Louise Rennison was the first author who made me literally cry with laughter. The sort of laughing that makes you snort and feel embarrassed when the person on the bus gives you a side glance.
But that sense of post-snorting shame was always short-lived, because Rennison’s novels taught you embrace the funny side of agonising awkwardness. Her heroine Georgia Nicholson, the central character of a series of books beginning with Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging, was a bright, witty 14-year-old endlessly excruciated by her out-of-touch parents, ill-timed spots and the unattainable “Sex God” Robbie.
So Rennison’s death at the age of 63 is hard to believe for a generation of women, now in their 20s, who cared even more about Georgia’s antics than Neighbours plot lines or school gossip. Her heroine felt like a funny friend accompanying us through the universal nightmares of being a teenage girl, without too much angst or darkness.
“I wonder if it is possible to have two boyfriends. I mean, times are changing, ” Georgia pondered in the third book, Knocked Out By My Nunga-Nungas. “Relationships are more complicated. In France men always have mistresses and wives and so on. Henri probably has two girlfriends. He would laugh if you told him you just had one. He would say, ‘C’est tres, tres tragique.’”
A savvy, wry mix of Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones, Georgia went into glorious detail about her feral cat and non-potty trained baby sister Libby who kept peeing in her room. She also went to a party dressed as an olive and dyed a strip of her hair bleach blonde which came off in her hand. Georgia even had her own jargon which my friends and I actually used in our everyday lives, much to the irritation of the boys at school. Instead of being cold, it was “nippy noodles”, breasts were “nunga-nungas”, and when you were naked, you were in your “nuddy-pants”.
As a teenage girl who was bored by sparkle-covered novels about sappy friendships and ponies and cute romance, Rennison’s novels were the absolute dream. Here was a sceptical teen who did, of course, desperately want to “snog” Sex God Robbie — but also found all the intrigue quite exhausting. “I already feel fed up with boys,” she noted, “and I haven’t had anything to do with them yet!”
Rennison achieved the rare feat of getting avid teen readers and reluctant teen readers to devour her writing. Girls at school who were bored by English lessons were totally engrossed in Georgia Nicholson’s life. Most Saturday mornings I would rush into the local bookshop with my equally obsessed friend, hoping that Rennison had published a new book in the week since we last checked. When a new novel did come out, we would spend our weekend wiping away tears and gleefully reading sentences aloud to each other.
Now I’m waiting for my eight-year-old cousin to reach adolescence so that I can introduce her to the intoxicating brilliance of Rennison’s novels. I hope she’ll read them and snort with laugher, unabashed, her whole bus journey home.