Monday, April 22, 2013

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison

After shelving her Georgia Nicolson series after the tenth and final book, Louise Rennison switched to writing about Georgia’s cousin, Tallulah Casey. Tallulah now stars in two books, Withering Tights and A Midsummer Tight’s Dream, and the third, The Taming of the Tights, comes out this August. I picked up Withering Tights when I was stuck at a coffee shop/book store for a few hours and ran out of things to read. Rennison’s book had just been released in paperback, and I bought it and read it in one sitting. I was hesitant for a while about beginning the new series; I grew up loving the Georgia Nicholson books and read them from my early teens into my early twenties. Rennison’s humor is so in tact in this new series, and Tallulah Casey is just as interesting and relatable a character that Georgia was. There was an early chapter in the first Georgia Nicholson book – Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging – that was literally a laugh-out-loud moment for me when I was twelve, and that moment has continued to be the touchstone that I always remember back to when another book has the same effect. There are several of those in Withering Tights, and nothing in Rennison’s writing style has changed from one series to another.

Withering Tights follows fourteen-year-old Tallulah to Performing Arts College, where she is going to spend the summer. Rennison has used references to Shakespeare frequently in her other books, especially where Georgia and her friends were part of the cast of Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet at school. She continues with the references in her new books, and branches out into those 19th century British books that are still read by teens in high school. For example, on one of Tallulah’s first visits to the school, the comparison between Wuthering Heights and Withering Tights is made explicit:

Then we rounded a corner and saw before us the ‘magnificent center of artistry,’ Dother Hall. I couldn’t help noticing its fine Edwardian front and the fact that its roof was on fire.
As we looked up at the flames and smoke a figure emerged onto the roof in between the high chimney pots. 
I said to Vaisey, “Bloody hell, it’s Mrs. Rochester. Bagsie I’m not Jane Eyre, I don’t want to get married to some bloke who shouts a lot.”
Vaisey said, “It can’t really be Ms. Rochester, can it?”
I said, “Well you say that, but it all adds up, doesn’t it? We’re in Yorkshire on some moors at a big house, the roof’s on fire, and someone, who may or may not have been banged up in the attic for years, has just come out onto the roof. I’m only stating the obvious. Who else could it be?” 
Then we noticed that “Mrs. Rochester” was wearing a mackintosh and carrying a fire extinguisher. And she started putting the fire out with foam. 
After the fire was out Mrs. Rochester disappeared amongst the chimneys.

Tallulah arrives in the tiny town that borders the school, and immediately begins comparing the reality of the school with the small informational brochure she examined at the beginning of the book. For example, she asks her friend Vaisey, “Where are the boys? Where is Martin and his tiny instrument?”, referring to the boy with the lute in the brochure. Another girl at the school explains to Tallulah, “Well, Dother Hall used to be mixed, but there was some sort of incident involving a game called ‘twenty-five in a duvet cover’ and since then boys are banned.” Rennison sets up a parallel all girls school for Tallulah, just as Georgia attended one in the other series. However, there are still male characters to be found, especially at Woolfe Academy on the other side of the woods.

Withering Tights follows Tallulah and her friends for the summer, and is so worth the read. If you’ve been missing Rennison’s writing, this new series is a great follow-up (especially for the references to Georgia [and Norway] that appear throughout!). 

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