Over the next ten weeks I will be reading and reviewing the shortlisted books for the inaugural YA Book Prize. I’m thrilled that the diverse and thriving UK YA scene is being celebrated. I’m also thrilled that after the success of UKYA Extravaganza part one, another event has been announced for Nottingham!
Goose is about two girls growing up in Guernsey in the 1990s. They’re in their final year of school, and starting to make plans for the future. Adulthood is encroaching. In a time for change, and turmoil, Flo and Renée are the best of friends, but it looks like their plans for the future are very different. Can they reconcile their differences and hold onto their friendship, or are they destined to grow apart? Throw in some serious boy troubles, and things start looking rocky for our heroines.
This is the first book I read off the YA Book Prize shortlist – thanks, Warwickshire Libraries! I picked it up without realising it was a sequel, which as far as I remember isn’t indicated on the cover. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed Goose more if I’d read Paper Aeroplanes first. I have read some reviews that argue Goose works as a standalone novel, but I don’t agree. The backstory presumably covered in Paper Aeroplanes is inserted as hurried exposition that could have been just as easily left out. If I’d been already invested in the characters, I might have been able to forgive some sloppiness in the writing. At their best, Renée and Flo are nuanced and likeable, despite making some very bad decisions. I love their love for each other: it is effusive and unapologetic, and gives the book its heart.
If you’re looking for a book to give to the teenage girl in your life, Goose is one with a positive message. It’s honest and kind to them in a way YA lit often is, and other people more often should be. The sexual content is quite explicit, but again, honest. I also liked the exploration of faith, and hope to find more stories where characters discover religion and actually kind of like it. This, along with the unique setting (O’Porter grew up in Guernsey, and the book’s setting feels correspondingly authentic) is a refreshing aspect in a book that disappointed me with its reliance on cliché. The pacing feels rushed and melodramatic, which could reflect the intensity of adolescence, but the relentless tell-don’t-show is wearing. The subject matter is considerably more mature than the presentation, which also jars. With its two narrators, Goose reads like nothing so much as a diary shared between two teenagers – teenagers a lot younger than Flo and Renée’s supposed nearly-eighteen.
Goose‘s heart is in the right place, but it lacks the sophistication of other books on the shortlist. I hope Flo and Renée’s friendship continues throughout their post-school years, but I probably won’t be reading about it.