Three Girls achieves an impressive feat – it portrays teenage girls who initially distrust and even dislike each other and ensures that the reader empathises with each girl rather than taking sides. We are rooting for them, wanting them to explore possibilities, risk being vulnerable and step into newer, truer friendships. Because she makes us care about the characters, Katie Clapham ensures we think hard about the issues that they are wrestling with. The three girls are children on the brink of adulthood, realising that they have choices to make, old habits to step out of, new identities to forge. This might sound weighty; it is deftly done. This is a very readable, utterly engaging young adult novel.
The opening of the story has the three girls of the title, Lena, Minnie and Alice, posing for school publicity photos. Each girl is part of a pre-assigned group – Lena with the runners, popular Minnie with the netball team, awkward Alice with the “academic achievers/Nerds United”. This is indicative of how each girl has found herself trapped in a role never quite chosen. The three are then randomly selected for pictures demonstrating friendships that are ‘the real deal. Genuine. Built to last’; they pose, smile and laugh raucously on command and the image created for the brochure is convincing. But everyone knows this is ‘fake’, they are ‘faux pals’; this friendship is utterly superficial. So now, as they go back to their ‘actual-by-choice’ friends, there is a niggling doubt about what friendship is. How much is image, how much is convenience? And how much is indeed actual choice?
The three narratives interweave as each girl tells their version of events. Often these events are small in themselves: a thoughtless conversation in a coffee shop, a French film that stirs a sudden desire to travel, an art lesson or a bit of cruel teasing. But each time, in the context of the story, the event matters. We do care! The short sections create a good pace and the girls’ voices are strong. Each section is clearly marked; the book could work well as an introduction to multiple narrators. Teenage readers benefit from seeing the same situations from different points of view and there is great satisfaction in watching all three girls gradually grow in confidence and begin to express their true selves.
This is an appealing book that will be picked up and read in KS3 classrooms or libraries; the title might mean girls are more inclined to choose it but this is a book for every teenager. Anyone might identify with Alice’s furtive (and very funny) attempts to run in secret until she can actually run; the liberating power of running is central to the story. All three girls end up as runners and they learn that running is not the isolated solo task that Lena thought at the start, but thrillingly supportive. It even managed to make running appeal to me – no easy job!
This is a book that could help teenagers confront some serious issues. In school, it could help with the pastoral support of pupils facing friendship issues, struggling with decisions or feeling trapped in circumstances (however successful). Discussing these struggles at one remove, about characters in a book and their fictional situations, can give a reassuring distance. Readers can then begin to apply the empowering insights for themselves.
Three Girls has so much to recommend it. The dialogue is sharp, entertaining and authentic. The characters are honest and self-aware. The resolution is heart-warming. Katie Clapham writes with a refreshing optimism of a world rich with possibility and potential; reading her book is an uplifting, joyous experience.
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