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The International Writers Magazine: Young Fiction

Rich and Mad by William Nicholson
Publisher: Egmont Books (Due April 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1405247399
Barbara Mackie

“I’m not afraid of loving.  I’m just afraid of not being loved back.”.   So speaks Maddy Fisher, sweet seventeen and painfully aware of her virginity.  Warm hearted,  intelligent,  Maddy is looking for the ‘can’t eat, can’t sleep’ kind of love.   Maddy’s journey through the novel to find the right way to find love is humorously and engagingly told by Nicholson.  Maddy stakes her claim at the very start of the book: “I’ve decided to fall in love,” which is, of course, just what she does. 

We are in the finely drawn  ‘girl world’ of  Maddy and her two friends, the self-confessed ugly Cath (who declares her own face to be a form of contraception) and the beautiful and superior Grace, who turns out to be a false friend, causing Maddy massive heartache with her Machiavellian traps.   Maddy’s older sister Imo, ‘the beauty of the family’, completes the family picture along with their hard-working parents, whose own marriage hits the rocks but eventually reforms.

When two good looking boys, Joe and Leo Finnegan  (one decent,  the other a violent girlfriend beater) walk into Maddy’s parents’ shop, a passion for Joe begins and Maddy’s physical and emotional journey takes off.  As Maddy spreads her lemon curd on toast, she asks herself: “Am I allowed to be happy in this sick world of ours?  Or, here’s a tougher one: am I allowed to be unhappy?  I may not be starving to death in a brothel but I don’t have a boyfriend.”   As the action twists and turns, we are with Maddy every step of the way as she faces up to a myriad of emotional and moral quandries.  There is a minor problem.  The gorgeous Joe already has a doting girlfriend, Gemma, who appears dumb but turns out to have hidden depths.  Maddy signs up for the school play but when the Drama Teacher, Mr. Pico, a suspected paedophile is unfairly dismissed, rehearsals are sadly shelved.    

Rich, a deep thinker like Maddy, is also on a quest for the truth behind love.  Rich is the school laughing stock, as uncool as one can get, listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ on old vinyl and daring to speak his mind honestly and openly.  Playing go-between in the tangled web of love and intrigue of her friends, Maddy goes through a labyrinth of pain and rejection but happily ends up in love with Rich. 

The final chapters movingly and graphically detail their tender first love-making.  This is heady stuff and we are there, beside them, in that sleeping bag as they shiver and tremble in the bliss of first love!

An older and more interesting “Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging,”  “Rich and Mad”  dragged me back, screaming and laughing in recognition,  to the pain and torture of being a teenage girl.   Fresh, funny, sexy, edgy,  Nicholson inhabits the skin of a seventeen year old with extraordinary ease and this book should be a huge success with the older `young adults’ and move effortlessly onto celluloid.    Beautifully drawn and realised, Nicholson is unafraid to dodge tough, gritty issues of sexual violence, self-destruction and teenage depression.   A page-turner of the highest calibre, Nicholson has nailed the teen market.   A sure-fire hit.

© Barbara Jane Mackie Feb 2010
Portsmouth University (MA Creative Writing)

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