I have been told to read this book a few times, but had never really gotten around to it until the other week when the straw finally broke the camel’s back. I gave in after a friendly customer insisted it was great, and took it home from the store. A week later I finally started reading it. And I’m very glad I did – it is a very fun (and funny) read.
At sixteen Allie is the ultimate music aficionado: she has a huge vinyl record collection, an encyclopedic knowledge of music, and a long-standing job at Bob & Bob Records in Berkeley, California. As you may have sensed already, this is High Fidelity for teen girls, complete with the music snobbery (Allie regularly refuses to help customers locate their CD’s alphabetically – if they don’t know the alphabet, they have no business leaving home, let alone appearing in her store), strange but wonderful personalities, and exquisite humour (though not as exquisite as Nick Hornby’s – please please read his books if you haven’t already – High Fidelity, About a Boy and Long Way Down are all fantastic).
I particularly love Prinz’s characters: each one is detailed, real, and very odd. Allie is remarkably (and refreshingly) self-possessed and at home in her skin. Though she does worry about her various flaws, she doesn’t suffer from agonizing teen angst like so many female characters in YA fiction. The interaction between her and her loveable but befuddled mother is fantastic, as is her solid relationship with her outgoing fashion-junkie best friend, Kit. Every character is imbued with loveable quirks, and the setting is home to all these quirks. I’ve never been to Berkeley, but in Prinz’s hands in becomes a funky neighbourhood, full of off-the-wall incense sellers, drugged-out drag queens, friendly falafel sellers, and everyone in between. The crazy vibe of the place pulses through the novel. It is hip, urban, and dingy enough to be both edgy and comfortable.
What makes this summer of Allie’s life different is that a) she’s started a blog and a zine about vinyl records (titled “The Vinyl Princess”); and that b) her record store is robbed, and she knows the guy who did it. There are a few other source of drama, but the conflict in this novel is so mild that it really won’t trouble you. Not to give too much away, but the zine and blog fairly quickly take off, and the robbery leads to serious, but not too major soul-searching. She never breaks up with her best friend, disowns her mother, or contemplates leaving home/doing drugs/shagging the wrong guy/becoming a kleptomaniac/etc. etc. It doesn’t take too much intuition to sort out a) who the “baddy” is; b) which guy she’ll end up with; c) which guy her mom will end up with; and d) what she’ll do with her life after her boss’s big announcement. Some might be annoyed by this predictability, but I always find that in a well-written book, with great characters and scenes it doesn’t matter. I can sit back and enjoy the ride, even though I know exactly where it’s going – truth be told, I kind of enjoy the comfortable predictability.
While it’s not full of world-ending drama, this book is funny and smart, and made me: a) ashamed that I’ve ever downloaded music; b) want to listed to the albums and playlists she describes; c) envious of her obvious blog success; and d) wishing I could know either Allie or Yvonne Prinz a whole lot better (I suspect it doesn’t matter which – Prinz is the co-founder of a record store in San Francisco, and I think she’s writing what she knows and loves). It’s a perfect summer read, and I’m so glad I finally gave it a chance.