Tributes paid to ‘Queen of Teen’ Louise Rennison
The author Louise Rennison has died. Fans of her young adult novels say she ‘taught a generation of women to find the funny side of life’. Is laughter the most important lesson we can learn?
In the opening scenes of Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, Georgia Nicolson is mortified. She is going to a Halloween party dressed as a stuffed olive. She has made a papier mâché costume out of chicken wire and green crepe paper, pulled on some green tights, and dyed her face, hair and neck ‘a sort of pimento’.
She can’t get down the stairs. Then she is attacked by her cat, Angus. Then she can’t fit into her Dad’s Volvo. She’ll have to walk, he says — he’ll drive alongside, slowly, so that she is not wandering the streets by herself. Georgia is outraged. ‘What would I be doing walking the streets at night as a stuffed olive — gate-crashing cocktail parties?’
No boys talk to her at the party. ‘I might as well be dead,’ she writes in her diary the next day.
The incident is just one of many hilarious and cringe-worthy experiences in a series of ten books by the British author Louise Rennison. Georgia and her friends — ‘the Ace Gang’ — navigated the many thrills and humiliations of growing up with a unique humour and aplomb, and a language so distinctive it often required a glossary.
When the publisher HarperCollins confirmed Rennison’s death earlier this week, it was this laughing spirit that was remembered most fondly. ‘She was THE trail-blazer for teen comedy fiction,’ said the author Holly Smale. ‘The book world will be a sadder place without her.’
Laughter has several health benefits. It reduces stress, exercises muscles, and improves sleep. It is in many ways a work out.
But Rennison’s books were loved for more than just the jokes. She was a ‘role model’ for anyone who had been told that ‘girls aren’t funny,’ explained the writer Charlotte Runcie. And by ‘speaking directly to the particular agony of teenage girls’ Rennison assured her readers that they were not alone.
Seventeen years after the first book was published, countless adult women now ‘owe their teenage happiness and slightly weird jokes’ to an author who understood them better than anyone else.
The last laugh
Rennison will be sorely missed by the many people whose lives she touched. But can books about snogging boys and terrible fringes really change a person’s life? Her novels are entertaining and well-written, say some, but the content is largely trivial — they are not Jane Eyre or War and Peace. They are not masterpieces.
Do not underestimate the importance of laughter, argue others. In a world which is often very serious, it is vital that we remember to delight in the ridiculous. Laughter can put our problems into perspective, lift our mood, and help us to connect with the people around us. It is an incredibly powerful tool; books which help us to find it should be treasured.
- What is the funniest book you have ever read?
- Is laughter always the best medicine?
- List three books which have changed your life in some way, however small. Do you think any of them would be considered ‘masterpieces’? Does it matter?
- In the style of a teenage diary, write a short story about an embarrassing moment.
Some People Say...
“A day without laughter is a day wasted.”Charlie Chaplin
What do you think?
Q & A
- I’m not sure these books are for me.
- That’s okay — they have a very particular style that is not to everyone’s taste, and there are plenty of other funny books out there if you are looking for some light relief in your reading. The question still applies: is comedy somehow less valuable than tragedy? Remember, Shakespeare himself was a master of both.
- So are you giving me permission not to take things seriously?
- Not exactly. There are a great many things that deserve your serious attention — such as your studies — and you shouldn’t laugh at something or someone if you know it will hurt them. But at the same time, getting bogged down in too many serious thoughts can be unhealthy. As with so many things, it’s about finding the right balance.
- A pimento is a large, bright-red chilli pepper.
- Self-confidence and style.
- Georgia, and Louise Rennison herself, had nicknames for many different things. It was never cold, it was ‘nippy noodles’. Americans were from ‘Hamburger-a-gogo land’. An ‘arvie’ was an afternoon. False eyelashes were ‘boy entrancers’. Biology lessons were ‘blodge’. In the American editions, an extra glossary was required for British slang like ‘knickers’ and, of course, ‘snogging’.
- Health benefits
- Laughter has been proven to shut down the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, which can raise blood pressure, weaken the immune system, and increase the risk of depression. Meanwhile, it releases the chemical dopamine, which has the opposite effects.
- Originally pieces of work produced by those training to be ‘master craftsmen’. In order to receive the title, they had to be accepted into the ‘guild’ which controlled their chosen trade. The masterpiece was part of the application. Now, the term is used to describe an extremely skilful piece which is an artist’s best.