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Jess had the perfect summer planned: She and Fred, lounging in the park, gazing into one another’s eyes and engaging in witty repartee. It was going to be so romantic. And then her maddening mum stepped in: She suddenly announced a two-week “road trip” to Cornwall to visit Jess’s dad, something Jess might have enjoyed, actually, were it not for the monstrously bad timing. Not only will this force Jess and Fred apart for two whole weeks, it will also leave the darling and handsome Fred in the clutches of Jess’s blindingly beautiful best friend, Flora—who, you might recall, expressed an interest in Fred not too long ago. As if all this weren’t enough, Jess’s mum seems to expect her to weep at the grave of every departed literary hero in Britain’s long history. It’s absolute torture. And little does Jess know, a huge surprise awaits her when she visits her dad at his home for the first time in years.
From the Hardcover edition.
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From the Hardcover edition.
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Girl, (Nearly) 16: Absolute Torture
By Sue Limb
Random HouseSue Limb
All right reserved.
Disaster! Jess tried to hide her horror. Her mum frowned. "What's wrong, sweetheart? It's what you've always wanted. A trip to see your Dad! I rang him about it last night and he can't wait to see you! And there'll be sun, sea, art and icecream! Plus lots of interesting places on the way down there. It's the holiday of a lifetime. For goodness' sake, Jess! What's the matter?"
Jess could not possibly, ever, tell. She would rather run through the supermarket stark naked and farting than reveal her secret to Mum. This sudden fabulous surprise holiday was going to ruin her life, big time. Jess's heart sank and sank and sank until it was right down on the carpet like a very ill pet.
But she must try and sound delighted. "Nothing's wrong! I've just got a bit of a headache. But hey, Mum! Thanks! It'll be fantastic! When do we leave?" She tried desperately to force a bit of enthusiasm into her voice, but it was hopeless -- like trying to cram her bum into size 10 jeans.
"We'll set off the day after tomorrow," said her mum, with the excited smile of a practised torturer. "Early. There won't be so much traffic then, and we can just potter gently down into the countryside. Oh, I can't wait! It's going to be marvellous!"
Mum's eyes glazed over and she stared out of the window with a look of faraway rapture, as if the angel of the Lord had just appeared over Tesco's. "Ruined abbeys!" she drooled. "Rare wild flowers! Bronze Age Burial Mounds!"
Jess sometimes thought her mum was slightly off her head. Maybe if her parents had stayed together it would have kept Mum sane. But then again, maybe not. Her dad was kind of crazy, too.
"Start packing!" said Mum. "You've only got twenty four hours!" And she rushed off upstairs, possibly to pack "Fabulous Fossils and Fascinating Cracks in the Ground" or "Sexy Sea Urchins of the South West."
Twenty-four hours! Jess had to think fast. She had just one day to put an end to this obscene talk of a holiday. Could she become dangerously ill in twenty-four hours? Could she discreetly vandalise the car so it would never, ever, start again? Could she, acting with utmost care of course, slightly burn the house down?
She had to see Fred. Dear Fred! He would know what to do. Perhaps they could elope. She had to text him now! Jess raced up to her bedroom but -- how cruel fate was - her mobile phone had disappeared. The floor of her room was covered with a kind of lasagne of clothes, CDs, books, and empty chocolate wrappers. Jess flung the debris around for a moment and then decided to cut her losses and just go round to Fred's house without texting him.
She just had to check her make-up, first. Jess headed for the kitchen where there was a small mirror above the sink, so you could stare into your own tortured eyes as you washed the dishes. Oh my God, her eyebrows were rubbish. They would have been rubbish even on an orang-utan.
"Have you seen my teeth?" came a sudden spooky voice behind her. But it wasn't a spectral presence. It was only Granny. Actually what she said was "Have you feen my teeth?" because when she lost her teeth she couldn't pronounce her "s"s. She called Jess "Jeff". This was slightly irritating. Jess wasn't completely opposed to the idea of a sex change, but if she did unexpectedly become a male person, she wanted to be called Brad, not Jeff.
"Have you looked under your pillow?" asked Jess. They went into Granny's room and found the teeth immediately.
"My goodness, you are brilliant at finding things, dear," said Granny. "You should work in airport security when you leave school."
Jess laughed. Granny's teeth were always either in a glass of water on the bedside table, or under the pillow.
Granny picked up her teeth and for a moment used them in a kind of ventriloquist act.
"Hello, Jeff!" she said in a squeaky voice she always used for the teeth. "What'f for fupper?" Granny made the teeth chomp together in a hungry kind of way.
This little cabaret had amused Jess quite a lot when she was younger, but now, quite frankly, it was beginning to lose its allure. Jess was desperate to escape and fly to the arms of Fabulous Fred. She laughed politely and backed off down the hallway towards the front door.
"Let's go and watch the news," said Granny, ramming her teeth back into her mouth with panache. "There's been an explosion in Poland, it's terrible. Hundreds feared dead." Granny was quite ghoulish in her addiction to catastrophe.
