REVIEW: Withering Tights by Louise Rennison
Dear Ms. Rennison,
Your Georgia Nicholson series is one of my go-to YA recommendations for a read that makes me chuckle. I’ve read maybe half of them, but each one was a treat that made me laugh out loud – and though I can appreciate a lot of humor in books – it’s rare to have me actually laughing due to the hilarity of the joke.
Withering Tights is your answer to finishing your Georgia Nicholson series – a spin-off involving her cousin, Tallulah. It nods to the Emily Bronte book, too, but it serves more as a humorous new start to a series that will most likely have several more books to come. It didn’t have the strength of the first Georgia book, but it provides a great dose of your signature writing style.
Tallulah is spending time away from home to attend a series of workshops at a college nestled in moors. Being away from home would stress most people out, but Tallulah comes in determined to succeed and potentially meet some cute boys. She’s placed with a host family that’s more than a little eccentric and has to make due with a bedroom decked out in squirrels.
Dother Hall makes a very strong favorable first impression on Tallulah. The Hall promises to be the perfect place for Tallulah and her wackiness. She quickly makes friends with several girls, catches the attention of a few boys (including one very bad one), and impresses everyone with her Irish Dancing…or something like Irish Dancing, but much less good.
A teacher from Withering Tights describes the heroine, Tallulah, best in this passage:
“Watching you is like watching someone whose pants are on fire. Strangely fascinating, keep it up.”
Tallulah’s crazy antics and speech patterns quickly capture the hearts of her friends. Whether it’s lamenting her knobbly knees or making unintentional jokes, Tallulah is the life of the party. Her boy-troubles (which are not helped by her cousin Georgia’s friendly parting advice) and antics make for a summer that she – and her classmates – will not forget any time soon.
There are two things that make your books recommendable to me, and your main character is always the first thing. Whether it’s Georgia or her cousin Talluluah, you make a main character that’s filled with humor and just enough ignorance to make for some hilarious situations. Tallulah is similar to her cousin Georgia, and the familiarity will put Georgia readers at ease, though it doesn’t provide anything new in terms of the rest of your work.
Unlike Georgia, Tallulah was more focused on her purpose than boys at Dother. Boys are present, but the romantic life of Tallulah is more of a side story than Georgia’s romantic life, which was the main focus of the Georgia Nicholson books that I read. That provided a new outlet for character growth, and I felt like Tallulah really gained a better sense of appearance and her own personality. She learns to use her humor to better herself and perform, even though she can’t necessarily act…or sing…or dance (aside from a hilarious faux-Irish jig, of course.)
The likability of Tallulah is what allows this story to be so humor-focused. Her friends and love interests are all well and good, but they are limited in scope and development due to the story’s focus. I don’t often read YA that doesn’t focus on characters, but your writing voice is what allows me to make an exception and enjoy books such as Withering Tights just as much. Your writing is primarily humor focused – situational humor, puns, ect – and it’s akin to listening to a story told by a very funny friend.
Humor, however, is specific from reader to reader, and that will ultimately determine whether or not someone will like Withering Tights. Your humor is basically what mine is. There are a lot of extremely amusing things said and word usages that would come from a teenager with a penchant for humor. It’s all over the top and lacking in serious flair, and you make growing with Tallulah an experience that is memorable in laughs if not depth.
Readers who find amusement in words like squirrel-y and humor like that in the following passage will connect to the book best, and this passage in particular shows your signature humor. The situation involves Tallulah and her friends doing a type of improvisational acting game, and Tallulah gets the bright idea to make herself an owl.
No one came near, although Flossie did offer me a mime cheesy wotsit (I think). Then she and Vaisey went back to pretend conversation and mime snack-eating. Eventually I started waving my pretend wing. Flossie came up, dabbing at the floor like I spilled my pretend drink. This was hopeless. I caught Vaisey’s eyes and raised my lower eyelids slowly. Surely, that would do it. It didn’t. So then I laid an egg. People can be very thick even when offered the best of mimes. Flossie said, “Are you having a poo?”
That kind of situation makes up a lot of Tallulah’s story. Events like making an entire ballet out of riding bicycles are commonplace, but they never seem to lose their humor or charm.
Reads will find some of the purposely over-the-top accents to be problematic in the beginning. Most of the characters do not have heavy accents, but there are one or two side characters that can be challenging to read, especially if you’re not familiar with the particular accent being portrayed. A glossary of British slang is provided in the back by Tallulah herself, but I didn’t feel the urge to look at it throughout the reading experience. Most of the slang (which is used frequently) is accessible via context clues, and the humor itself is only fully appreciated when added into the British-isms.
Returning readers will end up comparing this to your previous series, and the sad thing is that it is much of the same. Your books are extremely quick reads that have people laughing, but Withering Tights is a lot of the same that the Georgia Nicholson books were – just with newer characters, joke types, and settings. You do progress as a writer here in regards to how you develop those similar characters, settings, and the like. Your humor is still focused, but you make a point to make Tallulah’s unintentional comedy a part of the plot. In discovering that her skills in drama are best suited for comedy, there is more of a narrative purpose to all of the jokes and situations. You also bring more non-romantic interests into the mix. The Georgia Nicholson series is highly memorable, but Georgia’s humor was purely just voice, and I liked that Tallulah had that intent behind her.
That being said, I would have liked more distinction. Withering Tights is a solid follow-up with all things considered, but pulling away from more of the Georgia similarities would benefit the story and the reading experience.
I give this book a solid B-