This quirky but insightful book centres on Minerva, a 16-year-old singer and songwriter whose father left when she was two and whose greatest desire is to acquire a ukele on which to perform her songs. This rather eclectic mix sets the scene for the narrative whose protagonists – Minerva’s best friend Finnegan and future boyfriend Hayes Martinelli – decide that they need to earn money. Get Happy parties, set up to provide birthday fantasy parties for children, seems to offer the only opportunity and this results in a series of amusing set-pieces, in which Minerva, dressed in the tackiest of mermaid costumes, attempts to deal with the problems and preoccupations of her young partygoers. There is shrewd observation here and a hefty slice of snappy dialogue – key features of the narrative throughout.
Humour and a sharp eye for detail are not the only threads here, however. The principal theme of the book is Minerva’s discovery of who her father is when she intercepts a birthday present from him, one of many through the years and all of which her mother has withheld and how the stories fed to her by her caring but emotionally fragile mother have fabricated the truth about her father’s absence from her life. Minerva has to deal with her own emotional fragility-she confronts her father and challenges her mother’s right to have kept him from her. Nothing is resolved tidily and the story has a greater ring of truth for that.
An added bonus is that Minerva’s songs are available at the back of the book and in karaoke and download on the book’s website. This is a rich package dealing with the sort of problems with which its readers may well be only too familiar.