Reviewed by Jocelyn Pearce for TeensReadToo.com
NOTES FROM THE TEENAGE UNDERGROUND is a fantastic debut novel! It starts out with three best friends, Gem, Lo, and Mira, trying to come up with ideas for their summer project. The summer before was their Satan Summer; they dabbled in all things occult. The summer project has a theme, goals, and guides. This year, they want to do something spectacular; it could be their last summer project--who knows what the future will bring?
Lo is usually the one with ideas, but this time, Gem has some ideas of her own. Their theme for the year is Underground, whatever that means. Ug for short. Their guide? This is where Gem is inspired. She sees some of his work--four films of kissing couples playing over and over--at the National Gallery, and she decides, with a bit of help from her artsy mother, Bev, that Andy Warhol should be their guide into the world of the Underground (which at first kept making me think of riding the subway a lot...). She does some research into Andy Warhol, his work, his life, and the people around him, and then comes up with a goal: to make an Underground film.
During the course of this project, Gem realizes a lot of things about her life and her relationships. She feels like her friendship with Lo and Mira is an isosceles triangle; the two of them are close together, and Gem is all alone at one end. She's also being pressured to make some decisions about her future, as all seventeen-year-olds are. Her mother and Sharon, school counselor and Gem's godmother, want her to go to University, but Gem's a lot more interested in film school. Speaking of her love of movies, she's starting to think she could love something else at Video City, where she works--her coworker, Dodgy. On top of all of this, Gem's father, Rolf, has always been out of the picture, just sending the occasional weird haiku from where he lives out in the wilderness--but now it looks as though he could be stepping back into Gem's life, at least for awhile.
This summer is a turning point in Gem's life. When it's all over, Gem will be different. Her life will be different. This much is pretty obvious. But how will things change?
I really, really loved this book. It was a lot of fun to read, and the idea of the summer project was very interesting, something that set this book apart from a ton of others. Almost all young adult literature is about things changing, as that's what's always going on for teenagers, but Simmone Howell's novel had something that makes it stand out in my mind! If it's got Andy Warhol and obscure movies in it, it's got to be different.
Gem is a wonderful character. I really felt, while reading this, as if I knew her. She's very interesting, and what goes on in her mind is fascinating. I couldn't put this book down! I woke up at one in the morning, for some reason anxious to finish this book. That almost never happens to me! As I'm writing this, it's a little bit difficult to explain what about this book is so amazing, but there's something. It really captures the teenage experience. Simmone Howell obviously remembers this time in her life very well! I'm going to have to revise my `Best of 2006' list to add this one! This is a must read!