Top positive review
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Pitch perfect 80s fun
on 4 November 2017
It’s 1987 and in the small New Jersey town of Wetbridge, Billy Marvin has just discovered that Wheel Of Fortune presenter Vanna White is nude in the latest issue of Playboy. Knowing that “no shopkeeper in America was going to sell Playboy to a fourteen-year-old boy”, he and his two friends - Alf (who looks like his namesake alien) and Clark (handsome and rugged and eternally embarrassed about his congenitally deformed hand) - hatch a plan to not only get a copy of the magazine but make some money on the side, selling colour photocopies to their schoolfriends. All Billy has to do is get the alarm code to Zelinsky’s typewriter shop (which has the magazine on sale) from Mary, the owner’s daughter.
I love the eighties, I love coming of age stories and this was an almost perfect read for me. Billy, an aspiring video game designer (the title of the novel is his game) but terrible student (he’s failing ‘rocks and streams’, much to his mum’s disgust), is a beautifully layered character, both cocky and often completely out of his depth. His relationship with his friends - and their own struggles - are well captured and, crucially, feel real. The adults all have a weight about them, none of them are dumb or needlessly obnoxious and the milieu of town and school life is well told. Equally good is Mary Zelinsky, the “fat girl” to be conned, who is sharp and funny and sad and deep, who Billy finds out to be charming and sweet and who, best of all, is a whiz at programming and manages to show him a thing or two.
The caper to get the magazine takes place, there’s fall-out, a revelation and a brilliantly conceived set piece at the forbidden fortress of a girls-only Catholic school (where Alf and Clark come into their own, in support of Billy) before an ending that is absolutely pitch perfect. Infused with 80s pop culture, this is very funny, often moving and occasionally melancholic and has a great sense of family and friendship. This is a truly wonderful novel (and so long as they’re okay with 80s references, I’d say it was a perfect YA read too) and I would very highly recommend it.