May 19, 2011


by Joanne Horniman
194 pages, Allen & Unwin

Review by SF Winser

This is a Joanne Horniman book. If you don't know what that means, you should pick up one of her other works. 'Mahalia' is good bet. Or this one. It's all good.

'About a Girl' is just that. Anna, a young woman in a minor funk has moved away from home for the first time (we learn about why as the book progresses). Across a room one night she sees a girl playing guitar – Flynn – and is smitten. The book is about Anna and Flynn working out their relationship through its early stages. It's about a girl. Which one is up to the reader to decide.

Like the other books Horniman has written the prose here is gorgeous. Lyrical with a hint of sadness.

I have only one problem with this book: all the characters are physically beautiful and are described as such at least once each. Even minor characters. Anna, Flynn, Molly, Michael, Josh, Anna's mum, her dad, her step-mum. All striking. After a while I was kinda wailing at the pages... 'What about we plain people!? Or the complete uggos? Aren't we worthy of love, too? Are only beautiful people capable of inspiring adoration?'

Otherwise it's a very wispy book. Flighty. Like the character of Flynn (and to some extent, Anna) it's deep and contradictory, Quirky and gorgeous yet a touch distant. There's a very solid sense of emotional truth and compassion, but I still felt a little apart from it. This may be the subject matter – the tale of a budding female same-sex relationship between two older teenagers is a little removed from a thirty-something male. Though I sometimes think that Horniman's focus on language, her care to the point of poetry, is always going to be more alienating to readers such as myself whose tastes don't always respond to the overtly-literary.

But Horniman I like. She's a brilliant, assured writer who creates prose that sings and characters who breathe real air and feel real pain.

And there's an odd little bit that I must mention even though I'm not sure how much it adds to the review. In the later stages, Anna looks across to a piece of graffiti that's signed 'Shadow'. Now Shadow is the name of the graffiti artist in Cath Crowley's 'Graffiti Moon' which, like 'About a Girl', has been nominated for a Children's Book Council of Australia award. They're in the same Young Adult prize-category. I don't know if this is a bit of cool inter-textual playfulness on Horniman's part or an equally cool coincidence. Either way, I just had to point it out.


  1. On Saturday I managed to attend a YA conference at the State Library of Victoria where Cath Crowley was speaking. According to her, the reference to 'Graffiti Moon' in 'About a Girl' is, as far as she knows, just a cool coincidence.


  2. Nice review S.F.W. I'm all for a bit of inter-textual playfulness, but since both books came out in 2010 I'd have had to read Cath's book in ms and I don't know her. (Actually, if you go to a certain lane behind the Lismore shops the actual piece of graffiti exists - I'm that literal sometimes.)
    In this book I concentrated my itp to references to Okkervil River - I pinched a line from one of their songs, and an image from another. Even die-hard fans mightn't spot them!

  3. Then it's official from both sides: Just a cool coincidence. And, also, I read too much into things.