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The International Writers Magazine: Review

Out of My Depth by Helen Bailey
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books 2008

Jess Armstrong

How far can you get a piece of melted cheese to stretch without breaking it? One of the many concepts Electra Brown teases us with as she innocently causes minor chaos between her recently separated parents.

Just like the Stuffed Crust Pepperoni Feast Electra tucks into when the book begins, Out of My Depth is loaded with all the tasty ingredients to wet a fourteen year old girl’s appetite. Sneer at Tits Out, Electra’s rival in her quest for the Spanish Lurve God; Laugh out loud with her two best friends Sorrel and Lucy as they discuss the merits of the sacred Snogability Scale; decide for yourself whether a score of 4.1 deserves to drop to a 3.8 if the snogee in question loses his summer tan and gets kicked out of the school football team; and cringe as Electra confesses that her flavoursome daydreams turn sour with the intrusion of Freak Boy, a definite snogability scorer of 1.1.

Electra addresses all the vital pubescent matters from how you can get your face to look longer and slimmer with the aid of dangly earrings, hinting like mad to both parties in the parenting tree that your younger brother, The Little Runt, is constantly hogging the computer and a laptop would be a necessary homework need, to why on earth one of Tits Out’s chicken fillets was found under your bed after the accidental, vodka induced party you threw whilst your mum was away with The Grease Monkey ‘having relations’ (as your dad would say). It really is a wonder that this bothered fourteen year old has time to be concocting the careful plan of getting the parentals back together.

This light hearted spin on how to deal with a life changer is a refreshing reminder that comedy can be created in the most frustrating of youthful trials. Despite the slapstick taking centre stage, Electra’s wit and intellect is also a good endorphin stimulator, even if her mind seems to range beyond the knowledge and intellect of perhaps your average schoolgirl. You will both sympathise and despise her as she demonstrates greed and generosity simultaneously, a common and loveable factor in a girl that just wants to grow up. The fact that Electra is a self-confessed, shallow wannabe amongst her peers only provides good entertainment. Her attempts to impress the Spanish Lurve God and widen the berth between her and Freak Boy are loveable traits within the tale, although they do make us question the values within teen culture. Perhaps it is just a mark on the levels of insincerity we can succumb to, but the only puzzle within the story is why her high school opponent and hub of girly gossip, Tit’s Out, winds up giving her a birthday present. Come on Electra, friend or foe?

Helen Bailey has written a forgivably sarcastic tale for everyone that has ever had to go to school with a challenged bra size or learn exactly how to get along with parents at war. Following on from her introduction of Electra in Life at The Shallow End, Out of My Depth gears up fans of the episodic Burkes School tales for Bailey’s third instalment to the series, Swimming Against the Tide, due for release in February 2009.

The stroppy teen’s banter can become a bit of a nerve tapper, but this does emphasise her triumphs when her good intentions finally surface. Electra stays sharp despite her one track attitude, and any girl that uses the phrase ‘mammaries’ to describe her mother’s breasts or informs you that bald eagles mate for life is surely worth a chance.

© Jess Armstrong October 2008

Jess is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

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