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  • Girl, (Nearly) 16: Absolute Torture
  • Written by Sue Limb
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  • Girl, (Nearly) 16: Absolute Torture
  • Written by Sue Limb
    Read by Katherine Kellgren
  • Format: Unabridged Audiobook Download | ISBN: 9780307207166
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Girl, (Nearly) 16: Absolute Torture

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Written by Sue LimbAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Sue Limb


List Price: $7.99


On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-307-43342-8
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books

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Read by Katherine Kellgren
On Sale: October 11, 2005
ISBN: 978-0-307-20716-6
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Just when things were going so well.

Jess had the perfect summer planned: She and Fred, lounging in the park, gazing into one another’s eyes and engaging in witty repartee. It was going to be so romantic. And then her maddening mum stepped in: She suddenly announced a two-week “road trip” to Cornwall to visit Jess’s dad, something Jess might have enjoyed, actually, were it not for the monstrously bad timing. Not only will this force Jess and Fred apart for two whole weeks, it will also leave the darling and handsome Fred in the clutches of Jess’s blindingly beautiful best friend, Flora—who, you might recall, expressed an interest in Fred not too long ago. As if all this weren’t enough, Jess’s mum seems to expect her to weep at the grave of every departed literary hero in Britain’s long history. It’s absolute torture. And little does Jess know, a huge surprise awaits her when she visits her dad at his home for the first time in years.

From the Hardcover edition.


Disaster! Jess tried to hide her horror. Her mum frowned. “What’s wrong, sweetheart? It’s what you’ve always wanted. A trip to see your Dad! I rang him about it last night and he can’t wait to see you! And there’ll be sun, sea, art and icecream! Plus lots of interesting places on the way down there. It’s the holiday of a lifetime. For goodness’ sake, Jess! What’s the matter?”

Jess could not possibly, ever, tell. She would rather run through the supermarket stark naked and farting than reveal her secret to Mum. This sudden fabulous surprise holiday was going to ruin her life, big time. Jess’s heart sank and sank and sank until it was right down on the carpet like a very ill pet.

But she must try and sound delighted. “Nothing’s wrong! I’ve just got a bit of a headache. But hey, Mum! Thanks! It’ll be fantastic! When do we leave?” She tried desperately to force a bit of enthusiasm into her voice, but it was hopeless — like trying to cram her bum into size 10 jeans.

“We’ll set off the day after tomorrow,” said her mum, with the excited smile of a practised torturer. “Early. There won’t be so much traffic then, and we can just potter gently down into the countryside. Oh, I can’t wait! It’s going to be marvellous!”

Mum’s eyes glazed over and she stared out of the window with a look of faraway rapture, as if the angel of the Lord had just appeared over Tesco’s. “Ruined abbeys!” she drooled. “Rare wild flowers! Bronze Age Burial Mounds!”

Jess sometimes thought her mum was slightly off her head. Maybe if her parents had stayed together it would have kept Mum sane. But then again, maybe not. Her dad was kind of crazy, too.

“Start packing!” said Mum. “You’ve only got twenty four hours!” And she rushed off upstairs, possibly to pack “Fabulous Fossils and Fascinating Cracks in the Ground” or “Sexy Sea Urchins of the South West.”

Twenty-four hours! Jess had to think fast. She had just one day to put an end to this obscene talk of a holiday. Could she become dangerously ill in twenty-four hours? Could she discreetly vandalise the car so it would never, ever, start again? Could she, acting with utmost care of course, slightly burn the house down?

She had to see Fred. Dear Fred! He would know what to do. Perhaps they could elope. She had to text him now! Jess raced up to her bedroom but — how cruel fate was - her mobile phone had disappeared. The floor of her room was covered with a kind of lasagne of clothes, CDs, books, and empty chocolate wrappers. Jess flung the debris around for a moment and then decided to cut her losses and just go round to Fred’s house without texting him.

She just had to check her make-up, first. Jess headed for the kitchen where there was a small mirror above the sink, so you could stare into your own tortured eyes as you washed the dishes. Oh my God, her eyebrows were rubbish. They would have been rubbish even on an orang-utan.

“Have you seen my teeth?” came a sudden spooky voice behind her. But it wasn’t a spectral presence. It was only Granny. Actually what she said was “Have you feen my teeth?” because when she lost her teeth she couldn’t pronounce her “s”s. She called Jess “Jeff”. This was slightly irritating. Jess wasn’t completely opposed to the idea of a sex change, but if she did unexpectedly become a male person, she wanted to be called Brad, not Jeff.

“Have you looked under your pillow?” asked Jess. They went into Granny’s room and found the teeth immediately.

“My goodness, you are brilliant at finding things, dear,” said Granny. “You should work in airport security when you leave school.”

