Life is not perfect. But it is certainly hilarious and poignant. So is Cathy Cassidy’s latest effort, Sundae Girl. With Cassidy, chick lit, too, gets a makeover.
Jude Reilly’s family is an assortment of oddballs. If father is an Elvis impersonator, Mum is an alcoholic. Her grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Grandfather Patrick seems to be the only somewhat sane person in the ménage. As is Jude.
Cassidy’s story is about ordinary life through the eyes of a teenage British girl whose biggest fear is: What if people find out about my family? Riotous at times, with a few sad touches, Sundae Girl is a hoot. At Parents’ Night in school, while the rest of the students are scared sick of their guardians discovering the truth about their performance, Jude worries about the school finding out about her parents.
Jude’s parents, Jade and Bobby, are separated and she lives with her mother and grandparents and a dog. Father Bobby has a girlfriend and they plan to marry. Jude is quite at home in both places. The problem? Mum is an alcoholic with a Wizard of Oz hangover. She imagines herself as Dorothy and is always looking for the Emerald City. Her promises to stay off drinking last as long as it takes to unscrew the next bottle of whisky.
Amid all this, Jude’s sense of humour remains intact, however. School is a cool refuge. She finds an admirer in Kevin Carter, who dashes about on Rollerblades rather clumsily. Jude, though she won’t admit it, does like Carter.
Sundae Girl is the story of the highs and lows of a teenager’s life, with crushes, funny teachers and even funnier classmates, friends and family.
Jude’s mum has an Italian boyfriend who sells ice creams. His exchanges with the family, though full of mirth and passion, make Jude cringe to think that, soon, he is going to be a part of them. Carter, the bumbling roller skater and street-hockey aspirant, is one person who stands by Jude.
The final straw, for Jude, is when her Mum almost ends Bobby’s wedding with a lighter and whisks her away to Glasgow to work in a pub. Cassidy treats alcoholism, teenage angst and old age in a tongue-in-cheek—but never too irreverent—manner. More seriously, it is the alarming rise in alcohol dependency in Britain’s adult population that Cassidy probably addresses. Alcoholics Anonymous’ statistics say one in six adults in the UK has a drinking problem.
Be that as it may, Cassidy does a good job of writing about life. As one of her fans writes on the author’s site: “It is like a book with thousands of snippets of people’s lives all put into one great book”. Cassidy herself started writing when she was young. “I wrote my first picture book for my little brother when I was nine. I loved making comics, too—pages of picture stories, and features. I’d sell my home-made comic to a friend for 5p,” reveals Cassidy.
Cassidy’s (who grew up in “scarily ancient” Coventry) other books include Driftwood and Lucky Star. She has been, at various times, an art teacher, the fiction editor of Jackie magazine and the agony aunt in Shout, a magazine for teenagers. “Of all my jobs,” she says, “writing has to be the best!”
The writer is the editor of Heek,a children’s magazine.Write to firstname.lastname@example.org