Who DOESN’T love Louise Rennison? Georgia Nicholson, of the wonderfully odd-ball Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series, is one of my favourite fictional heroines. There are very few books that make me laugh out loud in public. Louise Rennison’s books are among that small group (which also includes Bossypants, Alice, I Think, The Spellman Files, and Clementine). In the brilliantly titled Withering Tights, Rennison introduces us to a new heroine, a cousin of Georgia’s named Tallulah Casey.
When Tallulah signs up for a summer arts program in the Yorkshire Dales, she imagines herself winning over teachers and classmates with her yet to be discovered theatrical talent. Plus, she feels destined to meet the man of her dreams; she IS staying on the moors, after all. Sure enough, Tallulah makes a number of kooky friends, and even catches the eye of some interesting (if not Bronte-esque) boys. But things always seem to go awry where Tallulah is concerned, leading to unfortunate and hilarious mishaps.
Rennison has a lot of fun at the expense of the Wuthering Heights/romanticism of the moors trope as well as the liberal performing arts school. Having some experience with the performing arts and the delightful quirky people the discipline attratcs, I fully appreciated her depiction of ridiculous classes and life at kooky Dother Hall. For a final project, the girls are asked to do an original production of Wuthering Heights. It is in this production, as an especially moody, step-dancing caricature of a tortured Heathcliff that Tallulah finally comes into her own.*
One of the things I love best about Louise Rennison is how her details snowball and transform. Instead of using the same descriptions over and over again, the original description tends to morph into something more and more hilarious. For example, when Tallulah sees the room in which she will be boarding for the summer, she comments on how the entire room is made of wood: “Even the bed-head has got furry things carved into it. Squirrels, I think. Or maybe hairy, long-tailed slugs.” Next we hear of it, the bedroom is now referred to as the Squirrel Room, and the image builds from there, becoming funnier with each reference. Tallulah’s legs, though the bane of her existence, are also source of frequent hilarity.**
If I haven’t made it clear enough already, I LOVE Tallulah. She is smart and funny, but like all teens, pre-occupied with the injustices of adolescence. For Tallulah, this includes her knobby knees, a lack of obvious talent, and conflicting feelings regarding some unpredictable boys. Her first person narrative is classic Rennison- deadpan, neurotic, hilarious. To a North American reader, sometimes the language in Rennison’s books can feel completely foreign. There is a very tongue-in-cheek glossary in the back to define the unique mix of British slang, theatrical terms, and words that Tallulah herself has created.
This is a great read for girls eleven and up. They’ll be having such a good time laughing at Tallulah and friends romping around the moors and sneaking out on a disastrous group date to the movies, they may not even realize the little kernels of wisdom Rennison has written in about friendship, body image, independence, and how to stand up to smarmy boys. Please, please do yourself the favour of treating yourself and any girl you know to this comedic gem.
Withering Tights is available now in hard cover from HarperCollins.
*Something about her performance struck me as Edward Cullen-esque, which only made me love Tallulah (and Rennison) more.
**Possibly my favourite description of Tallulah’s legs: spontaneous. I attempted to describe a particularly funny scene to my roommate, who looked at me utterly confused as I blubbered on, laughing and then crying because I was laughing so hard, and that was just remembering the scene. I could write an entire post on the comedic genius of Louise Rennison, but really you should just go straight to the source.