Skip to main content

Notes from the Teenage Underground

Review

Notes from the Teenage Underground

Seventeen-year-old movie buff Germaine Greer (aka Gem) might not have been named after a Shakespeare-loving feminist if both her parents had been around. Gem has never seen her father, Rolf, because he has been absent her whole life. But luckily, she's close enough with her mother Bev that they could be considered friends. Having never really been what she would label "popular," Gem feels even luckier to have two girls like Lo and Mira as her closest friends.

The narrator describes the three-girl plot this way: each girl is seeking something...one gets lucky, one ends up where she started, and the other gets lost. As in the past, they decide they need a theme for the year --- some way for them to do whatever they want and not have to apologize. The art and film fanatic that she is, Gem comes up with an idea involving Andy Warhol and his Factory of Superstars and planning an art Happening so Underground it'll blow everyone's minds.

1 word --- 3 syllables --- Underground --- Ug.

At first Lo and Mira can't grasp the artistic genius of her plan, offering their own suggestions of Art Terror and the likes. But finally they come around and decide to shoot a film called The F-Word and throw The New Year's Happening of all time --- The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. They'll be surrounded by art and possibility.

Gem is forced to ask Roger "Dodgy" Brick, one of her co-workers at Videocity, to let her borrow a video camera. If the dictionary had a word for someone you're attracted to and repelled by at the same time, it would have Dodgy's picture next to it --- 100% barcode guy. But she falls for him anyway, mostly because she wants to experience the same carnal knowledge that Lo and Mira claim to have known.

Gem's great art gurus say that the way art mirrors life, it doesn't need a point. Bev says that life is not about the end...it's about the journey. Others say to devote yourself to something impossible, to give it your whole self and everything will turn out just fine. Gem thinks she sees all that and more, wanting her film to show the powerful links between all the formidable women of history. The only problem is that Gem doesn't know how to do this. So when things with Lo and Mira and The Happening fall to pieces, she feels caught somewhere between damaged and anomaly.

"What was our story? Were we just beginning, or were we experimental? Who was directing us?"

Mix these questions together with the I Ching and hexagrams, a dashboard Elvis, tongue piercings, Fu-Manchu mustaches, Monet's Waterlilies, Guatemalan worry dolls, The Curse of the Ugly, man teachers nicknamed "Boobs," party streaking and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND. Then grab some popcorn and enjoy this camera's-eye view of these teenagers up-close, all poise and control. At first. Keep the camera focused on them long enough, though, and their real selves emerge --- the uncertainty on their faces, their lives of quiet desperation, the unquenchable longing for something to Happen. That's where the good stuff is.

Reviewed by Jonathan Stephens on October 18, 2011

Notes from the Teenage Underground
by Simmone Howell

  • Publication Date: April 3, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
  • ISBN-10: 1582348359
  • ISBN-13: 9781582348353