Other People’s Stories, And Eventually, Our Own: Remembering Louise Rennison
This story was originally published in the 4 March 2016 issue of The Reed College Quest.
This past Tuesday, Louise Rennison died. A prolific author — and former member of Women with Beards, an all-female feminist cabaret group — her most famous books were the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, the first of which was made into a 2008 film titled Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging.
Rennison was brilliant and bonkers, and Georgia, her most famous teenage girl protagonist, was too. She was feminist and very, very funny: she went to a costume party dressed as an olive, she tried to dye her hair with a blonde streak to impress a boy, and then when they finally got together, that streak of hair snapped off in his hand because she’d used straight-up bleach to, well, bleach it. We felt her failures because they were ours; we felt her triumphs because they were ours, too. Her quirks and stumbles made us feel like it was okay to have quirks and mishaps, too; if she could mess up and be alright, we reasoned, we might be too.
As a lonely fourteen-year-old in rural working-class Australia, Rennison reached out to me and took my hand when I needed it the most. Her weirdness and hilarity and confident two-finger salute to society’s expectations of her ended up being the template for everything I wanted in my life, hell, everything I wanted to be.
I’d never met a girl, fictional or real, like her before. Actually, before I read Rennison’s work, I didn’t know a girl like that could exist.
Rennison made me rethink what was possible, made me rethink what kind of a world I wanted to create for myself, what kind of a world I could create for myself. She made me push the boundaries of my socially-defined, teenage-girl selfhood. She made me rethink the kind of person — the kind of girl — I could be.
“Georgia was awkward, hilarious, rebellious, loving and boy-obsessed. When it came to boys she was mostly disastrous, going from one humiliating encounter to another, but every now and then she would triumph, giving us all hope,” wrote Charlotte Runcie in The Telegraph. Runcie, like me, is a long-time fan of Rennison’s work; she’d grown up alongside Georgia, getting crushes and reading about Georgia’s crushes, laughing and talking and sometimes fighting, but always making up with her friends. Georgia was the friend
I — and so many other teen girls around the world who fell in love with Rennison’s work like I did — had always wanted to have.
Georgia had showed me that I could be more than I thought I could, showed me that the world could be more than I thought it could be. There was a world outside my rural Australian existence, and in these pages, all the way from a foreign land, here was proof.
Whatever “it” was, she understood it and, to me — and so many other readers — it meant the world. And although the world might be a little less bright with Rennison gone, we still have her writing — we still have her work, we still have her words. “Rennison’s legacy is a generation of women who learned that the best way to deal with life is to find the funny side,” wrote Emily Drabble in The Guardian, and it’s true.
Rennison’s work made me realize that literature didn’t have to be wild fiction, where boys were vampires and protagonists were somehow talented at everything they attempted. I didn’t have to write anyone else’s story. I didn’t have to make anything up. Who I was was good enough: the girl — hell, the woman — I ended up being was a journey enough. I didn’t need a narrative arc, a dramatic tension. I had my own story — and I could tell it, just the way it was.
Rennison told her stories, like she always had — and in doing so, she made me feel like I could tell mine.