Friday, 22 April 2011
Terry Ronald - Becoming Nancy
As anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I've been waiting to read this book for quite some time. So when it popped through my door at the start of this week, the sun blazing down outside, it seemed the perfect time for a spot of Easter Holiday reading. Becoming Nancy is the debut novel by producer, songwriter, friend to Dannii Minogue and general awesome dude Terry Ronald. Drawing from his own experiences growing up, Ronald's book follows the adventures of fifteen year-old South London boy David Starr as he comes to terms with his own sexuality and the attitudes of others towards him.
Written in a wonderfully colloquial and breezy tone, Becoming Nancy comes across as a brilliant blend of the touching period drama of the BBCs recent adaptation of Toast as well as the cheeky schoolboy humour of The Inbetweeners. Full to the brim with all manner of expletives and wise-cracks, Ronald's wit spills from every page - yes, there's lots of swearing here, but it feels justified, authentic, real. This isn't a children's book, it doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of life. Its appeal is all-encompassing though; teens will love the sheer unadulterated fun and naughtiness of it all while adults will look back on David Starr's world full of nostalgia for their own youth.
Capturing the life of a teenager is something so many authors try and fail to accomplish; that troublesome task of pinning down all those emotions and feelings that rush through your head during those years. But Ronald gets it spot on. Taking you right into Starr's mind, you really care for him as a character - as he is subjected to beatings, hardship and abuse throughout the book, you wish you could step through the page and stand by his side as a friend, an ally.
Indeed, it is the camaraderie between Starr and his friends that forms the backbone of Becoming Nancy. His best friend Frances is feisty, full of attitude; the conscience that keeps Starr on track in his darkest hours. Likewise, his sister Chrissy is wonderfully portrayed - Starr's early sexual encounter with her best mate Abi had me in stitches. Every step of the way, Becoming Nancy is there with a cheeky wink and a plate of innuendo; I genuinely think I found reason to laugh on almost every page of the book. Again, proper humour is something very hard to pin down in a novel, but Becoming Nancy takes it in its stride and delivers every single time.
Growing up in South London myself, the world of the novel felt exceptionally real to me. Part of the charm of the book is that it taps into your own childhood, your own experiences; you begin to question what you might have done in Starr's situation. There's something about those teenage years of your life, something magical and indescribable, and Becoming Nancy offers a brief window back on those hazy, frantic years. With its descriptions of London suburbia, Starr's work at a local bar and trips to Oxford Street and Brighton, the book captures an inherently British slice of life.
And then there's the pop culture references. Like the expletives, these come thick and fast. A minute won't go by without Starr informing you exactly what brand of food he's eating or what TV show he's sat down to watch on the box. For those that were growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I imagine it will transport you back to those times in a flash, and for those that weren't born then, it presents a vivid look back into the history of this country. With mentions of Thatcherism and the National Front, Becoming Nancy recalls a time defined by changing attitudes and strife - all seen through the eyes of one teenage boy.
It is the mentions of music that possess the most charm however. Like any teenager, Starr has his popstar idols who decorate his bedroom walls and whose records are never off the stereo. In this instance, Blondie and Abba. Starr regales us of his extensive 12" collection, full of rare, limited editions. For any record collector, this will raise a grin of recognition, as it did with me. We understand. And in a delightful, inspired bit of imagery, Starr's dreams are filled with conversations with Debbie Harry and Kate Bush - they act as a voice in his mind, someone to share his troubles with when there is no-one else. It's a sweet, touching moment that throws a beautiful touch of surrealism into the novel.
It sounds a cliche, but Becoming Nancy is most definitely a real page-turner. It's paced brilliantly, whipping along with the excitement of teenage hormones, only ever briefly stopping to catch its breath. Starr's narration feels so authentic, enthused with Ronald's knack for creating genuine characters and giving them a voice. And so, for just over 300 pages, you lose yourself in a snapshot of the past, a picture-postcard of David Starr's youth... and so often, it feels, moments of our own youth too.
Becoming Nancy is available to buy from Amazon now.