Top critical review
'I suppose we're all looking for our very own yellow-brick road'.
on 26 February 2016
I remembered that when I read this, aged ten, I hadn't enjoyed it that much. In fact, I considered it to be my least favourite Cathy Cassidy book (as it happens, it isn't my least favourite. It's my second least favourite. My absolute least favourite is 'Driftwood'). So I decided to read it again, because I couldn't actually remember why I disliked it, or really, anything about the story, though I did recollect that there was an Elvis impersonator in there somewhere.
The story is about a girl named Jude Reilly, whose family is about as far from normal as it's possible to get. She lives with her granddad, and her grandma, whom Jude adores, although she gets a bit confused sometimes. Her mum has a serious drinking problem, and her Dad and his girlfriend are just a teensy bit obsessed with the Swingin' Sixties- Dad drives a pink Cadillac, lives in his satin catsuits, and sings rock 'n roll for a living.
Jude is trying hard to be a normal girl, but it's hard when she's chasing a trail of broken promises. Suddenly, life spins out of control, and Jude is forced to follow her mum's wake of destruction, picking up the pieces of her broken life. Can new friends, ice-cream sundaes, and a blond haired boy on rollerskates make Jude's life sweet again?
After re-reading this book, I found that I am actually in agreement with my ten year old self- this is definitely one of Cathy Cassidy's weakest books. I was struggling to come up with a synopsis, because not a lot happened.
I didn't really have a favourite character. I didn't have anything against Jude, or anything. She wasn't unrealistic or annoying or boring. She was just, there, I guess. She served her purpose, she narrated the story. But she was nothing special, nothing memorable. It's hardly surprising that I barely remembered the book- it's not one that particularly sticks in your mind.
Jude's mum wasn't exactly likeable, and the other characters were just a bit, well, bitty. They bobbed up here and there, but they weren't around enough for me to make a proper judgement on them.
In 'Sundae Girl', Cathy Cassidy did what Cathy Cassidy does best (aside from conjuring up fanciful romantic fantasies that, while sweet and cheerful to read about, are highly unrealistic) and that is cover some really important issues and depict them truthfully, yet simply.
So of course, a key one here was alcoholism, and I like the way Cathy demonstrates how it destroys lives and families, but also shows that it doesn't have to fully destroy a person. People can be helped. A dependence on alcohol can be overcome.
But the topic that I personally identified with the most was that of Alzheimer's, and how difficult and upsetting it can be. Obviously, Jude's grandma in the book suffers from Alzheimer's, and I think she is a very accurate portrayal. If you've never known someone with a memory condition, it can be hard to imagine how challenging life must be for that person, and the people around them, but this book really put it into perspective, and I admire that.
However, the book is let down by its lack of actual content. Because the story is SO focussed on those all-important social issues, it's like Cathy Cassidy sort of forgot to include a plot, and she seemingly failed to remember that a bit of character development never goes amiss. For instance, take Jude's so-called 'love interest', Kevin Carter (sometimes he's referred to as Kevin, other times, he's called Carter, and no real explanation is given as to why). It is never clarified what he sees in Jude. Jude provides no backstory regarding who he is, and how she came to know him- she just begins randomly talking to him on page 5, seemingly not acquainted with him at all, and yet is suddenly jealous when he announces that he finds another girl attractive.
Carter makes about three appearances in the book, and any attempts at developing his character and his relationship with Jude were half-hearted. He really wasn't at all necessary to the plot. It was as if Cathy Cassidy thought to herself, 'Well, I have to throw in some romance SOMEWHERE, so we'll make him do something romantic here, and he can visit her there and...' She clearly couldn't help herself, even though it would have been better if he hadn't been included at all. Another thing Cathy Cassidy can't resist is adding tragic backstories. She can't leave characters, especially antagonists alone. For example, class mean girl, Kristina Kowalski, can't just be a mean girl. No, Cathy just had to ensure she some sort of sad past, thereby justifying her malicious actions. Kristina's story was just randomly thrown in near the end of a chapter. Again- very unnecessary, and it just detracted from the main story.
But, on the plus side, Cathy Cassidy's age judgement wasn't so skewed this time. Jude is 13, and she acted pretty true to her age, which was good. Although I did laugh out loud when Kristina was described as a 'year eight siren'. The terms 'year eight' and 'siren' do not belong together.
I'd rate this book...
3 out of 10 stars.