When 16 year-old Aideen solves a problem for her high-achieving classmate Meabh Kowalska by pushing her down the stairs, at her request, so that she can have a rest from her hectic sporting life and have more time for her studies and her campaign to be class president, word gets around that Aideen is a problem-solver, and she finds herself doing all kinds of jobs, for which is the price is always a favour another time. These favours turn out to be useful, as she uses them to help with further jobs : Maebh’s access to the school office means that she can get back Orla’s confiscated phone before compromising photos are discovered, and Angela’s car gets over-protected Daniel to a party- but it all has to be confidential: she explains to her BFF Holly that she is involved in a ‘social enterprise’. Her long friendship with Holly becomes tricky, but she becomes closer to Maebh, and they do finally get together as a couple, which is not seen as an issue.
Aideen is hilariously inventive: her excuses to Ms Devlin, who is also her English teacher, for attempting to get out of sport include having bubonic plague, (‘My body is covered in bubons. Under my clothes, though, obviously.’) or an excess of yellow bile in her humours, but Ms Devlin handles all this with careful logic. Kavi Thakrar, for whom a short explanation is never adequate and whose help, as a tall and clever boy, is often useful, becomes the link through which students ask for their problems to be solved, and a friend. This is a very funny book; the banter is great fun and the situations tricky, but manageable with ingenuity.
Our problem-solving protagonist refuses to admit that she has her own problems until the end of the book – she is the child of a married man who occasionally turns up, much to her disgust, but to the delight of her Mum. Aideen is constantly anxious about her mum, who may lie about what she is doing, and sometimes disappears for a night and spends money intended for food on drink, so Aideen searches the house regularly for hidden bottles. Resorting to a food bank brings its own embarrassment when Aideen is seen, and, though she is evidently intelligent, her homework rarely appears unless she has been able to copy, though Maeve’s coaching helps. Her tough exterior gets her through, but it does crack, and, on the final page, Aideen is finally admitting to Ms Devlin that she needs help. The reader feels that Aideen, with some adult support, will be fine.
Ciara Smyth had previously written “The falling in love montage” about 17 year-old Saoirse, trying to forget all her troubles, which include a Mum with dementia, by kissing lots of girls, and that has been well received. This book, too, has a very Irish setting: the soap opera that Aideen and her Mum watch is Fair City (Dublin), they play camogie (a variant of hurling, which is only played by men, for women), and might try to get Gaisce Awards, rather like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, but the President’s challenge. It costs 65 euros to see a GP, which is interesting. There is some language – the f-word is used, and someone might be called a gobshite, but it’s shown as part of normal teenage life, and this is a funny and hugely enjoyable book.