Even Weirder Than Before by Susie Taylor

Remember talking on the phone for hours while doing homework? Or waiting by the phone all day for a certain someone to call you, and hoping your parents (or worse, a sibling) don’t pick up the phone first? Remember renting movies at a video store and looking up numbers in the phone book? Swatches and Cabbage Patch Kids? Kate Bush and Sinead O’Connor?

Chances are, if you feel nostalgic about some of these things, you’ll enjoy reading this book. To make it even better, Susie Taylor has created a memorable character in Daisy Radcliffe. I almost felt like it was the eighties and nineties again as I read about Daisy being told by teachers at school that “boys sometimes can’t control their urges”, her awkward presence at house parties, her hours-long phone calls with her friend Wanda, and their secret trips into downtown Toronto. (“For the first time in my life, all my adolescent dancing practice comes in handy.”) The atmosphere of those days is in the details: the stretching of the telephone cord, the sighting of Sam the Record Man on the corner of Yonge and Dundas, and the clicking of the numbers changing on the stove clock.

An especially memorable scene takes place late at night after the girls miss the last bus home from the city and they take refuge in a cemetery until morning. (“It’s like the beginning of a horror film, two drunk sixteen-year-old girls alone in a cemetery.”) Daisy thinks about how they should have called someone, regardless of the consequences, but it’s too late now – there are no pay phones nearby. When they finally arrive home and Daisy’s mom calls out to her, she answers in her “brightest I-have-not-been-drinking-or-smoking-or-sleeping-in-a-cemetery voice”.

I love Daisy’s relationship with her mother. Although she’s often wrapped up in her own teenage concerns, she has sympathy for her mother who has just gone through a divorce. Sometimes Daisy feels responsible for keeping her mom company, but other times she just goes out, suggesting to her mother to call a friend. One especially lonely winter they spend together after having both broken up with their boyfriends.

The winter is a brutal one. Snow mounds in the yard, and ice paintings cover all the windows. Mum and I rush quickly home after work and school. We walk around the house padded in slippers and sweaters. We are gentle with each other, offering cups of tea and sitting in silence on Saturday nights watching Masterpiece Theatre. We get used to being alone together and remember the pleasure of small comforts – tea, toast, and lying warm in bed listening to the cold wind howl. When the weather starts to get warmer, it is like we are emerging from hibernation, both of us sleepily coming out of our shared den.

Favourite lines:

Ice cream makes perfectly normal-looking people behave like sociopaths.
(I know this is true in my family. Yours?)

The day they go to Wonderland, I decide I’m going to dye my hair black. I’m sick of my natural hair colour, mousey brown. I’ve wanted to do this for ages, but I always chicken out at the last minute when I remember that scene in ‘Anne of Green Gables’.
(I wonder how many people have had this same problem over the past 100 years?)

Further Reading:

Review at The Miramichi Reader: “In high school, we kept to our close friends and we lived our lives together and shared experiences in a manner that we might never do with anyone ever again. An ideal summer read it will leave any reader of any age with a smile on their face, nostalgic for a more innocent time in our lives.”

Article about Susie Taylor and her book in The Telegram: “I’d been thinking a lot of what it was like to grow up queer before that was socially accepted,” she said. “Homophobia was very socially accepted. You grew up without really knowing what gay and lesbian were. They were words that didn’t even exist in the dialogue. I think a lot of what the novel is based on is my memories of that time and that period, and thinking just about how much has changed, and having some nostalgia for that period of my life, but also thinking of how amazing it is anyone managed to come out under those circumstances and managed to discover themselves later on in life when we were so repressed back then.

An interview with Susie Taylor at All Lit Up:I wrote extensive diaries from the age of twelve until I was sixteen. The diaries chronicle the deeply unhappy time of when my parents split up, but also how the confusion of that time suddenly let me rebel against the rules and expectations, school, my parents and the church had placed around me. In these diaries, I implore my future adult self to remember how awful childhood is. My entries are wildly erratic; there is sadness, but also sometimes searing joy. Daisy is fictional, but her voice is the voice of those diaries: naïve, sometimes pretending to be naïve, and queer, even though she hasn’t figured that out yet.”

Thank you to Breakwater Books for sending me a copy of this book!

17 thoughts on “Even Weirder Than Before by Susie Taylor

  1. madamebibilophile says:

    This sounds funny and moving, without being sentimental.The UK price is eye-watering online so I assume that means its not published here yet – fingers crossed that changes!

  2. wadholloway says:

    When I was 13 I got invited to a girl’s place for dinner and my parents thought it would be fun to tease me. That is the last time I voluntarily told them anything (55 years now!). At 17 I would go do down to the corner call box and tie up my girlfriend’s parents’ phone for an hour a day. Never slept in a cemetery. If I was home a minute after midnight Dad would be out in the car looking for me.

    • Naomi says:

      It sounds like you had a good Dad! (Except for the teasing. My husband tends to go overboard with the teasing – I often have to cut him off.)

    • Naomi says:

      With teenagers around the house I often wish it was the way it used to be… (When they ask questions, though, I do like to be able to google the answer!)

  3. The Cue Card says:

    So is the story about her parents’ divorce and her repressed youth? I remember all those old-fashioned things you mention.

    • Naomi says:

      The story is about her navigating all the usual growing pains – friends, parents, school, jobs, sexuality… It feels very true-to-life.

  4. Andrew Blackman says:

    Hey, I remember some of those things! I never thought I’d be nostalgic for things like a phone book and Blockbuster Video, but I am. I suppose it’s the whole time, all the memories they trigger. Just missing being young and having more possible futures. Anyway, nice review! Just discovered your blog through Buried In Print and look forward to reading more of it.

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks, Andrew!
      My kids laugh at me whenever I reach for the phone book. And I still miss the movie store – I loved browsing the movies, looking for just the right one.
      Thanks for visitng!

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