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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year:

Miss Understanding: My Year in Agony
By Lara Fox
Published by Hodder Children’s Books
ISBN: 978-0-340-98882-4
Callum Graham review

Anya aka ‘Miss understanding’ has, during her parents break up, been forced away from her friendship group in Clifton and moved to the down market side of town. Starting a new life with her hippie mother Jocosta and six year old brother Marley, she feels frustrated by the responsibilities thrust upon her.

After beginning the academic year at a new school ‘The Adam Woodyatt Academy’, she finds that her only real communication with her new class mates is through her online agony column where she offers advice to her peers. As she writes it becomes apparent that it is not only students who are reading her blog and asking for advice. Her exposés of the lives behind classroom doors have unforeseen consequences for both her and her readers alike.

My Year in Agony is the first in a trilogy from the children’s publisher Hodder and is aimed at a younger teenage female audience. The narrative follows Anya’s life through the blogs she writes on her website ‘’, and the emails and text messages she sends and receives from friends. The book is saturated with pop culture references such as quips about Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty’s drug habits, Keira knightley’s weight issues and even a nod towards Louise Rennison the writer of, among many Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging. This although sometimes clever and amusing, does become a little irritating and unnecessary after a while. The dialogue is littered with plenty of abbreviated text speak which I’m sure some readers will understand but will have others, like myself, running to as Anya would say, ‘wiki’ (wikipedia) for translations.

Inevitably the premise of the narrative revolves around Anya spending too much time solving other people’s problems and not enough time sorting out her own life. However, through out the book I remained unconvinced that much of the advice she was offering was of any use. Most of it seemed to contain insults to the person seeking help and a reference or two back to her own tangled life, which although sometimes relevant undermined her wish to solve others problems. In spite of this there were a few knowledgeable gems thrown in here and there and My Year in Agony obviously has some good moral messages for any teenagers reading the book, especially those looking for some un-patronising moral guidance on sex, drinking and drugs. I was surprised by the relaxed and balanced attitude the book has towards smoking and drinking. It aims not to castigate these pastimes but rather portrays Anya as having a mature and responsible attitude towards them (even if her friends didn’t). However, this does become a little nanny-ish at times.

The complex nature of teenage relationships is well crafted in the narrative. An interesting mirror is created reflecting the similarities between the younger relationships of Anya and her friends and those of her parents and their partners. Also, through the book Lara Fox explores the notion of how little we actually know about our parent’s pasts when we are children. As Anya begins to ask questions about her parents broken marriage she realises that her mother and father are not just parent figures but also human beings too. This can also be seen with the teachers at Adam Woodyatt Academy who, as Anya finds out to her cost, are more than just emotionless figures who run the classes.

The book nicely compartmentalises the multi-faceted nature of teenage anxiety and the plot isn’t as obvious as I had first expected it to be. If you are a teenager and open to some relatively light hearted dilemmas, peppered with some home spun philosophy than this book is probably worth checking out. You might even want to keep your eye open for the rest of the trilogy.
© Callum Graham June 10th 2009
callum.graham at

The Master of Fallen Chairs By Henry Porter
Orchard Books; (Sep 2008)
ISBN13: 9781846166259: Paperback

Reviewed by Callum Graham
I was compelled by the quirkiness of the world that Henry Porter has created and the phenomenon of the magic house was highly inventive

Callum is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

childrens books reviews


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