An Urgent Message of Wowness by Karen McCombie

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An Urgent Message of Wowness by Karen McCombie

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: Heather is fed up with her home life, but nothing can prepare her for the bombshell that's coming her way.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: May 2007
Publisher: Scholastic
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0439951142

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Heather is an ordinary kind of girl with an extraordinary kind of family. Now technically there's nothing too outrageous about her parents, big brother Jo-Jo or little sister Tallie, but when you're a teenager even the slightest thing can feel like a huge gulf between you, the freak, and them, the normal Normans. The blurb for this book says that Heather is bored with being the one who doesn't fit in in her perfect family. Then, one day a bombshell is dropped and life is never the same again. I had all sorts of fun thinking up what that bombshell could be - an illegitimate love child, a move half way across the world, at the very least a bit of anorexia or a teen pregnancy. But no, the bombshell is something much more mundane and ordinary and disappointed me a bit, because what happens is something that happens in loads of books, and in real life. That's not to say it shouldn't be written about, but it's hardly the bombshell that it's made out to be.

Once I got over this set back, however, I got into this book and found it quite a nice read. The main story is about Heather and how she interacts with her family, her friends, and the randoms who come into her life, from Krystyna the exotic cleaner to Sylv, the interesting goth girl who appears to have moved in to Jo-Jo's room one day, and never left.

Though not a diary, this book takes the same kind of format, with short chapters (20 of them, in fewer than 200 pages) and emails from Heather interspersing the pages. The chapters all have funky, intriguing names too: The Elephant in the Corner, The Missing Exclamation Mark, Death by Dancing, 100% Random Imperfectness.

I didn't think this was a bad book, but it seemed to lack a certain spark. The story had a few twists but these were more mild curves to the left or right rather than complete u-turns. There wasn't much in the way of momentum or suspense and I think that only the truly dedicated readers out there would plough through right to the end without skipping a few pages - more reluctant teens, I think, would find a reason to quit half way through because it just wasn't quite engaging enough.

For younger readers there are lots of "theme" books on the market that you can use as a way of introducing changes in their lives such as going to hospital, or a first day at school. This type of book seems to appear in smaller quantities as readers get older, but I suppose you could see Wowness as a theme book. It introduces a topic - parents splitting up - and the story centres about the different reactions the couple's children have to the news. But I didn't think that was enough - there are loads of books about divorced and divorcing parents, so it's not enough of a pull to attract readers to this book (though the more easily bought out there might find the free phone charm that comes with the book enough of an incentive to buy rather than borrow).

Crucially, to me, it wasn't a witty or entertaining book, there was no real humour, no beautiful observations on the peculiarities of life, and the title is too long to remember when you're talking to people about it, unless you start calling it Wowness as I did. It's good but it just doesn't have the "wow" factor of the title.

Thanks to the publishers for supplying this book.

If you want a book about a real bombshell, Good Girls is very much recommended. Or, for a more engaging, funny take on "normal" teen life in England, My So Called Life would be a better place to start. You might also enjoy her St Grizzle's School for Girls, Goats and Random Boys.

For info on this and the author's other books, check out her website.

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