One time in grade six I tried to create my own Impulse body spray by mixing together apple juice, bubble bath and potpourri in a spritzer bottle. After a few days the scent was very ‘eau de forgotten fruit in a schoolbag’. But I loved the thrill of inventing something despite the mishaps, much like Lily Green, the main character in this wonderful middle grade novel from Lisa Siberry (and winner of the 2017 Ampersand Prize from Hardie Grant Egmont).
Twelve-year-old Lily is dealing with a lot. Her best friend, Violet, is spending less time with her and more energy on Zoe Von Hammer, Lily’s nemesis. Zoe is also determined to beat Lily in the school science competition for the third year in a row. And on top of all that, Lily’s family salon – the last reminder she has of her dad – is up for sale. The only silver lining is that Lily’s beauty inventions are finally succeeding thanks to some interesting ingredients from her neighbour’s garden. But are her inventions too good to be true?
One of the coolest things in this novel is seeing Lily’s creativity evolve and reading about the fun inventions she makes (even if they end up going haywire).
Lily has always wanted to be an inventor, just like her dad, who sadly passed away when she was six. Lily inherited his ideas notebook, which she uses to jot down all her own concoctions. But she’s been having trouble lately with her self-confidence and doesn’t think she can come up with anything good.
“I really love making things. Not things you can eat, but things you can use. Like the salt and seaweed body scrub I mixed up for Mother’s Day (that made the bathroom smell like fish). Or the honey and garlic pimple cream I gave Faye (which she fed to the cat). Secretly, I was hoping one day my inventions would be good enough to sell in the salon. But so far, the cat was my only fan.” (pg. 5)
That is until Lily starts using her neighbour, Rosa’s, garden as her own personal pantry. It’s not long before her new ‘special’ inventions take on lives of their own (Lily probably should have listened when Rosa called her plants “little monsters”!). But before chaos ensues, we’re treated to fantastical things like Glue Goo Shampoo, which styles your hair any way you want it, and Lip Switch, a lip balm that acts like a mood ring. Brilliant indeed!
Another element I enjoyed in this novel was how Lisa explored the way friendships can ebb and flow, particularly in the year before high school. Lily is feeling left out because Violet has new interests that don’t involve her, and it’s made even worse when Violet spends more time with Zoe. But Violet still clearly cares about Lily, and vice versa, as they’ve been besties since grade two. And you can see the struggle both girls face in trying to navigate this ‘new normal’ between them. Another dynamic is added when Lily is paired up for the science project with new student, Ivy, who just happens to be Rosa’s granddaughter. Lily grows to enjoy Ivy’s friendship but also feels a lot of guilt over not telling her about stealing from Rosa’s garden.
The most brilliant part of the story for me, however, was the ‘Green Girls’ aka Lily, her older sister, Faye, and their mum, Kitty. Lily feels like she’s the odd one out in the salon as she’s not as skilled as her mum and sister, but her family are going through struggles too. Faye is full of ideas and wants to update the salon to bring in more clients, but the decor hasn’t changed since Kitty’s husband died and she’s reluctant to alter anything. This is to the family’s detriment as business has been dropping off because of the shiny, new BeautyGlow parlours in town (run by none other than Zoe’s mum). And now Kitty is on the verge of selling the salon, which is attached to the family home.
The Green Girls have their differences but there’s also a lot of love between them. I particularly liked Kitty’s cute pep talk she gives her daughters (even though Lily & Faye find it kind of embarrassing at times):
“Hey, who are we?” she asked.
Faye and I stayed silent.
“Come on,” urged Mum. “Who are we?”
“We’re the Green Girls,” we mumbled in unison.
“And what do we do?”
“We make the world a beautiful place.”
“And how do we do that?” insisted Mum.
Faye didn’t say anything, but I knew the answer. It’s basically our family motto. “We put the you in be-you-tiful.”
“Exactly,” beamed Mum. “And as long as we have each other, we’ll keep doing that.” (pg. 36-37)
This novel is be-you-tiful, creative and heartwarming, and I really wish Rosa’s garden was real so I could go and have a sticky-beak at all the weird and wonderful plants (keeping a safe distance of course!). This was an awesome debut from Lisa and I’m excited to see what stories she invents next!