Louise Rennison (1951-)
Readers may need a glossary to interpret some of the slang used by British author and comedian Louise Rennison in her diary-novels about the adventures of a female teen navigating the treacherous waters of love, school, and the perfect lip gloss in modern-day England. In fact, Rennison's U.S. publishers supply just such a glossary to deal with the complexities of "snogging," "gob," "knickers," and a bevy of other Briticisms. However, such linguistic license has proven no barrier to eager fans on both side of the Atlantic who have embraced Rennison's protagonist, Georgia Nicolson, as a humorous and vibrant soul sister, capturing both the joys and the angst of being a teenager.
Rennison's irreverent diary-novels follow Georgia in her quest for the perfect boyfriend and hair-do. As Teenreads.com writer Lucy Burns commented, "Rennison brings the daily traumas of high school to hilarious life . . . leaving no stone unturned in her quest to detail the minutiae of being a teenage girl." Burns further commented, "No disaster—from eyebrow plucking to French kissing to sadistic gym teachers—is spared the Georgia treatment." Often called a teenage equivalent of that other popular British import, Bridget Jones's Diary, Rennison's books featuring Georgia Nicolson have reached near-cult status with young readers, attracting even older readers as well. Her first work, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, won numerous awards both in England and the United States, including the prestigious Michael L. Printz Honor Book citation.
Brought up in Leeds, England, Rennison attended a private girls' school, and many of her experiences from those years later found their way into her books. "I would advocate all-girls' schools every time," Rennison told Sarah Mellish in an Alphabetstreet interview. "You have two lives. One you can just relax with your mates not worrying about what boys are saying about your appearance, your laugh, or your hunchback impressions. Then you have your 'out-of-school' life. [It] used to consist of us hanging around waiting for something to happen, it always did—it was as easy as going shopping." Her gang at school and friends became grist for her literary mill much later, as did her school uniform, blue with a gold emblem and beret. "I'm sorry," Rennison commented to Mellish, "but nobody looks good in a beret—not even the French." Rennison's solution was to roll the beret up tightly and stick it under her hair, a trick her protagonist Georgia later uses to interesting effect.
"When I was a teenager, I went through a phase where I couldn't stand my dad," Rennison admitted to Sally Hall in a This Is Brighton and Hove interview. "As a girl, I used to go to [soccer] football matches with him. When I was a teenager, we couldn't talk about anything else, but we could still talk about football. It became this big metaphor for other things we were trying to say."
In the 1970s, Rennison left Leeds for the bright lights of London, where she shared a one-room flat in Notting Hill Gate with four others. The flat was owned by the rock group Roxy Music, and Rennison used to frequent a "real nutter's pub," as she described it to Hall, which the band Pink Floyd used to frequent. At the time, she was working at an adventure playground and "swanning around with all these pop stars," she told Hall. Performance art appealed to Rennison, and after a course in expressive arts at Brighton University, she developed a one-woman show called "Stevie Wonder Felt My Face." As Rennison explained to Hall, "It was a kind of monologue, a rite-of-passage show about growing up in Yorkshire. We used to live in this notorious estate and our family were Irish Jews, which was quite a combination." The show became a success in England; Rennison toured the country and the BBC filmed her performance.
Thereafter, Rennison worked in comedy, writing for stand-up comedians, and contributing regularly to BBC's Radio 4 shows Home Truths and Woman's Hour. One segment she wrote, about her harrowing experience at the emergency room after having the straps on her high-heels cut into her feet so deeply they needed surgical attention, caught the ear of an editor at London's Piccadilly Press. This editor called Rennison, asking her if she had ever considered writing a book. "I was very flattered," Rennison told Burns, "and imagined that they meant a sort of sophisticated girl about town thing. She said, no they thought a teenage girl's diary." Perplexed, Rennison asked why a book for teenagers, and the editor responded, as Rennison related to Burns, "'Because I have never read anything so self-obsessed and childish.'"
Rennison could not turn down such an elegant offer, so she pounded out a manuscript in six months that related many of the experiences she had as a youth, employing the sexy rock guitarist she had a crush on, whom she dubbed Sex God Robbie in the book, her childhood cat, sister, and mother (Mutti in the books), father (a.k.a. Vati), girlfriend Jas, nemesis Wet Lindsay, red-herring love Dave the Laugh, and others. "I used . . . real names in the writing," Rennison explained to Burns, "intending to change them before publication . . . but I forgot . . . so I am expecting to be killed when I go back to my hometown."
Rennison's protagonist, based largely on herself, earned an original name, however. As she explained to Mellish: "I wanted something that was a bit interesting but not too pretty. I wanted something that suited her character—I wasn't going to create somebody who was pretty and automatically successful. I thought Georgia suited a character who has fun but isn't by any means perfect. Also, I don't know anybody I hate called Georgia."
