Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Adorkable, by Sarra Manning

AdorkableHere is the text conversation I had with my friend Claire about Adorkable:

Monday morning
me at 10.07: I just started reading new Sarra Manning book ‘Adorkable’ - reckon you’d probably get a kick out of it...
Claire at 10.27: Great title. Sounds awesome. Maybe distracting books about boys and make up are a good thing
me at 11.17: This one has boys, feminist dorks, jumble sale dresses and twitter
Claire at 11.21: It sounds proper awesome. Published or still proof?
me at 12.03: Its out now. Just read some more and revise my previous statement to totally awesome.
Claire at 12.17: Just downloaded to Kindle.That’s tonight sorted.
me at 1.33: Am now about half way through. Not often books make me laugh out loud.

Tuesday morning
Claire at 9.30: Read all of Adorkable last night. I loved it vair muchly. Proper fabby. Was awake till 2 reading

This pretty much sums up how awesome Adorkable is. ‘Proper fabby’ is probably exactly what Jeane Smith, star of Adorkable, would say if she was reading a book like Adorkable, and its my sentiment too.

The Essence of Adorkable-ism
I’d tell you its a good old-fashioned romance, but there’s very little that’s old-fashioned about it. Jeane, 17, is pretty angry about a lot of stuff. Like how apathetic most of her generation are, and the injustices being done to women around the world. But she’s also pretty lonely: as an emancipated teen she lives on her own, and as a dork she doesn’t have many friends at school. What she does have is half a million followers on twitter and a lifestyle brand, Adorkable. Started as a blog to talk about “all the wierd, wonderful and randm things I was into,” she says, “but very quickly Adorkable became a mission statement, my USP, a call to arms...”

Jeane is a dork and she’s proud of it, and she doesn’t plan on letting anyone tell her what she can and can’t do. She’s against corporations selling “us a whole bunch of crap that we don’t need or want,” and is for “ripping the logos off all your clothes or inking them out with Magic Markers.” So how is it that she keeps finding herself kissing the biggest anti-dork of them all, Michael shops-at-Abercrombie-and-Fitch Lee? She’s on a roller-coaster to finding out who she really is, what she really wants, and she’s taking Michael along for the ride. Can she avoid the temptation to sell out and let Adorkable become all that she despises? Can she find a way to be true to herself when the pressure gets too high?

There are lots of really great things about this book. The first is that its British. Woo hoo! I actually can’t remember the last time I read a really a good teenage book of this ilk that wasn’t American or set in America. In fact, I had to keep reminding myself that it was British, so accustomed am I to assuming everything is told from the trans-Atlantic perspective. Secondly, I love what a complex character Jeane is. There’s a customer review for Adorkable on which says they had trouble connecting with Jeane and criticises the character for being hypocritical. The fact is, Jeane is a little hypocritical. She doesn’t always practice what she preaches, and she changes her spots quite quickly - but this is the whole point. It’s an epiphany for her toward the end of the book when she realises that simply the act of telling other people how they should be, how wearing brands etc is wrong, is going against her belief that everyone has a right to dress or to believe in whatever they want. She realises that instead of trying to get dorks as accepted as anti-dorks, trying to show that everyone, dork or not, is equal, she’s actually just been trying to make everyone into a dork. And with this realisation she’s able to accept both herself and everyone else’s choices. Now that’s empowerment.

The Adorkable bug
Sarra Manning sees modern teenagers - Generation Y - with a critical but sympathetic eye and she has hit the nail on the head; she has pinned the tail on the donkey. The only thing I wasn’t really sure about with Adorable was some of the language. There is a lot of ‘totes’ and ‘whatevs’. Do teenagers really talk like this, I wondered, or do adults just think that teenagers talk this? I suspect it’s a little of both, and I suspect that it depends what area of the country they’re in. London may be a bit more than my southern corner of Cornwall. What did hit me hard, though, was Manning’s analysis of the state of teenagedom and their prospects. This is a definitely a book of today.

 “Generation Y are everything you feared,” Jeane says. “They’re lazy, apathetic, unoriginal, scared of innovation, scared of difference, just plain scared... Shallow. Narcissistic. Self-involved. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, Gen Y knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”

Sounds a bit harsh at first reading doesn’t it? My first thought was that, well, this is a bit of a sweeping summary, but when I stop and think about how everyone - teenagers and adults alike - spends so much time on their smartphones, twitter-ing and facebook-ing, and how full the TV schedules are with programmes like The X Factor and America’s Next Top Model, it does start to make me wonder at the blandness of it all. But then it goes on:

“The thing is,” she says, “ unless [teens] do get hurled into the arms of that bitch called fame, the future for Gen Y is pretty darn bleak. They’re the first generation who’ll earn less than their parents. They’re the first generation who won’t be expected to better themselves by going to university, because what’s the point in running up thousands of pounds or dollars in debt for tuition fees and student loans when there’s little chance of being able to find a job at the end of it?” It’s no wonder we’re all a little bit scared.

But Sarra Manning/Jeane has hope. There is a flip side. This really got me thinking. “And as the recession continues and our prospects look bleaker and bleaker, I’m excited. I look to the past to see what our future will be like. And in times of economic hardship and harsh governments, of pointless wars and mass unemployment, there was pop art and there was punk, there was hip hop and grafitti, there was acid house and riot grrrl.
“There was art and music and books that could bring you to your knees with their utter perfection. Because, when everything else is gone, all we’re left with is our imaginations.
“So, you know what? I’m not ready to write Gen Y off just yet and neither should you., because I think we’re going to grow up just fine. Yeah, it pains me to admit it, but the kids are all right.”
Dorks like Jeane stand out from the crowd because they dare to think differently. They dare to raise the stakes. They dare to make us wonder at what else could be, and this is amazing.

I heart Adorkable
Sure Jeane is outspoken, and sometimes this means she doesn’t always see everything that’s going on around her, but at least she knows how to stand up for herself. And sure she can be kinda selfish, but when she’s always had to fend for herself that’s pretty understandable. What Adorkable says to me is that there’s a little bit of dork in everyone. There’s a little bit of that need to conform in everyone too, and both of these things are ok. Being true to yourself is what counts. Standing up for what you believe in is what counts. And not putting others down for daring to be different is what we should look for in our future. We should all be reaching for the stars.

I heart dorks and I heart Adorkable.

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