinions of themselves rather than how other people actually saw them. But even while they’re moping around about each other, neither Hannah nor Sam waste time in trying their luck with other potential ‘lobsters’, leading to a series of toe-curlingly embarrassing moments for Sam (‘What could possibly be fun about making people think you’ve left an office party early to go and have a wank on some Biros?’) and below-par experiences for Hannah (‘His mouth was really wet, and he tasted like cider and Wotsits.’). It was refreshing in its open, realistic portrayal, embracing those first sexual encounters in all their excruciating awkwardness, and hitting the nail on the head with every teenager’s conviction that everyone is doing it more and sooner and better than you are.

These authors really get what it’s like to be a teenager, to be constantly questioning yourself and second-guessing others and putting on your best grown-up exterior, when really you feel anything but. Hannah remarks on how suddenly everyone starts to greet each other at school by doing kisses on the cheek, and when her friends go out for dinner she comments on how they all order wine, as if they were ‘all play-acting at being adults’.

In many ways it is a light-hearted read, but it does dig a bit deeper. It explores friendships and how we really feel about our friends – how people change as they grow up but sometimes friendships don’t match the pace, and how under the surface resentments can bubble up if left unchecked. Hannah’s friendship with Stella was particularly well executed in this respect – here are two girls who’ve always been best friends but can’t tell each other exactly how they feel. Ever-in-the-limelight Stella is guilty of hurting Hannah’s feelings on more than a few occasions, but carries on oblivious (or is she?). Hannah is at once fiercely loyal to Stella and acutely aware of her faults: ‘I have known Stella for ever and there is part of me that knows only I see her as she really is, and that maybe somehow she knows that.’ There were plenty of other strong characters too: I loved the conversations between Sam and his group of mates, and the relationship between Hannah and her glam Nan.

When you’re a teenager, just one summer can change so much. And if one summer’s day you’re looking for a light-hearted and honest read that’s both wise and funny, this book is it.

 

 

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