In 1999, we watched the film adaptation of Puberty Blues on VHS (taped off the telly?) in Year 7 Health. I wagged a lot that year, and my recall is atrocious in general, so all I remember of the film is girls cheating during an exam by having notes written on their legs, above the knee. And the theme song. My word, I can remember the theme song, and it is awful. Very high-pitched. “Pu-ber-ty blues / You and me / Against the world…” And it ended on a painfully high note: “Pu-ber-ty bluuuuuuuuues!”
Now, in 2012, a TV series of Puberty Blues has emerged. Given that the book itself is only 136 pages (the edition I read, anyhoo) this revamp no doubt includes new plotlines. I have no intention of watching it, but decided to check out the novel. It was first published in 1979. I wasn’t even born until the mid-’80s, have never lived near the coast, and was never in the cool gang, so I can’t vouch for the authenticity.
So what does it take to join the Greenhills Gang? Debbie and Sue smoke whenever possible, get into trouble at school, and are soon invited into the fold. First stop is to get a boyfriend. Once that’s done comes the inevitable: losing one’s virginity in the back of a panel van. This is where most copulation happens in the novel.
The life of a Greenhills girl is far from glamorous. Only the boys can surf – the girls must stay out of the water, fetching food and drinks for their blokes. On rainy days, and when the surf’s flat, the guys play table tennis, poker, smoke, and drink, while the girls desperately try to get their attention. One couple at a time goes into a specific room for Vaselined rooting that isn’t always successful. After all, a girl’s got to pay off the friendship ring her guy gave her.
Oh yeah: Debbie and Sue are only thirteen.
Debbie hasn’t even started menstruating yet. Sex isn’t working, though not from a lack of trying on Bruce’s behalf. Things are more successful with Garry, then Wayne. Wayne’s actually a real dear, a rare nice guy. That doesn’t guarantee him a happy ending in life, though. Check out the epilogue, and very few have a good life, or even still live. So many heroin deaths, heroin addictions, heroin habits… Mind you, hard drugs only come into play very late in the novel. Regular smoking in the beginning, then alcohol, marijuana, hash, and at the very end there’s heroin.
Hands down, Puberty Blues is a real corker. Writers, if you want a great example of “voice”, read this and weep – it’ll grab you from the get-go. It does exactly what books should: throw you into a world so different from your own, but one that always rings with truth. The setting, the culture, and the vernacular are so exquisitely detailed, and the characters instantly recognisable, that the whole package is not just believable, it’s REAL. And it’s funny, particularly Bruce Board, like when he greets Debbie’s dad with, “Getting heaps?” Also funny: talking to one’s girlfriend on the phone during The Benny Hill Show, but only during the ads. Those boys so wish they were Benny Hill, with all his chicks…
Now, in 2012, Australian men are yearning for the 1970s, thanks to Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War on TV. They miss the days when manscaping didn’t exist, sportsmen could piss up without anyone blinking an eyelid, and men in general were large and in charge. No doubt if they read Puberty Blues, they’d want to be surfies in the patriarchal Greenhills Gang.
Kind of makes you wonder why Debbie and Sue want to be with their boyfriends, in the gang, so desperately. Such is the glory of popularity, and the thin lines separating prude from cool from moll.
P.S. In a review of another novel, I explained that in Australia books are blurbed by celebrities, rather than reputable publications and bestselling novelists. This one has a quote from Kylie Minogue. Not so much praise as saying she was fascinated with it when she was thirteen.