The resulting book, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, relates a year in the life of fourteen-year-old Georgia Nicolson. "Dad and Uncle Eddie round so naturally they had to come and nose around and see what I was up to. If Uncle Eddie (who is bald as a coot—two coots, in fact) says to me one more time, 'Should bald heads be buttered?' I may kill myself. He doesn't seem to realize that I no longer wear romper suits. I feel like yelling at him, 'I am fourteen years old, Uncle Eddie! I am bursting with womanhood. I wear a bra! OK, it's a bit on the loose side and does ride up around my neck if I run for the bus, but the womanly potential is there, you bald coot!'"
Thus begins Georgia's first diary entry, on a rainy Sunday morning in August. The bright, irreverent voice continues throughout the pages of this debut book. Fears abound in her teenage life: that she might be a lesbian, that her father might be a transvestite. Viewing the world through somewhat naïve eyes, Georgia tends to put the wrong spin on things she observes.
The Angus of the title is Georgia's cat, but not just any ordinary feline. Rather he is part Scottish wildcat, large enough to put fear in the heart of the poodle next door. And Georgia loves him, especially after the animal inadvertently leads her to Sex God Robbie. Thongs are the underwear apparel Wet Lindsay wears, and snogging is slang for French kissing. Georgia, on the whole, is more interested in snogging than school. At home, she has to deal with her parents and the excretory adventures of her three-year-old sister, Libby, but is working on the proper way to ignore these people totally. When Georgia's father goes off to New Zealand in search of a new job, the teen begins to worry about her fragile world, especially the possible loss of Sex God Robbie. A typical self-obsessed teenager, Georgia thinks she is ugly and longs to be beautiful and older, is embarrassed by her parents, and hates schoolwork.
Published first in England, the book was a popular success, and when the book made it to New York publishers, Rennison's writing career was off and running. Critics on both sides of the Atlantic responded warmly to this humorous journal. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called it a "spectacular YA debut" whose "subject matter may be the stuff of Bridget Jones's Diary," but whose "wit and bite of . . . delivery" have more in common with the comedy group Monty Python. Rennison, according to the same critic, employing "wry observations and self-deprecating humor," is able to "exquisitely capture . . . the fine art of the adolescent ability to turn chaos into stand-up comedy." Further comparisons to the writer Helen Fielding and her adult bestseller Bridget Jones's Diary, came from a reviewer for Horn Book who called Angus an "unabashed imitation," but one whose audacity Bridget Jones herself "would probably applaud." The same reviewer further commented that "it's personality rather than plot that carries the book." Angela J. Reynolds called the book "hilarious" in a School Library Journal review, and went on to note: "It will take a sophisticated reader to enjoy the wit and wisdom of this charming British import, but those who relish humor will be satisfied." Cassia van Arsdale, writing in Teenreads.com, interpreted Rennison to speak a universal language in the character of Georgia, an "Everygirl taken to the extreme." Van Arsdale further felt that Georgia's "antics will make anything you've ever done when looking for that special guy seem staid, reasonable, or even worse, completely normal." Booklist contributor Michael Cart also found merit in the book, announcing that Georgia "is a wonderful character whose misadventures are not only hysterically funny but universally recognizable." Cart concluded, "This 'fabbity fab fab' novel will leave readers cheering 'Long live the teen!' and anxiously awaiting the promised sequel."
That sequel came with It's OK, I'm Wearing Really Big Knickers!: Further Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, published in the United States as On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God: Further Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, in which Georgia fears that the family will move to New Zealand and that she will lose her boyfriend. However, providence intervenes, keeping her in England, but she loses Robbie anyway to Wet Lindsay. Subsequently, she takes up with Dave the Laugh in an effort to make Robbie jealous. But all of Georgia's schemes have the habit of backfiring on her.
Once again, reviewers praised Rennison's take on the teen years. A contributor for Publishers Weekly called On the Bright Side a "hilarious sequel" with "laugh-a-minute narration." Mara Bright, writing in School Library Journal, called the novel "a funny romp through the intricacies of one especially explosive period of growing up" and predicted that it "will be devoured by girls on the brink of becoming teenagers and those who are living in the thick of it now." A reviewer for Horn Book thought that this sequel to Angus "continues to provide similar hilarity" and that "Georgia's fans will easily forgive the lack of plot and will look forward to the next installment," while Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper called Rennison's second novel a "laugh-out-loud diary."
