Joanne Horniman. About a Girl. Allen and Unwin, 2010. ISBN: 9781742371443.
Much like Holly, Anna has left Canberra looking for a new life. Unlike Holly, Anna understands that she is who she is, and that a change of scenery won’t change her or her problems, although it may change how she learns to live in her own skin, in her own head.
Anna has known since she was six years old that she “liked” girls, but it has taken until she is nineteen for her to fall in love. And with Flynn she is truly, desperately and all-pervasively in love, as only young, first love can be. Thinking about Flynn occupies Anna’s every waking moment.
In coming to know Flynn, and in negotiating what form their relationship might take, Anna comes also to know what she wants for herself, and from herself. It is not about coming to terms with her sexuality. She did that at age fifteen when she thought “I am this way for ever and ever”. Simply, she is becoming an adult, a woman who knows herself, and mostly understands.
Music is a theme throughout the book. Flynn is a musician, and Anna first sees her at a gig where Flynn calls herself Every Little Thing. Horniman’s prose is musical as well. I found About A Girl a lovely book to read, its language is full of the intensity of Anna’s attraction to Flynn, and beautifully reveals the hurts and confusions that each young woman slowly exposes to the other, and to us.
Then she revealed the portrait she’d done of me. I looked rather odd and quite beautiful, not at all like myself, which was fitting, as that was the way I’d felt ever since running into her that afternoon. Because being with Flynn did make me feel odd and beautiful.
Back in her Canberra childhood, Anna is a gifted, and therefore different, child. Her only real friend is Michael, not only clever but also wise beyond his years. Soon after they meet, at a camp for gifted kids, he says to her “Anyway, everyone’s a bit different in their own little way.” It is a small piece of comfort that Anna keeps with her, along with her friendship with Michael. Anna is doubly different, being not only intelligent but also knowing that “the world was not this way, and I was not the way of the world.”
Canberra is home for Anna and Michael. They roam the streets of Ainslie “territorial as magpies or cats… walking down the middle of streets beneath canopies of red leaves”. They climb Mount Ainslie at night (I wonder if they ever saw Hannah and Alister there?) so they could
sit and watch the constellations of lights marking the roads, the moving patterns of cars, and the softer, intimate glow of houses. There were huge floodlit areas marking the Australian War Memorial and Parliament House and Anzac Parade, all precisely and frighteningly lined up so there was an unimpeded view between them.
Anna’s time north, in Lismore, is a time for her to evaluate herself away from all the comfort and familiarity of home. The question of home is, though, always there in the background. Early on, when Anna tells Flynn she comes from Canberra, she can’t decide if Canberra still feels like home. Later, when she is vulnerable and alone, she thinks of going home, the idea lodging in her mind. As she has come to learn, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there/ They have to take you in.”
Shortlisted 2011: Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, Young adult fiction
Shortlisted 2011: Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year – Older Readers