It’s the mid-1990s, and fifteen year-old Guernsey schoolgirls, Renée and Flo, are not really meant to be friends. Thoughtful, introspective and studious Flo couldn’t be more different to ambitious, extroverted and sexually curious Renée. But Renée and Flo are united by loneliness and their dysfunctional families, and an intense bond is formed. Although there are obstacles to their friendship (namely Flo’s jealous ex-best friend and Renée’s growing infatuation with Flo’s brother), fifteen is an age where anything can happen, where life stretches out before you, and when every betrayal feels like the end of the world. For Renée and Flo it is the time of their lives.
With graphic content and some scenes of a sexual nature, Paper Aeroplanes is a gritty, poignant, often laugh-out-loud funny and powerful novel. It is an unforgettable snapshot of small-town adolescence and the heart-stopping power of female friendship
I’ve been writing a lot of five star reviews lately (with more on the way) and I have genuinely enjoyed all of those books, but it has been many, many years since I have been able to connect so much with a book. Paper Aeroplanes is, without a doubt, now one of my favourite books of all time and one which I will be pushing onto all of my female friends for years to come.
I can’t think of another book I’ve read which so accurately represents the intricacies of the friendships between teenage girls. It was something which deeply resonated with me. My teenage years were happy, don’t get me wrong, and I was lucky to have a wonderfully supportive family. However, I’ve always been insecure and weight issues in my early teenage years didn’t help my self-perception or my ability to make friends. I did have wonderful friends, or at least they seemed to be at the time. I guess it’s like a bad relationship; it’s amazing what people will put up with for the good times. Looking back I realise I walked on eggshells for six years of my life, sharing my deepest darkest secrets with my best friends and having some fantastic fun, but always doing my best to stay on their good side. I put up with snide comments and days when I was completely ignored for no reason, but heaven forbid I ever do the same to them. I know there are so many people who had it much worse than me, but those comments eroded my confidence little by little. Believe me when I say that, despite this, I honestly did have a wonderful time at school and I choose to remember the good times my friends and I had together. But Paper Aeroplanes made me realise that I actually wasn’t alone (I know it’s cheesy, but it’s true). I really mean it. Teenage girls hold a lot of power over one another and sometimes the smallest shifts in these dynamics can cause the biggest fractures.
“Carla and Gem, my ‘best friends’, are over by the windows at the back, sitting next to each other of course, both waving frantically at me but not bothering to get up. As usual I do my best to look like I don’t care, already feeling the neglect that comes with being the third wheel to an indestructible duo.”
“It’s either mum getting at me at home or Sally putting me down at school. Other people seem to live so differently. It makes me feel totally unlikeable. Why would anyone want to try to have fun with me? I follow Sally around like a lost sheep because I don’t have the courage to say what I want. It’s force of habit now, I guess. I don’t bother saying how I feel because one of them will make me feel so stupid for it. I’ve turned into a boring tagalong who watches everyone else have fun while I feel more unsure of myself every day.”
What makes this absolutely perfect is the characters. Renée and Flo were both characters I instantly related to and fell in love with. These girls were so real, in fact all the characters were. A few weeks ago I chatted with Jo in this post about writing believable, real teenage girls. I wrote something along the lines of “why can girls only be proper and delicate…or, well, the opposite? I mean no one is like that all the time” and that is what I totally love about Paper Aeroplanes. Also, this book about teenage girls actually has *cue Miranda-style whispering* periods in it! Yes. Periods. And I am not ashamed to say I am absolutely over the moon about this aspect. Okay, okay, I know I sound insane, but there is no hiding from things real girls actually talk about in this. Oh, and there is also mention of farting.
“Never have I wanted the earth to swallow me up so much. Pop trying to explain what I might use a panty pad for is as bad as the time I farted when I sneezed during prayers in assembly. At least that was funny. There is nothing funny about this.”
Let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen.
In terms of the rest of the characters, they were all equally as real. Even, I hate to admit, Sally. She was absolutely horrendous, but I’m sure most teenage girls would have come across someone like her during school. I know I certainly have. She is the worst kind of bully; a soul sucking person who pushes her friends down to make herself feel better. Sadly, those people generally don’t stop doing that when they graduate from high school.
Families were also an essential part of Paper Aeroplanes. I absolutely love it when these issues are explored in YA without completely taking over the book and making it an ‘issues’ book. These elements were dealt with beautifully; the subtle complexities simmering under the surface of Flo and Renée’s school lives. The combination of time and home and at school seemed to work perfectly and reflected the fact that both girls were trying to escape to school in a way, a place where, for the most part, they felt happier. I was pleased to see this was somewhat resolved at the end of the book, although I’m sensing there are still things which need to be sorted out and will be addressed in the second book.
Perhaps the only good thing about finishing Paper Aeroplanes is knowing that there is a sequel. I am so, so glad that I don’t have to say goodbye to Flo and Renée yet. But don’t be scared off by that, Paper Aeroplanes can be read as a standalone.
The press release for Paper Aeroplanes describes it as “a Puberty Blues for the 1990s” and I have to agree that it is. While we’re making comparisons, it is also perfect for fans of TV show My Mad, Fat Diary and the work of Jacqueline Wilson. It is humorous, heartfelt and absolutely unforgettable. Teenage girls past and present need to read this. It is a book which I cannot recommend enough and one which I will be re-reading very, very soon. Thank you Dawn O’Porter for telling it like it is.
Thank you to The Five Mile Press/Hot Key Books for providing a copy of the book for review