Not to go all Jerry Maguire, but this book had me at hello. Well, it actually had me at the chapter sample I was lucky enough to grab at YA Day in February, but either way I was hooked on the main character Natalie’s voice & characterisation and needed to know more. It also won the 2018 Text Prize, which is pretty darn cool.
Natalie’s at a time in her life where everything is changing. Her two best friends are in a relationship together (leaving her feeling a bit third-wheel-ish), she’s finished high school and is waiting to see what her future holds, and to top it all off she’s discovered her parents are separating. Nothing is going according to her plans… But then an unexpected romance comes along and makes things even more confusing.
I have never wanted to use #same or #mood more than I did when I was reading about Natalie’s inner thoughts – the social anxiety, the self-doubt, the overthinking. Nina Kenwood has written such a relatable character.
The novel sample I mentioned was of chapter four, which is where Natalie goes to a party where she doesn’t know many people. And there’s a section where she has to walk past two dudes to get into the house and she’s second guessing every minuscule thing. I was like, ‘Oh man, I have done this 100% at many social gatherings’.
“They glance at me as I open the gate and walk towards them but continue their conversation. Should I say hi? I should say hi. I imagine myself saying hello in my nervous, too-formal voice and I imagine them raising their eyebrows at each other and then mimicking me behind my back as I walk in. I won’t say anything. That’s safer. I should pretend to be on my phone. But it’s too late for that now. I’m right beside them… I pause at the steps and manoeuvre awkwardly around them. They don’t even look at me or stop their conversation as I brush past.” (pg. 31-32)
A big part of Natalie’s life is also her painful experience with cystic acne. It’s something that shaped the way she lived through her school years, shutting herself off from the outside world and keeping to herself because, “I felt like everywhere I went, I was being seen and noticed in a way I didn’t want to be seen and noticed.”
As well as Natalie, there are a whole cast of characters that are painted so vividly. There are her best friends, Lucy and Zach, who may seem perfect and in love on the outside but are also dealing with their own problems. Natalie’s love interest, Alex, who just so happens to be Zach’s older brother. Then there’s Natalie’s parents, Zach’s parents Mariella & Sal, Alex’s ex, Vanessa (who has such a brilliant and unexpected interaction with Natalie further in the book, which I won’t spoil but I loved it) and Owen, Alex’s mate. Some parts are quite small, but what I really enjoy is how Nina gets their personality across in clever ways. One that made me chuckle was how Natalie explained how Zach’s mum, Mariella, told you more than you ever wanted to know about anything, like:
“… the time she was caught shoplifting (‘I was twelve and my cousin said she’d distract the salesperson for me, but she didn’t, and that’s why we don’t go to their house at Easter to this day’) and the time she saw a ghost (‘An older woman with white hair, standing at the end of our bed, but I wasn’t scared because I knew her rage was towards men, so only Sal was in danger’).” (pg. 15)
And of course I have to give a big shout out to the romance between Natalie and Alex. It’s Natalie’s first time experiencing a relationship and all the highs, lows and tension that go along with it. The build-up to it is sweet and you’re cheering them on, but you’re also sympathising with Natalie and how nervous she is about starting something so new and confusing and how she’s trying to learn to be vulnerable with someone she likes. Alex is interesting too in how he appears confident and together, but he’s also housing insecurities. The best part, though, is that they give good banter. God I love me some banter, and I was very much entertained (a favourite part of mine was where they were chatting about what superheroes they’d be).
I wanted to mention the awesome cover illustration too by Giulia Rosa. And I really enjoyed the hints of what was to come via the chapter titles like ‘Chapter 6: A House Full of Gryffindors’ & ‘Chapter 13: A Night in Feelings Town’.
It Sounded Better In My Head is an amazing debut novel & I’m so excited to see what Nina writes next.