Rennison continued Georgia's tale in Knocked Out by My Nunga-Nungas: Further, Further Confessions of Georgia Nicolson. Georgia's father is back from New Zealand and takes her on a disastrous trip to Scotland. Returning home, and after using Dave the Laugh as a "red-herring" boyfriend to successfully win Robbie back, Georgia begins to wonder if she has made the right decision. Once again, Rennison's title may prove daunting for U.S. readers. Georgia explicates matters in the pages of her diary: "Despite the incredible crapness of my life my nunganungas have made me laugh. Nunga-nungas is what Ellen's brother and his mates call girls' basoomas. He says it is because if you pull out a girl's breast and let it go . . . it goes nunganunganunga. He is obviously a touch on the mental side." Reviewing the third novel in the "Georgia Nicolson" series, Adele Geras wrote in the Times Educational Supplement, "Rennison has swept all before her with her dazzlingly titled diaries of Georgia Nicolson. . . . In the United States, the novels are published with a glossary and a cult is starting to develop around them. Rennison has been a stand-up comic and her verve and pace are hard to resist." A fourth "Georgia Nicolson" novel, Dancing in My Nuddy-Pants: Even Further Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, answers the question: Will Georgia end up with Sex God Robbie or with Dave the Laugh?
Rennison was as surprised as anyone when her first "Georgia Nicolson" title scored such a success. After sending this novel off to her publishers, she half expected, as she told Burns, for them to come back and say, "'Yes, nice try, now let's try it again.' And they just loved it, and it was an amazing and immediate hit. I was staggered." Success, especially the winning of England's Smarties award and the Michael L. Printz Honor Book designation, had its downside, however. Suddenly, Rennison found herself in the odd position of having to defend the books from some parents and critics who found the language and theme inappropriate for young readers. Such criticism, Rennison told Hall, "did make me think about whether I really was corrupting teenage minds or anything. But really, I'm not. It's cheeky, but it's not unkind. Kids say far worse things to each other in real life." And to Mellish, Rennison reported, "I would have loved to have books like this around when I was younger. I used to stick my fingers in my ears in Biology—the idea of a teacher standing there and talking about this stuff just made me cringe—still does!"
As for the positive effects of success, beyond the fame and money? For Rennison, it is "fab" that her idiosyncratic vocabulary is catching on both in England and the United States. As she told Burns, "country girls are calling their dads vati" and American girls are writing her, requesting more slang words so they can sound very British. And as she reported to Mellish, she has become a youth icon. "It's brilliant! I get teenagers from Brighton writing to me and asking if I want to go to the pier and hang out with them."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Rennison, Louise, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Rennison, Louise, Knocked Out by My Nunga-Nungas: Further, Further Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, Piccadilly Press (London, England), 2001.
Booklist, July, 2000, Michael Cart, review of Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, p. 2033; September 15, 2000, p. 234; November 15, 2000, p. 631; May 15, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God: Further Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, p. 1751; September 15, 2001, p. 225; April 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Knocked Out by My Nunga-Nungas: Further, Further Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, p. 1395; April 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Dancing in My Nuddy-Pants: Even Further Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, p. 1462.
Daily Mail (London, England), August 23, 2001, p. 56.
Girls' Life, February, 2001, p. 34.
Horn Book, May-June, 2000, review of Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, p. 320; May-June, 2001, review of On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God, p. 335; November-December, 2001, p. 778.
Publishers Weekly, March 20, 2000, review of Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, p. 94; February 26, 2001, review of On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God, p. 87; April 1, 2002, Diane Roback, "Louise Rennison," p. 24; April 8, 2002, review of Knocked Out by My Nunga-Nungas, p. 229.
School Library Journal, July, 2000, Angela J. Reynolds, review of Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, p. 109; May, 2001, Mara Bright, review of On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God, p. 159; May, 2002, Renee Steinberg, review of Knocked Out by My Nunga-Nungas, p. 160; May, 2003, Ronni Krasnow, review of Dancing in My Nuddy-Pants, p. 160.
Times Educational Supplement, August 17, 2001, Adele Geras, review of Knocked Out by My Nunga-Nungas, p. 19.
Alphabetstreet, http://www.alphabetstreet.infront.co.uk/ (January 2, 2002), Sarah Mellish, "Author Interview—Louise Rennison."
BookPage, http://www.bookpage.com/(April, 2003), Heidi Henneman, "Wacky British Author Connects with Teen Readers."
Georgia Nicolson Home Page, http://www.georgianicolson.com/(January 2, 2002).
Teenreads.com, http://www.teenreads.com/(July 18, 2001), Lucy Burns, "Author Profile: Louise Rennison"; (February 7, 2002) Cassia van Arsdale, review of Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging.
This Is Brighton and Hove, http://www.thisisbrightonandhove.co.uk/(July 12, 2001), Sally Hall, "Fabitty Fab Fab Confessions of Author Lady Who Giggled at Nunga-Nunga Trauma Years."*
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyLouise Rennison (1951-) Biography - Awards, Honors, Writings, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Career, Adaptations, Work in Progress