Goose by Dawn O’Porter review

18774843In 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.

It’s a year and a half on from PAPER AEROPLANES, and Renée is now living idyllically with her Auntie Jo. They even have geese, and Renée likes to sit and watch them, wondering if she’ll ever find ‘the One’ – someone who will love her no matter what, and be there for her no matter how bad things get. She and Flo are in their final year at school, and they’ve got some tough choices to make – like will they go to university? And if so where – and will they go together? Renée’s usual ambivalence on the matter shocks Flo, who had assumed they’d continue as they were, the best and closest of friends, forever. She feels as though she needs Renée’s support more than ever, so when a handsome young boy enters Flo’s life, she finds herself powerfully drawn to his kindness, and his faith. Renée and Flo’s friendship will soon be tested in a way neither of them could have expected – and if PAPER AEROPLANES was a book about finding friendship, GOOSE is the novel that explores whether it’s possible to keep hold of it.

I haven’t read Paper Aeroplanes, but that didn’t matter as Goose works just as well as a standalone – details of the main characters’ backstory are seamlessly woven in. (Having read and enjoyed Goose so much I think I will make time to catch up on the adventures that the girls had in Paper Aeroplanes.)

It was really nice to read a story that focussed on a friendship between girls at a pivotal time in their life. Yes, there are boys and crushes and other life dramas, but really the friendship between Renée and Flo is at the heart of this novel. And that is something that any woman, whatever age, can relate to.

It’s Guernsey in the 1990s and best mates Renée and Flo are reaching the end of their final year of school and facing one of the biggest changes in their lives so far: the problem of what to do next. Underlying this is the worry of whether their friendship can survive the changes. The pair have always promised to stick together, even choosing universities in the same town, but when Renée announces that she doesn’t want to go to uni it puts a spanner in the works. That’s not the only thing driving them in different directions – yes, you guessed it, boys have a part to play here. Renée gets involved with 23-year-old wannabe writer Dean, while Flo starts a relationship with the big man himself – God. And a nice Christian boy called Gordon.

All of this perhaps wouldn’t be that remarkable if it wasn’t for the fact that there is a lot more going on beneath the surface with both girls. Flo has lost her dad and is dealing with the after-effects of being bullied in her younger years. Renée lost her mum when she was young, her dad has moved to Spain with his new family and she now lives with her lovely Auntie Jo and her granny, who has dementia. Everything they go through in this book is really about working that stuff out. Though they are very different in character both girls have in common a desperate need to feel secure. They go about trying to find it in different ways, but the story shows us that the security of a friendship that can stand the test of time is what they both really need.

Teenage friendships can be pretty intense and O’Porter gets this spot on. The two girls really work as characters and are both likeable  – Renée is spontaneous, fun and brazen, but is vulnerable in her own way, while Flo is conscientious and grounded but prone to debilitating self-doubt. I think I had a slight leaning more towards Renée as a favourite character – she’s so extreme in her reactions, and does such random, funny things. O’Porter writes in a very easy-to-read style and doesn’t shy away from all those embarrassing little moments that are part of growing up, even venturing onto a dark topic that few authors dare to broach – the fanny fart! There is also an hilarious scenario involving a stolen skeleton dressed up as a bride, and many other hysterical moments to counter-balance the deep self-analysis the characters go through, which seemed to me a pretty accurate portrayal of the radical mood swings of being a teenager.

O’Porter throws in a massive curve-ball towards the end. If I had one criticism of the book it would perhaps be that, given the nature of the event, it is all tied up a bit too neatly – it would merit being the subject of a book in itself. But I hear that there are to be further books in the series, so maybe this is something that will resurface and be dealt with in turn from an older perspective. I hope that she writes them soon, because I am already missing Renée and Flo!

 

 

 

 

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