Jess laughed. Granny’s teeth were always either in a glass of water on the bedside table, or under the pillow.

Granny picked up her teeth and for a moment used them in a kind of ventriloquist act.

“Hello, Jeff!” she said in a squeaky voice she always used for the teeth. “What’f for fupper?” Granny made the teeth chomp together in a hungry kind of way.

This little cabaret had amused Jess quite a lot when she was younger, but now, quite frankly, it was beginning to lose its allure. Jess was desperate to escape and fly to the arms of Fabulous Fred. She laughed politely and backed off down the hallway towards the front door.

“Let’s go and watch the news,” said Granny, ramming her teeth back into her mouth with panache. “There’s been an explosion in Poland, it’s terrible. Hundreds feared dead.” Granny was quite ghoulish in her addiction to catastrophe.

“I’ve got to go out, Granny,” said Jess, looking at her watch in an important way. “I’ve got to say goodbye to my friends before I go on holiday.”

“Ah! Our lovely trip! I’m so looking forward to it, dear, aren’t you? We’re going to end up in Cornwall, of course, and that’s where Grandpa and I spent our honeymoon, you know.”

Jess had heard this story approximately 99,999 times. Please don’t say anything more about it, Granny, thought Jess desperately, or I might just have to bundle you away affectionately but briskly into the cupboard under the stairs.

“And,” Granny went on excitedly, “I’m taking Grandpa’s ashes so I can throw them into the sea!” Jess smiled through gritted teeth and reached behind her to open the front door.

“Lovely, Granny! Fabulous idea! Ashes, sea — go for it! Kind of like, The Afterlife is a Scuba-Diving Holiday!” Granny laughed. “Now you must excuse me, Granny — I really must go! Flora’s waiting for me in the park!”

“Oh all right dear — I’ll keep you posted on the Polish explosion when you get back!” promised Granny. She trotted eagerly into the sitting room, heading for the TV.

Jess ran out of the house and sped down the road. It had been a lie about Flora waiting for her in the park. An excuse to get away. The person she really had to see was Fred. Please God, she prayed as she hurtled off towards the sacred house where the divine Fred Parsons lived. Save me, please, from this terrible holiday! Sprain my ankle! Sprain both my ankles! And please let Fred be in!

From the Hardcover edition.
Sue Limb|Author Q&A

About Sue Limb

Sue Limb - Girl, (Nearly) 16: Absolute Torture

Photo © Matt Bigwood

Sue Limb’s writing career started in London around 1980, with various assignments for magazines and newspapers, and her first radio work, Big and Little, which won a Sony Award for Best Children’s Programme.

Her children’s books include Big and Little, China Lee, Me Jane, Big Trouble, and Mr Loopy and Mrs Snoopy. Come Back, Grandma is published by Random House UK and was shortlisted for the Smarties Prize. The author lives in England.

From the Hardcover edition.

Author Q&A

Q: Girl, 15, Charming but Insane and Girl, (Nearly) 16: Absolute Torture both chronicle the charmingly insane life of Jess Jordan, and you’ve written a third novel, Girl, (Going on) 17: Pants on Fire. Did you conceive of Jess’s story as a trilogy, or did you write one book and then find yourself eager to revisit the character?

I enjoyed the first book so much that I wanted to spend more time with Jess. I didn’t conceive of it as a trilogy–in fact, I’m writing a fourth book right now. I don’t think so far ahead. The books sort of evolve rather than being fully planned before I start. I could go back and spend time with Jess again and again. Knowing the characters well is a real advantage.

Q: In Girl, (Nearly) 16, Jess deals pretty heavily with jealousy. What do you think of Jess’s jealous behavior in this book? Is it typical first-love stuff, or totally over the top?

Jealousy is just one of those horrible emotions which we all suffer from, and we hate ourselves even as we’re feeling it. It feeds on being apart from your boyfriend and not knowing what he’s up to. It’s a kind of fantasy. I think jealousy is a biological phenomenon. You see it in the animal world all the time, with creatures competing for mates. And comedy evolves so easily from strong negative emotions that jealousy provides a rich vein of laughs.

Q: Jess and her family don’t necessarily lie to each other in this book–they do a little of that–but mostly, they seem to omit important information when talking to each other. Jess avoids telling her parents about Fred, and Jess’s parents avoid telling her the truth about why they split up. But when everything comes out at the end, it works out surprisingly well. Why do you think they misread each other so? It seems as if they’re all waiting for a terrible reaction that never quite comes.

