Reading Back To My Childhood

Books are probably the truest, most consistent friends one can have. If you can think back to primary school, or even before that, and pick out the first book you really loved- the first author whose mind you fell in love with- then you should be grateful: you are among the privileged few in this world who have known the joy of reading.

I don't think you can ever outgrow a book- you always need to go back to it, read it from a different space in your life, and learn something from it. I wandered into the Wits Hospice shop in Braamfontein last month, to smell the old books and marvel at the many strange things people donate to charity.

I saw the pink spine of Tania Brink's Liefde laat jou Rice Krispies anders proe, and I was taken all the way back to Grade 9, when I first borrowed it from the school library. At the time, I was so glad to find a book that had a character who seemed to speak in my voice.

The story is about the outspoken, independent Marzanne, and the way she struggles to understand how girls her age are so completely sold on romance and the idea of "happy endings". According to Marzanne, her budding career as a journalist and her quest for self-reliance in a world where girls are taught to look for a man to "complete" them, are the most important preoccupations in life.

I was just as dramatic, even when I was 14 years old: I knew I wanted to be a writer, and boys seemed to be the biggest obstacle that could come into my path. I didn't have any time for the "muisneste" which teachers often accused girls of having when they were acting particularly giddy- as far as I was concerned, absent-minded and silly was not the way to become a top editor. How I came to the conclusion that boys were at the root of all evil, is a story for another day...

The story sees Marzanne's class stages a Shakespeare play- Romeo and Juliet, of course- and the male lead cast alongside Marzanne as "Juliet" is the obnoxious jock. The book ends with Marzanne having reconsidered her stance on romance and boys, and finding a way to have both without compromising on either.

I must admit, I liked Marzanne's character better before those last few chapters when she became soft... When I read it again this year, I still wasn't completely comfortable with the idea, but I see how growing up might change a person's priorities.
It was refreshing to read what is technically a children's book all these years later, and still get something out of it.

I couldn't believe I had found this old book, and it reminded me of another book I had read all those years ago, called New Place, New Face by Sue Mongredien.
When I first started looking for the book, all I could remember was the name of the character, and the name of the series the book came from, "J-17".
I turned to my trusted companion, Google, and put in "J-17" in all its variations ( "J17, "j-17", etc.) until I found something other than some type of army plane in the results page. I found that J-17 was the name of a teen magazine that was published weekly in the UK from 1983 to 2004. They occasionally packaged books with the magazine, and somehow one of those books got all the way to South Africa, to Bargain Books, where my dad bought it (and a whole lot of other books) for me one year in primary school.

I remember that I was so fascinated about the book because the lead character, Bernadette, was leaving high school for university, and so seemed a lot more grown-up and interesting than little Grade 6/7 me.
The story is about how Bernadette leaves home for a new place, leaving behind all her friends and, unfortunately her sense of self. She changes her name ("Berni" is much cooler), dyes her hair, and behaves differently towards her friends and family from home. In the end, she realises that learning to get by in a new town does not have to be something she does completely on her own, and at the expense of her individuality.
I think this story came up again in my mind at this point in my life, because I myself am negotiating the strange space between childhood and the naivete that comes with that, and early adulthood and the challenges of identity that accompany it.

I wish I could actually get my hands on a copy of this book, but I donated mine to a school book drive a while back. Maybe it will magically appear on the shelves of the next charity shop I venture into?


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