"I've got to go out, Granny," said Jess, looking at her watch in an important way. "I've got to say goodbye to my friends before I go on holiday."
"Ah! Our lovely trip! I'm so looking forward to it, dear, aren't you? We're going to end up in Cornwall, of course, and that's where Grandpa and I spent our honeymoon, you know."
Jess had heard this story approximately 99,999 times. Please don't say anything more about it, Granny, thought Jess desperately, or I might just have to bundle you away affectionately but briskly into the cupboard under the stairs.
"And," Granny went on excitedly, "I'm taking Grandpa's ashes so I can throw them into the sea!" Jess smiled through gritted teeth and reached behind her to open the front door.
"Lovely, Granny! Fabulous idea! Ashes, sea -- go for it! Kind of like, The Afterlife is a Scuba-Diving Holiday!" Granny laughed. "Now you must excuse me, Granny -- I really must go! Flora's waiting for me in the park!"
"Oh all right dear -- I'll keep you posted on the Polish explosion when you get back!" promised Granny. She trotted eagerly into the sitting room, heading for the TV.
Jess ran out of the house and sped down the road. It had been a lie about Flora waiting for her in the park. An excuse to get away. The person she really had to see was Fred. Please God, she prayed as she hurtled off towards the sacred house where the divine Fred Parsons lived. Save me, please, from this terrible holiday! Sprain my ankle! Sprain both my ankles! And please let Fred be in!
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Girl, (Nearly) 16: Absolute Torture by Sue Limb Excerpted by permission.
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Reading Group Guide
1. On page 54, Limb writes: "It would be so, so cool if Mum knew about Fred and approved and everything. It was just that Mum had often been kind of hard on men, and Jess hadn’t quite managed to pluck up her courage and mention the subject." What do you think about Jess’s decision to keep her romance with Fred from her mother? Do you think her mum is actually anti-men enough to disapprove of Jess and Fred’s relationship?
2. Much confusion arises from Fred’s vaguely worded text messages. Look at two of the messages he sends Jess during her vacation: he describes his coworkers as "ALL GIRLS. KIND OF LOW-CALORIE SUGABABES" (page 49) and sends the message "DISASTER. MANAGED TO DROPABIG DISH OF CREMECARAMELALL DOWN CHARLOTTE’S CLEAVAGE" (page 58). Do you think Fred is trying to incite Jess’s jealousy, or is the brevity of the text messaging format making things sound more scandalous than they really are?
3. During her vacation, Jess strongly suspects that her best friend, Flora, may be conspiring to spend time alone with Fred. Do you think Jess’s suspicion of her best friend is warranted? Do you think it says something about the state of their friendship, or does it have more to do with Jess’s personality?
4. On page 94, Jess asks her mother, "If you could date a writer, any writer, who would it be?"What would your answer to this question be, and why?
5. On page 100, after recalling an instance when she felt jealous of a woman who’d gotten Grandpa’s attention, Granny tells Jess, "Always remember, dear, the beach can be a dangerous place. What with everyone taking their clothes off and throwing caution to the winds." Do you agree with this assessment? Are some locations or situations more likely than others to make you feel jealous?
6. On page 118, Jess’s mom begins to confide in her daughter about what went wrong between her and Jess’s dad. She starts to cry, commenting that she believes Jess’s dad stopped feeling attracted to her, and Jess responds with a joke. On page 120, Limb writes of Jess’s mom’s reaction: "For a moment she looked a bit cross that her tragic moment had been railroaded into comedy."What do you think of this response? Are there some situations in which joking is inappropriate? Do you think Jess’s constant joking is a character flaw, or a desirable talent?
7. Jess’s family engages in a good deal of deception in this book: Jess’s mom avoids telling her about her father’s homosexuality, Jess hides her relationship with Fred from both parents, and Jess’s father tries to pass Phil off as a visiting friend. Do you think all these lies imply an inability to deal with the truth? Do you think Jess and her parents will be more open with each other in the future? If so, why?
8. When Jess is told of her father’s homosexuality, her reaction is "It’s brilliant! It’s so cool! Wait till I tell all my friends! They’ll be so jealous!"(page 162). Do you think this is a believable reaction for a modern teenager? Do you think it’s the reaction Jess’s parents were expecting?
9. On page 181, when Jess’s mum shows up at her dad’s house, Jess ponders, "Now, at the very moment when Jess had finally got together with Dad, and understood what he was all about, and was having the wildest, the most wonderful time, now her mum had to turn up. Hammering on the door like the vice squad or something. Ruining everything." But just a few moments later, on page 183, Limb writes, "Suddenly Jess felt a wave of tenderness for her mum. . . . She looked small and sad and real. And tired."What do you think Jess has realized about her mother that accounts for this change in the way she sees her mum? Which image do you think is more accurate?
10. On page 212, Jess confronts Fred about his flirtation with the bikinied blonde and soon makes things awkward between them. She chooses to make a joke out of the whole interaction, and Fred cheerfully plays along. What do you make of this method of conflict resolution? What are some other ways Jess might have handled the situation? Do you think the issue is resolved, or will Jess’s jealousy come up again?