Lemon: Hell is A Teenage Girl To the Nth Degree

Not to make too fine a point of it, but the title character of Cordelia Strube's Lemon made me want to get my tubes tied. At the very least, it killed any residual yearning for my teenage years.

It's not that Lemon is too brash, too angry or too horrid a character, it's that she's all too real. As Diablo Cody wrote in Jennifer's Body, "hell is a teenage girl." This has never been more true than here.

Although Lemon suffers at the hands of her peers, she is just as much the victim of a fraught grown-up world that she has little control over and Strube admittedly lays it on a bit thick to make this point. Lemon's first adopted mother tried to commit suicide for them both (and is now a Jesus freak), her second adopted mother, a former high school principal, has become agoraphobic after she was stabbed on school property. Lemon's adopted dad is a deadbeat and her best friend has serious body issues and is sleeping with any boy she can to attain that elusive thing called popularity.

To top it off, her biological mother is trying to re-establish contact with Lemon, she's being bullied by the thugs at her high school, men hit on her shamelessly at her crap ice cream parlour job and finally, wait for it, she volunteers at the kids cancer ward at the hospital (there is no place where children are more dependent upon adults; their situation is a magnification of Lemon's physical and emotional suffering).

Lemon battles these opponents with her sizeable intelligence. She weaves in story lines from Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina and other classics to try to make sense of her world, though she mostly dismisses their lessons as misogynistic. She's also too aware of the injustices of the world - whether it be our oil grubbing, corporate greed or political turmoil. Her cynicism comes from a great awareness that is not yet tempered by judgment - the burden of youth, I suppose! Lemon rarely indulges in self-reflection, although she does admit when she meets her birth mother:
I think if she begged me to understand, I might be able to. If I could see the neediness in her that I've been living with for years. All I've ever wanted was someone to really care about me. I mean really care. Die for me. Animals die protecting their young.
Despite its tartness Lemon is a beautiful testament to unwavering belief and old-fashioned girl power *ahem* feminism; by the end of the book I had a longing for the idealistic, uncompromising values of my youth. However abrasive Lemon may be, she at least sticks to her guns and refuses to let others bring her down and I found this perfectly refreshing for YA fiction.

Much of YA now is porny and frothy (see: Twilight) or it's packaged as adult lit with precocious, worldly child geniuses. Lemon is a novel that teen girls can actually relate to.

Lemon/ Cordelia Strube / Coach House Books / Original PB, 2009


Jackie said...

Great review; this sounds like an intense book! I'm going to keep me eye out for it. I have a seven year old daughter and am dreading the teenage years, though it might help me help her get through that trying time...

Joanne ♦ The Book Zombie said...

Brilliant review! I've definitely got my eye on this one. I love the YA that has more serious issues and this sounds like it has everything in it.

B.Kienapple said...

Just a warning, Jackie, there's a rape scene in the book so I might wait a bit to share this with your daughter. ! I thought this scene a little gratuitous but that was my only real complaint about this book.


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