Granny Was a Buffer Girl Paperback – 1 Apr 2007
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Books can be set in Sheffield but fail to capture anything of the spirit or character of the city. Many of the books reviewed in this post are like that, and have sometimes been disappointing as a result. For many you could do a “find and replace” search on a word-processor and substitute ‘Sheffield’ for ‘Derby,’ ‘Darlington’ or even ‘Leeds,’ and nothing would be lost (Sunjeev Sahota’s, or Ben Cheetham’s books for example). Granny was a Buffer Girl, on the other hand, could only be set in Sheffield and the book could not be based anywhere else without a complete re-writing – there is a sense that the place shapes the characters and if you took the characters out of the place you would end up having to re-write the characters.
The title is a good one, iconic almost, but it doesn’t really tell you much about what to expect from the book. It is a coming-of age novel, in similar ways to Dear Nobody, aimed principally at teenagers. It is not a story about someone’s granny. Grandparents back-stories do feature in it, in so far as it is a story about family and how that shapes us, the meaning of love, and growing up. (As an aside on titles: the foreign language titles show an interesting dilemma: in Austria they went for something like “A Dove in Summer Light, ” in Sweden: “An Image of Danny” and in Finland: “Not a Prince, Not a Princess.”)
It is a proper read for any teenager who wants a rest from vampires, fantasy and dystopian books.
One of 36 Sheffield novels reviewed at:[...]
This felt like a very personal read for me. It's set in Sheffield, where I grew up, which isn't a place I've often seen represented in fiction. And when I have, it's tended to be a grim vision of strikes and/or post-industrial malaise. This book portrays the city as somewhere with a proud industrial heritage and sense of community, but just as importantly, a place where the town segues into the dramatic countryside of the Peak District and that has beautiful views from its seven hills.
It wasn't just the setting that got to me either. My Grandma, a Yorkshirewoman born and bred, died last Christmas, and while I don't think she'd been a buffer girl per se, she did work in the steel factories from the age of fourteen, so I wanted to read about the titular Granny to remind me of her.
From the title, I was sort of expecting a fairly gritty tale of life in industrial Sheffield in the early half of the twentieth century, but (almost to my relief) that wasn't really what I got. Instead, this is a collection of ten chapters that to all extents and purposes are individual short stories. Each of them gives a snapshot from the life of one of Jess, the nominal main character's, relatives, and each deals with the broad theme of love, be it romantic, familial, or platonic. This structure reminded me of a teenage version of one of my all time favorite novels, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and if it never quite reached those heights, there were some really touching moments.Read more ›