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Backlist Love: Diary of an (Un)teenager by Pete Johnson

Backlist Love-Diary of an (un)teenager

For my Backlist Love choice this month, I decided to delve deep into the Barrington Stoke bookshelves and pull out something that has been around for many years. Staying power can be an important quality, and the fact that some of Barrington Stoke’s very first titles are still in print and sell steadily year after year is pretty impressive. Diary of an (Un)teenager by Pete Johnson is one such title. It’s a brilliantly-observed comedy about becoming a teenager. It was first published over ten years ago and I think it’s just as funny now as it was then – every generation of teenager thinks that their particular generation is so different, but really, some things just never change…

The book is told from the point of view of Spencer, a fairly forthright young man on the brink of teenage-hood who likes things just as they are. He can’t understand why anyone would bother changing everything about themselves. But when his best friend starts taking an interest in girls and swaps their favourite game for skateboarding and ‘looking cool’, Spencer decides to take a stand – he will never become a teenager! And of course, hilarity ensues as Spencer observes his friend’s fashion-changing, girl-chasing, moody behaviour with disbelief, staunchly refusing to copy any of it:
“…I won’t have anything to do with designer clothes, or girls, or body piercing, or any of it… No, I shall let it all pass me by. Do you know what I’m going to be? An (Un)teenager.”

Pete Johnson gets the tone of this book exactly right. It’s light-hearted and slightly tongue-in-cheek, but it does a great job of getting right to the core of the issues around growing-up and the changing feelings and relationships. Pete has always been brilliant at writing from the point of view of teenagers – Spencer sounds like a proper teenager (albeit one who is rejecting the conventions of the generation…) and not a grown-up trying to emulate youth – but for this title he did particular research with a group of high school students about what they liked and didn’t like about being teenagers. It made me laugh out loud when I first read it, the incisiveness of some of Spencer’s comments are just so spot-on! It made me look back on my own teenage years with new eyes, and I’m sure teenagers nowadays will easily be able to relate to the things Spencer observes about the ridiculousness of ‘becoming a proper teenager.’

Spencer was so loved and the book was so in-demand, that he made a comeback in the much-anticipated sequel Return of the (Un)teenager. It is just as funny as the first book, if not moreso considering Spencer has to start to deal with the fact that, like it or not, he’s been exhibiting some startling signs of teenage-itis…

You can buy Diary of an (Un)teenager by Pete Johnson here, and buy the sequel Return of the (Un)teenager here.

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