Pan Macmillan, 2008, Australia, 9780330424165
Courtney Marlow becomes the star of new reality TV Show Real Teens despite the fact that she doesn’t watch much reality TV. Her boyfriend, Liam, had encouraged her to audition. Is she following through just for him? And how will she cope with cameras in her face just months after Liam has been tragically killed in a car accident? Courtney only goes through with it by deciding she’s going to be a role model – a shining beacon of goodness amongst all the plastic teen-girl models.
Of course, this is going to be harder than she thought. People around her want a piece of the action – like second-best friend Katie, and the leopard print-clad stepmother she’s only just met – Lola. Courtney is expected to play up her grief and abandoned daughter status as she’s thrown into challenging situations – a TV camera in her face every step of the way.
Loathing Lola is a clever and hilarious young adult novel. It is incredibly satirical – not just of Australian TV culture, reality TV and the media, but of high school in general. There are caricatures of students, teachers and parents, that are all too familiar. The only thing that worried me here was at the beginning the perpetuation of one cultural stereotype – that fat equals evil, and slim equals normal. But then this is counteracted at the end by a too-thin pop star. In fact, no one really escapes criticism. The flawed yet likeable second-best-friend Katie, I found to be quite realistic, and almost annoyingly endearing. The narrative is handled well by having Courtney as a moral compass, but with enough flaws of her own to make her relatable. There are many hilarious lines, which are mostly insults.
I was impressed by the way the young author maintained tone, pace and tension throughout the book. There is plenty of foreshadowing to create a sense of unease that more catastrophe is going to unravel, but the prose is kept alight with the constant humorous descriptions and jokes. The tone is set at the very beginning where Kostakis somehow manages to make a funeral scene seem both tragic and funny, where an irrational girl, Chloe, tries to steal the spotlight. She is referred to as a waah-waah (someone who overacts at funerals to get attention). There is a whole heap of slang in this book but don’t let it deter older readers, it simply adds to the immersion in a genuine fictional world.
Overall, I was highly entertained by the book, and also liked its anti-sensationalist media/TV stance. It’s quite an apt novel to have as an artifact of our times, young Australia in the noughties, and it’s great to see a young voice putting it out there. It is satire, it’s not meant to be life-altering, but it does exactly what it should, and I look forward to a long fiction career for Kostakis, immersed in and reflecting wittily upon his immediate culture.
See also my Q+A with William Kostakis on Loathing Lola, writing, filmic inspiration, and Gen Y slang.