YOU’RE THE KIND OF GIRL I WRITE SONGS ABOUT | DANIEL HERBORN | BOOK REVIEW

YOU’RE THE KIND OF GIRL I WRITE SONGS ABOUT is a young adult novel from new and upcoming Australian author, Daniel Herborn. It released in April of this year and follows two shy young thangs who both have a passion for youth and music but have little current direction. It is set in Sydney’s inner West pub and cafe scene and should have some attraction to Sydney’s youth for a read. It was released from the good peeps at Harper Collins and you can either purchase it from good bookstores or from HERE. Enjoy Kernel Fiona’s review………..all the best……….JK.

BY FIONA FYFE

While not overtly billed as a young adult’s novel, it’s quite obvious that this is the audience the author had in mind. Set in the inner western suburbs of Sydney, it’s a tale of boy meets girl, boy screws up, boy must make amends.

In more ways than one, the story reminds me of a book version of a “try-hard”. We all know that person who desperately wants to be part of the scene but whose jokes are lame and their manner forced. The kind of person who tells a story that isn’t remotely comedic but keeps laughing – on their own.

Told through the eyes of Tim and Mandy, the star-crossed lovers, the chapter headings are his name or hers and the length of each chapter approximately a couple of pages. The author does manage, however, to avoid creating a story that is disjointed.

Tim is 19 and repeating Year 12 after a disastrous effort the previous year. He is also a budding musician who manages to score regular gigs in and around Sydney’s inner west. Tim’s background is not fully explained until the end of the book but we’re told straight up that his mother has moved away to Queensland and he lives with his Uncle Ned. There is no mention at this stage of where his father might be.

 

YOU'RE THE KIND OF GIRL I WRITE SONGS ABOUT BOOK COVER IMAGE
YOU’RE THE KIND OF GIRL I WRITE SONGS ABOUT | DANIEL HOLBORN | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | BOOK COVER IMAGE

 

Mandy is a recent school leaver, in her gap year, who occasionally works at a shopping centre but mostly binges on day time television. She lives with her policeman father, his new, spoon-collecting wife and her delinquent older sister, Heather, who is furious that her Centrelink application has been rejected and drifts through the days drug-fueled and aggressive. Somewhat surprising given their old man is a copper.

Mandy and Tim first spy one another at a gig and finally meet up again a few weeks later at the same venue. Cock-sure and confident, Tim finds himself floored by Mandy’s dark beauty and becomes completely enthralled by her.

Mandy has a best friend, Alice who has recently broken up with her boyfriend, Liam and as a consequence is spiraling into depression. She warms to Tim though and he is sympathetic to her fragile, kooky personality. Alice’s heart-break over her split with Liam is palpable and there is some suggestion that she has the potential to completely drop her bundle and hurtle into the abyss. In this regard, the characters reminded me a lot of those in LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI – certainly the style is very similar. There is a vulnerability to each of them in terms of their psychological states and it becomes evident that Tim is very good at concealing his pain and Mandy is seriously lacking in any substantial motivation for life.

An appealing part of this book is the repeated mention of various inner Sydney suburbs and popular Sydney cafes and pubs. Sydney-siders will easily relate to and recognise the venues that Mandy and Tim frequent. I’m not sure whether this limits the story to a certain culture or whether it adds to its appeal.

There is however, a lot wrong with this book. Firstly, it is way too long. The plot doesn’t lend itself to the 342 pages that Herborn has stretched it to. There is definitely a sense that we are covering old ground and topics. The repetition of issues gives the book a frustrating pace.

Secondly, I found it really hard to accept that teenagers of 18 or 19 would be so au fait with bands such as the Ramones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springstein and Iggy Pop. What is even harder to swallow is that this age group would listen exclusively to these artists as a preference over anything currently on the charts. Mandy enjoys vinyl albums and spends a lot of spare time hunting out new records and listening to them on her turn table. (Ed Note: this is the Newtown crowd, the music tastes are very possible even for this age.)

While the author is adept at referring to popular culture – Judge Judy, Katy Perry, New Idea, True Blood – the language the characters use doesn’t ring true somehow. Does Generation Y really use terms such as “that’s swell”, “gentlemanly” or “my darling?” This flaw in the character’s authenticity really lets the book down.

By far the greatest problem though, would have to be the treatment of the issue of domestic violence and victims of that violence. The reason that Tim and Mandy experience problems in their fledgling relationship is not conceivable. The way Mandy reacts to hearing Tim’s back story is preposterous. Anyone would think he had confessed to being a puppy murderer by the way he is initially treated. I really grappled with this aspect of the story and found myself shaking my head at Mandy’s reaction and Tim’s resulting withdrawal as if he needed to skulk off to hide his shame.

Surprisingly, the author is a lawyer. As writers we tend to write about what we know or at least put in some lengthy research hours to be able to create and understand a certain sub-culture or social sphere. Perhaps Herborn’s writing would have benefited from him spending a lot more time with this age group and observing more closely their nuances of speech and their habits. Or maybe he should stick to what he hopefully does best and concentrate on his next case or client. I finished the book feeling like I’d been sitting on a train that 342 pages later, still hadn’t left the platform.

 

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Kernel Fiona was a criminal defence lawyer in a former life and now critiques books and writes short stories. She can’t resist spending large tracts of time in libraries, book shops and at writer’s festivals. Hopelessly in love with the written word, she told JK when applying for a writing position that “I would rather read then breathe” – I knew I had my next reviewer right then.