Paper Aeroplanes by Dawn O’Porter

Challenge 41 – “A book set in high school.”

Paper Aeroplanes

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
If I’m honest, I’m a bit in two minds about this book. Coming at it from one angle, a young adult fiction novel aimed as a fictional read for teenage girls, I’m not entirely convinced, but if it is considered as a character-centered novel, it begins to tick a lot more boxes. Stepping back from the book to view it as a whole, I’m still not sure whether there was a definitive plot, or what themes and ideas were supposed to flow through the novel. What I do know, or rather who I do know, however, is Renee and Flo. Two teenage girls who are presented in the novel in such a way that truly encapsulates what it means to be a teenage girl, from the problems in life right down to the thoughts and actions. I struggle to think of something else I have read with such realistic characters.

Beginning the novel I had real difficulty at becoming engaged. The alternating perspectives between Renee and Flo were short (some barely lasting a page), and whilst this in itself is not an issue, it meant there was little opportunity for an idea to be presented that sparked a connection. The two characters being in the same class, but operating in different friendship groups was also a challenge. It is integral to the story, but I felt that with such short entries it did not work. It meant that there were a large quantity of characters (and their associated problematic relationships) that needed to be introduced in such a small space of time, which rather bombarded the reader. Differentiating between the two accounts soon became problematic as well, as the fast turnover meant that it was difficult to recall which life problem was associated with which character. This was not helped by referring to characters as “best friend” rather than using their name in the initial chapters, as it was quite difficult to remember which of Sally, Gem and Carla was the best friend of the narrator.

It took me until approximately 40% of the way through to find a connection with the novel, and I think many a reader would have stopped trying before then. The chapters prior to this acted mainly as an introduction, which was rather too long for such an audience and provided little action or drama. Once common ground between Renee and Flo was established, the accounts became longer and ended on more of a cliffhanger than they had previously. This helped to spur on the pace of the novel and provided a good length with each character to help differentiate between the two. New life problems were introduced in a realistic fashion (randomly and clumped – as so often happens in reality), and the book began to delve into the initial issues each character had introduced at the start. However, even by the end of the book, I felt that many of these problems had been only superficially explored, which again raises the question behind the aim of the book.

The ending itself was unexpected, yet also expected in so many ways. Characters who had once simply been in the background began to become entangled with the protagonists, and deeper relationships were begun to be touched upon. Problems that had only been briefly mentioned or lightly touched upon were drawn together with the larger issues in a conclusion that tied up the loose ends (even if it meant a rather unrealistic recovery from anorexia). Throughout the novel I had found myself toying with the idea of whether it was intended as a plot-based storyline, or a character-focused book, but at the end I began to question whether O’Porter had decided herself. Particularly with the epilogue that, in contrast to a large part of the novel, presented itself more as the former than the latter.

So far the report seems pretty scathing, but it did make an enjoyable read (once you managed to get past the stodgy start.) Renee, Flo and Sally (the three main characters with which you have interaction) were such accurate representations of what it means to be a British teenager, and the overlapping, complex issues life throws at them are as frequent and upending as in the real world. The interactions and relationships between the three are perfectly en-captured as well, and the alternating narrator helps to portray the contrast between the way we act and the way we feel. For me, this is the best novel I have read at presenting the inner thoughts of both a tag-along wet drip (Flo) and an only-confident-on-the-outside class clown (Renee), and in that sense the novel is great at highlighting teenage life.

Compiling thoughts on the novel and coming to a concrete decision on how I feel towards it is rather hard. As a story of high school life for young teens (the way I believe it to have been marketed), it only superficially covers any topics, and the plot is a concept that is rather difficult to pin down. But as a novel of character exploration, it is a true success.

“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” probably needs to be implemented in this case – not because the cover is awful (I’m actually quite a fan), but for the reason that maybe it doesn’t to justice in representing what the novel is about. I think the way in which you approach the novel, and what you expect to get from it, determines your level of enjoyment at the end of the day – a phenomenon I’ve not really come across before. The way I approached it meant that I didn’t get the full enjoyment from it, but I am still in great awe of the finesse with which the characters were so accurately represented. I’d recommend it (particularly to teenage girls and those who’ve lived through high school as a teenager) but I would say as a word of warning – be careful of what your preconceptions anticipate from the novel.

Recommended for fans of:

  • Can You Sue Your Parents For Malpractice? by Paula Danziger
  • Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine
  • Kite Spirit by Sita Brahmachari
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