My So-called Life: The Tragically Normal Diary of Rachel Riley by Joanna Nadin

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My So-called Life: The Tragically Normal Diary of Rachel Riley by Joanna Nadin

Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: Bored of her ordinary, pleasant life, Rachel Riley decides to liven things up this year, but even she can't predict how much some areas of her life are going to change.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0192755261

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Rachel is bored. There's just not enough excitement in her life. She has not been blessed with an alcoholic mum or an absent dad and her boring, ordinary lifestyle is right in the middle of the spectrum, a long way from both foster-care-chic and the nouveau-riche lavish lifestyle of the dubious people next door. Her best friend may have a sexpert mum and a gynaecologist dad, but poor Rachel's parents do nothing so glamorous. She lives in a nice house on a nice street and goes to a nice school where she has nice friends. Eugh. Why can't her life be more like a soap opera, or at the very least like a Jacqueline Wilson book?

Rachel is, however, really, really likable, funny and observant and anyone who can put down "get period" as a new year's resolution gets points for gumption in my book. My So Called Life, which is her diary, let's you follow the year in her life when things finally start getting interesting. She still can't get best-boy-bud Sad Ed out of the closet so they can start their gay-boy/stylish-girl life Will and Grace stylee, but by New Year's Eve as the book ends, she has loved and lost, been both abroad and to Cornwall (which was probably more foreign), acquired a cradle robbing grandparent and forged a new, unlikely relationship with the council estate chavs, not to mention the fact that Jesus is now in her life. Her mother's list of things-banned from the house is ever-increasing (Ribena (too purple), East Enders (too common) and The OC (too unrealistic) are just three of the inclusions) but nonetheless, things, as they say, are looking up.

Sunday 26. 8am

I am racked with indecision. Should I tell Thin Kylie about the illicit sex and get beaten up by Fat Kylie and possibly stabbed by Mark Lambert or keep quiet and end up getting morning after pills for Fat Kylie as well? It is like Sophie's choice.

The diary format really suited the story in this book because it means you can get away with rapid switching from one topic to another, short cropped sentences and snappy entries rather than long-winded passages, and a clear sense of time passing as the months move on and the school year progresses. Rachel is fantastic because she can swing from a melodramatic drama queen to a lovable, hard-done by family girl within the matter of a few pages. Her relentless pursuit of Sad Ed's sexuality, Scarlet's friendship and Justin's girlfriend status is endearing and quickly has you rooting for her to succeed, and feeling for her when she gets setback.

This is not an all-action book, and it's much more melodramatic than it is dramatic, but it is very fun to read. There are some serious issues in there too - underage sex, drugs - and quite a lot of social issues, from the homeless to school meals to the downright weird relationship between an old man and his care worker, but these are slipped into the story so subtly you don't really notice them as being "lessons" or "talking points" but just find them nice additions to Rachel's somewhat improving life.

A lovely book, this only really loses out on 5 stars because of a serious chocolate faux-pas early on in the story. I'm not going to spoil it for you, though. You'll have to read it yourself to work out what factual inaccuracy horrified me so much I docked that half star. And I hope you do read it because. I enjoyed it and I think you would too. Other recommended reads if this sounds good include Planet Janet In Orbit (also a teen diary) or The Illustrated Mum if you want to discover the kind of life Rachel dreams about having.

Thank you to the publishers to sending this book.

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Buy My So-called Life: The Tragically Normal Diary of Rachel Riley by Joanna Nadin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy My So-called Life: The Tragically Normal Diary of Rachel Riley by Joanna Nadin at


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Sibyl Ruth said:

I got this book out of the library for my 10 year old daughter before deciding she needed to be 2 years older to appreciate it. Meanwhile my 18 year old stepdaughter wants to read it! I thought the novel was very lively and enjoyable on the surface, though at times the rip-off of Adrian Mole was so obtrusive, that it spoiled my enjoyment. Joanna Nadin has none of Sue Limb's inclusivity. Non-white characters stay on the margins. When the heroine's young brother acquires a best friend who is a Muslim girl, we never get to meet her. Classmates who are from working-class backgrounds are called - with a stunning lack of originality - Fat Kylie and Thin Kylie. It's no surprise that in Joanna Nadin's former career she worked with Tony Blair. She has all the previous PM's contempt for, and suspicion of, those who don't subscribe to middle-class values. So despite it's energetic inventiveness the book leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

Annie Harrison said:

I would like to start of by saying this is one of the best books I have ever read, because for all I knew Joanna Nadin could have been a teenage girl sitting in her room documenting her thoughts, feelings and what Sad Ed had for breakfast in a much loved diary. This is one of the funniest books ever and has a guarantied laugh out loud factor. I would recommend it to girls from 13- to how ever old you think you have to be to stop appreciating the comedy of names such as Chris Cross. A definite five stars.

Annie Harrison