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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars


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I really enjoyed this novel - a bit of light reading but one which really evokes the memories of being a teenager back in the 70s. School, friendships, a future career, family problems are all part of the life of the main character, Amanda Baker. A rebellious 15 year old, who with her friends delights in breaking rules and organising pranks, Amanda can see the pettiness of school life...
(spoiler alert) The author's epigraph: "The Hate had started", is taken from George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'. We learn that Amanda is studying Orwell, and Levene very loosely structures her novel around that work. Amanda is a latter-day Winston Smith, making a stand against authority - there's even a friend and co-conspirator, Julia - but will medicine and drugs bring her into line?
Very enjoyable but doesn't really seem to go anywhere, so more of a *3.5.
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I have read this author’s previous two novels and enjoyed both of them. This one is something a bit different. Its heroine – almost an anti-heroine – is Amanda Baker. At the start of the book she is fourteen and goes around with three other girls called Amanda – the Four Mandies. Baker, as she is mainly referred to, is a thorn in the side of her father and step mother and as well as her school teachers. I think the author captures extremely well the way schoolgirls in the nineteen seventies interacted.

Baker’s mother left the family when Baker was three to ‘find herself’ and still sends appropriate and inappropriate gifts to her daughter including, amongst others, a subscription to ‘Spare Rib’. Baker struggles to fit in at school but somehow in spite of her best efforts she always seems to be in trouble and on the verge of expulsion. He father despairs of her and spends all his time sending for brochures for schools which might turn her into the sort of daughter he wants her to be.

I enjoyed reading this book and thought the characters were believable and likeable. I thought the way the friendship between the four girls waxed and waned was convincing. I also liked Pam (Spam) – Baker’s stepmother with her sherry bottle under the sink which she had no problems sharing with Baker herself at times. This book is well written and presents an interesting picture of the life of schoolgirls in the nineteen seventies. There is plenty of humour and some marvellous one-liners which made me look at certain things in life in a different way.

If you like books which fit into several genres but are also in a genre all of their own then you may enjoy Louise Levene’s writing. I received a free copy of this book for review.
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on 7 October 2014
Ok
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on 26 February 2014
The ethos for private schools for girls in the 1970s (though not confined to that dire decade) was intended to quell adolescent anarchy - or as headmistresses preferred to claim, prepare young women for a fulfilled life (undefined). Louise Levene's fire-cracker of a book takes the side of rebellious teenagers as they defy the rules and expectations of teachers and parents.
The four Mandies in the same form at Mildred Fawcett School - all named Amanda, to the irritation of teachers ticking them off individually - gang up against authority in uneasy alliances. But how long can youngsters hold out? Is it smarter to subvert the system by playing by the rules, as slightly older Julia does? Everyone has a weak spot, as those in control know full well.
Though this book is immensely diverting, a St.Trinians of the Seventies, its conclusion is unnerving. Growing up entails burning out, selling out, giving up. Read it with glee but without nostalgia.
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on 25 October 2014
Change the genders, and this could almost have been about me and my all-boys' Grammar. Most books and articles about "Growing Up in the 1970's" annoy me intensely as clichéd and inaccurate. This book is absolutely spot on. The cultural references are subtle, obscure even: smoking beagles, "cats like plain crisps" (a bizarre graffito of the period), "Ads and Admen" magazine, and "the bald one in Roxy Music" (Brian Eno?) hit the spot. Above all, it captures the claustrophobia and frustration of well-meaning but hopeless teachers with no idea how to motivate their charges, bored kids who don't see the point, an awful pedantic Geography teacher (my school had one even worse), stupid speech-days addressed by dopey posh people on a completely different wavelength, equally clueless child psychologists and the whole futile pettiness of it all. This book is uncomfortable reading but brilliant!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 February 2014
The four school friends, each called Amanda, throw out sharp lines and witty retorts like there's no tomorrow in this engaging nostalgia-fest from Louise Levene. Regulars to the detention room, the Four Mandies (as they are collectively known) are differentiated by their surnames: Baker, Stottie, Queenie and Bunty (short for Bunter-Byng).

The book is set in the 70s but, rest assured, whenever you went to school it will all come flooding back! There's not much plot to speak of but the main Amanda - Baker - has a sufficiently interesting home life to sweep the story along. This is tremendous fun and touching too. Write out 500 times: I did enjoy this book, I did enjoy this book, I did enjoy this book...
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on 14 February 2014
Louise Levene's third novel is a rare pleasure. Beautifully and touchingly written, funny and bittersweet. The author elucidates the dynamics of teenage friendship with particular sensitivity, and her heroine, Amanda, is a delight.
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on 26 March 2014
Achieves a mixture of comedy and pathos by inducing the reader to sympathise with an initially unattractive central character. Riveting.
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on 14 May 2014
Given Louise Levene’s well-known saucy wit, I was expecting to laugh and I did, revisiting my dirty days at a girls school. For a long time there is an almost static busyness as the girls lay out their personality claims and personal habits for the reader’s attention. The author makes it feel rather like you’re watching the cleverest girl in the class and wishing you knew her secrets. Gradually you feel that the secrets of wit lie in heartbreak, the burden of parents and teachers getting it wrong. So maybe it is one girl’s story diffracted into several stories. Under the smarts there is a lot of pain. I related to it as both a mother and a long-ago schoolgirl. I thought the 1984 references were strained, but many teenage girls would love this book and feel they were understood. The dialogue is wonderfully written, fast and funny.
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on 31 March 2014
I cannot think that this book will appeal to the majority of senior school girls who were at school during that decade. As a former grammar school girl educated in Surrey during the 1950's I found this book too "Blue Stocking " even for my own generation.
I had difficulty in keeping pace with the number of characters in the first three chapters. I eventually typed a list so that I was able to refer back to them.
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