I’ve just read Simmone Howell’s new Young Adult novel Girl Defective. It was an odd experience – kinda new, kinda not – because I was already acquainted with Sky and Gully and Bill in their flat above the record shop in Blessington Street, St Kilda. I knew about heart-breaker Nancy and the brickers and Eve the lady cop and the elusive track “Wishing Well” that gave the shop its name. I’d heard about all of them before; I’d heard Sky’s unforgettable voice and cracked up at her hard-boiled bon mots. And here at last was the whole story.
It seems like a long time ago, but it’s probably only a couple of years since Julie Gittus and Lee Fox, along with Simmone and I, made up a little writer’s workshop quartet. We met regularly – usually once a month – in each other’s kitchens, and read from our respective works in progress. So I’d heard quite a bit of the book, and we’d all talked writerly talk about the plot and the characters.
What can I say, apart from I loved it then, in bits and pieces and unfinished, and I love it now? I love the strong and warm sense of family, even though the family – living-in-the-past, semi-alcoholic Bill and snout-mask wearing Gully – are, as heroine Sky says, “like inverse superheroes, marked by our defects.” I love the way Sky, a would-be-worldly innocent, fumbles her way through the darkness of adolescent confusion into some kind of light – with a little help from her friends. And the way the story of lost girl Mia weaves sad tendrils right through.
And that that old dame (or is she a broad?) St Kilda is a character in her own right. The book is noir-ish, funny, moving, happy and sad and wise, with a mystery solved, a little romance and lots of old vinyl.
And I can’t not mention Sky’s fabulous voice. Boy, does that girl have a smart mouth! How’s this, just in the first few pages?
I’d known Nancy three months. She was nineteen and sharp as knives. I was fifteen and fumbling. We met when Dad hired her to clean the shop and the flat. I remember her walking into the room with the vacuum hose hung around her neck, sloppy and insolent like a bad boyfriend’s arm.
And at the end of that paragraph:
Kid, that was what she called me. Or little sister, or girlfriend, or doll baby, or monkey face. Sometimes she even used my name – Skylark, Sky – all in that drawl that felt like fingernails on my back lightly scratching itches I didn’t even know I had.
Reading the whole story for the first time, Girl Defective seemed inevitable and surprising at the same time, like an old acquaintance who becomes a new friend. At long last.
Simmone’s website and blog are at http://simmonehowell.com