My friend Geneviève gave me the book I’m reviewing today. This is fitting for two reasons. First of all, Gen went to school with the book’s author, India Desjardins, so points for celebrity-proximity. Secondly, she is one of the kind souls who, over the years, have helped me to navigate the vagaries of Québécois-French-as-it-is-actually-spoken (and written), as well as the cultural references that I inevitably miss by ignoring French radio, TV, and pop music. (Before y’all judge: it works both ways! Two solitudes!)
Le Journal d’Aurélie Laflamme is an eight-book series that has caused a furor of Twilight-esque proportions among preteen girls in Quebec, sparking a movie and a spate of reviewers gushing about its “authenticity” and “fresh humour”. Aurélie is a fourteen-year-old girl growing up with her widowed mother in what I presume to be Montreal (they mention the Biodome). In the first volume, titled Extraterrestre…ou presque!, she writes about her boy-crazy best friend Kat, her crush on a dude she meets in an arcade, her suspicion that her mom is dating her principal, her longing for a pet kitten, her anxiety over the fact that the only person she’s kissed is a poster of Daniel Radcliffe – all pretty standard preteen fare. (Since the whole series seems to be tinged with a gentle bubblegum pink, I’m mildly curious as to whether by Book 8, Aurélie is doing drugs and having sex, as a 17-year-old on the verge of entering Cegep.)
I think the “authenticity” of the books stems mainly from the fact that they are written in the form of a diary, in modern Québécois vernacular. In fact, reading this book was a bit of an exercise in cultural anthropology – and orthography. I had not realized, for example, that “triper” was spelt and conjugated like any “er” verb (“je tripe sur lui, tu tripes sur moi”) or that “frencher” was the widely accepted term for kissing between people who like each other that way. (Whether there must be tongues involved was something I wasn’t able to discern from the text.) I also found out that separating words into syllables for emphasis (“Elle va ca-po-ter”) or drawing them out (“C’est vraiiiiiiiiiiiment cool!”) is typical teen-speak, and not something that is idiosyncratic to people who write on my Facebook wall.
As for the humour, well… I’m reluctant to make any pronouncements, since there is always an awkward cultural barrier separating French and English wit, no matter what your level of fluency. But some of Aurélie’s exaggerations and neuroses did make me break into a cynical Anglo smirk. Here’s an example:
Kat: Tu sais qui est la nouvelle idole de ma soeur?
Moi: Euh… Avril Lavigne?
Kat: Non, toi.
Moi: Moi? Me semble qu’Avril Lavigne est quand même plus cool! Surtout sa chanson Na na na Skater boy, minimiminimini, he wanna nwot an oeuf fow lolala!
Kat: Au, il faut vraiment que tu travailles ton anglais.
I’m generally wary of journal-form novels, since I figure they are ripping off the sublime Adrian Mole, or even Bridget Jones. I can safely say that Aurélie’s brand of self-deprecating humour doesn’t approach that of either of these diarists. But for 11-year-olds, or those looking for innocuous feel-good fare, or to practise their French idioms, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one.
Reading Age: 10-14, or 30-ish if you happen to be a clueless Anglo seeking a glimpse into the life of Québécois youth.
This post is dedicated to Gen who, sadly for us, moved to Calgary last week. On va teeeeeellement s’ennuyer de toi!!! xxxx