Margot and Me by Juno Dawson

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This is the first Juno Dawson book I’ve read and, really, where on earth have I been?! Margot and Me is by turns hilarious, heartbreaking, gripping, warm and wise.

Our narrator is 15-year-old Fliss. We meet her just as she and her mum, who is recovering from cancer, are making the temporary move from London to Wales. They’re staying with Fliss’s grandmother, Margot, who isn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy type. As sparks fly between the generations, Fliss decides that she hates her cold-hearted grandmother.

However, when Fliss stumbles across Margot’s teenage diary, kept during the Second World War, she gets an unexpected insight into the events that shaped the older woman, and unearths family secrets into the bargain:

OK, I have to look or I’ll explode with curiosity. Margot at sixteen! I can hardly imagine it: some people just come out of the womb aged forty and she’s one of them. I’ll read just a tiny bit.

From this point, the novel switches between the two narratives: Margot’s wartime experiences, which are vividly rendered, and Fliss’s (often belly laugh-inducing) responses, interspersed with her experiences getting to grips with life at a new school. The voices of both Margot and Fliss are incredibly authentic and both narratives are equally involving.

Dawson’s writing is both funny and insightful. Her portrayal of serious illness is refreshingly unsentimental and unflinching. Along with Fliss and Margot, there is an endearing cast of supporting characters and Dawson’s depiction of Fliss’s burgeoning friendships is both hilarious and moving.

Fliss’s narrative is set in the late nineties, when I myself was a teenager. This brought the added bonus of a blissful bubble of nostalgia, evoking memories of things I hadn’t thought of for years (Vanilla Kisses Impulse! Kappa Slappers (I confess, I was one!)! Party of Five! Pop out hairbrushes from the Body Shop! Fido Dido ring binders! Virgin Megastore! Freddie Prince Jr.! Helen Daniels and her tragic demise!).

Margot and Me was one of the books that I felt I had lived rather than read. I will issue a weepie warning, though, but there is plenty of wit and warmth to make up for it.

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