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I wanted to get in one non-tennis post!

Secrets at St Jude’s – Drama Girl: Carmen Reid Corgi Books 2010

As I read the first half of this book, the third in the series, I was planning a nastier review, but it improves and features quite a scene that the girls make at a party they’ve snuck out to after building tension between them. The story picks up the day after Halloween and the events of the previous book in the series (Jealous Girl) and features the four mostly far-from-poor teenage girls sharing a dorm at old-fashioned but healthful St Jude’s school: Gina, Amy, Niffy and Min.

A theme running throughout is attention. Californian Gina was so excited about her mother and friends from home coming to spend half term with her that she doesn’t understand why her old friends and her new friends can’t get on. As for herself, she feels she’s vying with her mother’s phone, a link to her work, for attention. (That would be the mother who thought taking three Californian girls to a Hebridean island in NOVEMBER for a holiday would be a marvellous idea, because she had fond memories of childhood holidays there.)

Meanwhile, Amy is going to stay with best friend Niffy. Niffy is looking forward to it, having stayed away from school because of her mother’s illness for the last half term, but Amy most unreasonably doesn’t want to spend the holiday watching Niffy do things she likes. In fact, Amy is rather more interested in Niffy’s older brother Finn, who has suddenly grown up to be good looking. Niffy is not impressed about this, with consequences for the rest of the term.

The title mostly refers to Amy, whose hopes of becoming an actress are given oxygen by securing the main part in a short school play written by Gina, but it also means sharing a stage with a stick-thin new girl. With relations between Amy and her oldest friend so strained, making her unhappy, she starts trying to control her food intake with disastrous results – Reid treats this strand honourably and seriously.

The fourth member of the dorm is Min, the swotty Asian girl from South Africa, and is given much the shorter shrift. Her dilemma for the book is trying to navigate through her first romance and kiss with a nice boy, despite a string of mini-disasters.

It struck me more than it does with older boarding school stories how very rich these girls are (except Niffy, who’s family is property rich and an ‘old family’). Reid tries to emphasise how relatable their problems are – my best friend doesn’t like me, how does my boyfriend win my mum over, how do I help a friend who seems to be developing an eating disorder? And there are glimpses that Gina, who is at root a sensible girl and the author’s favourite, because she’s a writer, realises how privileged they are. Written seven years ago, I would imagine that any teenage girl reading it now would think it as old-fashioned as most of the boarding school stories I review, as the use of technology is dated.

This book is also obsessed by toast.

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