The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge (Clare Strahan, A&U)
Vanessa Partridge is a clever, talented and awkward teen facing her final year of high school in the midst of hormonal adolescence. She’s full of thoughts about kissing and sex and her brother’s handsome best friend, Darith, who’s spending the holidays at their family’s beach house. Everything is changing. Her body, her family and her priorities. It’s a period of discovery for Vanessa, who misses her mother and resents her father and his new, younger wife. But not every discovery is a good one, and it’s hard to stay true to herself when she isn’t even sure who she is yet. The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge is a book that speaks directly to the concerns of older teenage girls. It is a story that prioritises self-care and assertiveness over politeness and likeability, that bucks the historic trend of averting the gaze of teen readers away from female pleasure and instead encourages readers (girls and boys) to acknowledge the realities of female bodies. Strahan tackles questions of desire, consent, autonomy and authority head-on via her cast of intensely relatable characters. It is a book that I would have loved as a teen, and many teen readers will love it now. But, even more important, it is a book that may change lives at exactly the right moment. It is a book that says to young women (and men), that respect is not based on how you dress, consent is not a one-way street, and that women’s voices are important—and we should take care to listen.
Bec Kavanagh is a writer, reviewer and manager of the Stella Schools Program