Big Mouth and Ugly Girl

This is the best teenage novel I’ve read since Stargirl, in spite of the misleadingly in-your-face title. Never for one moment does one feel that this is written by someone who is ‘really’ an adult author on a little holiday – though one does keep noticing how experienced a hand is at work here.

Ugly Girl is the alter ego of the tall, sporty and not conventionally pretty (to put it kindly) Ursula Riggs; Big Mouth is the affable Matt Donaghy, who’s a bit of a class clown; and this is the story of how they become friends, and finally a couple. It’s a story, too, about the chilling, Kafkaesque dangers that underlie respectable, privileged life in America. The plot’s premise is perhaps a little farfetched – Matt becomes the object of a police investigation because some kids from a fanatical family deliberately misconstrue and misreport a moment of melodrama in the school canteen – but the way in which the characters, especially the wonderfully conceived Ursula, respond to the situation makes it an inspiring read.

Excellent handling of family relationships as well as the tensions between the pressure to be popular and the desire to do the right thing. The author manages to write about a sexually innocent relationship between teenagers without making the protagonists seem like losers, in a novel that is in some ways an old-fashioned romance but with a keen contemporary edge.