British people are often more buttoned up or shy or reserved than our American cousins. We avoid embarrassment and we don’t feel easy with lavish displays of emotion. This is one reason we Brits are famous for our comedy–because uneasiness always creates amusing situations. If Jess and her family communicated freely and easily with one another, there would be no story. I always tell creative writing students, “Give your characters problems and create misunderstandings.” Without that there could be no comedy and no drama either.

Q: Jess seems dismayed early on to think that her mother is fairly anti-men, but when they’re on the road trip, she’s equally dismayed by her mother’s flirtations. Which do you think is scarier for Jess: the idea that her mother might remain alone, or that she may start dating again?

Any girl would feel sad to think that her mum might be alone for the rest of her life, and getting older. It would also make it harder for the girl to leave home eventually–seeing her mum as isolated and lonely and feeling responsible for her happiness. However, though she might want her mum to have a boyfriend again one day, Jess doesn’t actually want to watch the process! (It is gross to see your mum flirting. Or even worse, dancing!) Mums should always behave with decorum in public. I always do. (Apart from an isolated incident with a limbo dancer and a pint of fruit punch . . .) Otherwise, major embarrassment can result.

Q: Jess seems to truly believe at one point in this book that Fred and Flora might betray her by getting together while she’s away. Do you think Jess is completely out of her mind with jealousy here? Or is she picking up on something in Flora, a character who’s used to having things her way?

Jess is also remembering that Flora admitted quite recently that she had a crush on Fred. Also, Flora is really beautiful. I think girls with beautiful friends are always on edge when their boyfriends are in the company of the beauteous one. It’s a natural reaction, though very primitive (one might almost say biological).

Q: Jess reacts to the news of her dad’s homosexuality quite well–she’s excited and enthusiastic, not at all upset. Do you think her reaction stems from her fairly cheerful personality, or is it typical of her generation?

I hope this is the reaction most modern teenagers would produce, because homophobia is an ugly and negative phenomenon. Gay life and gay style are usually perceived as cool in the UK. I guess her parents were more on edge about her reaction, though.

Q: Granny is usually a fairly happy character, but she has a hard time letting go of Grandpa. Why do you think scattering his ashes is harder for her than she anticipated?

A: It’s the difficulty of letting go. The ashes are all she has left in the physical world of the man she spent her life loving. I suppose she found that his mortal remains meant more to her than she had anticipated.

Q: Several times in Girl, (Nearly) 16, Jess defuses emotional or awkward moments with comedy. Do you think she ever uses comedy as a defense, to keep people from getting too close?

Comedy is often used to keep people at arm’s length–even people one really loves. Americans are much less embarrassed about saying “I love you!” and hugging their loved ones in public. We Brits still sometimes find this a bit difficult, not to say tacky. Any kind of awkward emotion–embarrassment, anxiety, fear–can be turned into a joke by using irony. If you’re in tune with this approach, you can find it just as loving but more bracing, not quite so slushy and needy. Jess is afraid of sounding needy. (Possibly because she is!) It’s a great breakthrough for Jess and her mum when they finally share a hug and express their love for each other.

Q: During the scene where her mum comes to drop off her overnight bag, Jess seems to reach an understanding about her mother. Do you think Jess favors one parent over the other? Is Jess’s personality closer to her father’s or her mother’s?

Jess has grown up with her mother but still sees her in a different light when they are away from home. She sees her partly through other people’s eyes, perhaps for the first time. Because she’s a single parent, Jess’s mum has had to be strict with Jess. She has not felt free to relax and joke as much as Jess’s dad does. Jess’s dad, being a glamorous visitor rather than part of the furniture, can enjoy a more charismatic and less responsible role. I think Jess’s character is a mixture of the two, though the more immediate resemblance is to her witty and wisecracking dad. However, physically she looks a lot more like her mum: small and dark.

Q: When Jess and Fred are on the beach, he admits that he made up the Rosie character, and that he was trying to make Jess jealous. But later, he seems totally put off by her jealous rampage when she attacks him with the ice cream. Is Fred a hypocrite? Or did he not realize the depths of jealousy to which Jess would sink? Or was he just really, really hungry?

I think Fred often gives way to what seems the most entertaining impulse and sometimes doesn’t realize its implications. He is startled on the beach because she attacks him in public, I suppose. Fred’s not terribly good at “joined-up” emotional intelligence. Well, boys usually do develop more slowly than girls. At the beginning of the third book, Girl, (Going on) 17: Pants on Fire, Fred does something totally astonishing, entirely on impulse, without realizing the implications of his actions. He’s adorable, but he’s still got a lot of growing up to do!

Q: What’s next for Jess and her charmingly insane gang?

Buy Girl, (Going on) 17: Pants on Fire when it comes out and you’ll find out! All I can say is there are several agonizingly embarrassing episodes involving underwear, and Jess also gets into the worst trouble in school that she has ever endured. . . .

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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