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Teenagerhood can feel like being in a foreign land at the best of times, but when you live in a tiny flat with your mum, Hungarian grandmother and two great aunts, there’s an even greater sense of dislocation and rootlessness – at least that’s how Marina, the heroine of Charlotte Mendleson’s novel, Almost English, feels.
I enjoyed this book so much – it perfectly, painfully captures the awkward sense of not belonging anywhere that you can feel so acutely as a teenager – everything is confusing, frustrating, terrifying and yet you feel so much hope, excitement and impatience for your future to start right now too.
Charlotte’s last novel, the Orange Prize-shortlisted When We Were Bad, also takes the complex relationships between the different members of a family as its theme and the observations are just as skilfully made as in Almost English, but I think I identified with her latest novel even more simply because I was a teenager with a ‘foreign’ background, trying desperately to downplay it and fit in.
Here's Charlotte explaining a little bit more about her protagonist (who she cheerfully admits is based on her own awkward adolescent self - a fellow saddo, hurrah!)
She's unbelievably good at pinning down those confusing feelings of loyalty and love for your family which jar against the unknown, exciting world of boys and school and being ‘cool’ (whenever I tried to be ‘cool’ I always failed dismally, it was when I finally became comfortable with being different that I was... cool!)
The relationship between Marina and her mother, Laura, is poignant and infuriating in equal measure - as is often the case with teenage daughters. The lack of communication and mutual misunderstanding is heartbreaking to observe, but you know it has to be that way, in order for both to eventually understand themselves and each other better.
This is one of those books that you really can't put down - you want to find out what happens to Marina and her family. I almost missed my stop on the tube, I was so engrossed.
I’ve got two signed first editions of Almost English to give away – to be in with a chance of winning simply email your name and address to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll pick two winners at random after I close the competition at midnight on Friday 16th August.
Oh and pleeease tell me below about your cringey teenage memories - did you have terrible clothes that you thought were ever so cool? (I 'rocked' a Levis sweatshirt with a mini-kilt and Kickers platforms and had hair in curtains - nice.)