Review: Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey

'You're dropped.'

For years, I have somehow managed to resist the allure of reviewing one of the most darkly comic--and controversial--YA novels to ever be published in Australia. Released in 1979 Puberty Blues soon threw its young authors into the spotlight for its explicit language and themes of peer group pressure, surf gang culture and teenage sexuality. Within a few years the book had been made into a film that has gone on to be an Australian classic in its own right. The authors would go on to have very successful and very different writing careers, with Kathy Lette's work showcasing her flamboyant style, while Carey's would be more serious and contemplative. For both, Puberty Blues was a stepping stone that would send them in different but equally successful directions. 

Puberty Blues is short and set in the world of surf culture around the Sutherland Shire. Sue and Debbie are fourteen years old and desperate to be a part of ruling Greenhills gang, a group of elite surfer boys and their girlfriends. They get their chance but being a part of the gang means following a rigid set of rules where the boys have all the power--and the girls have to earn their spot in their gang, and their friendship rings. What follows are depictions of date rape, very questionable relationships between older boys and girls who have just reached puberty and boys who get away with all kinds of sexual coercion. Finally, when members of the group begin to struggle with drug addiction, Debbie and Sue learn to find their way out of the group ... and a way to have fun on their own terms.

Puberty Blues is not pretty. It is peppered with dark comedy and its most redeeming feature is the way that the authors weave it all into a morality tale. The reader knows from the start that boys aren't being fair. The readers know that the girls would be better off without the boys. It's watching how they get there, and cheering for them when they do, that makes the book. There is little wonder why it remains an Australian classic. 



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