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I wish I could go back in time and give this book to my teenage self.
At the age of 15, I was certain I’d never find anyone to fall in love with me. I felt as if Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling was a cruel joke because it gave me unrealistic swan-based expectations that would never realise.
I looked different from most of the girls around me. I spent so much time reading, in part because it was harder to see my pimpled and bespectacled face behind the cover of a book.
I was uncomfortable in my own skin and certain that no boy would ever want to get to know the emotionally wrought human encased within the epidermis.
But of course, I did find that man eventually and learned that, like anyone, I had a right to feel loved. I suspect though that the epiphany did not fully grasp me until I read It Sounded Better In My Head by Nina Kenwood. Just a girl in my 30s standing in front of a piece of young adult fiction asking it to tell me about self-acceptance.
It Sounded Better In My Head should be required reading for teenage females. It should be required reading for everyone.
If you know a young woman, drop whatever you’re doing and buy her this book. If you know anyone who has the power to put books on an educational syllabus, drop what you’re doing and make them read this book.
Then make them put it on the Year 9 syllabus. Its message of embracing one’s vulnerabilities, sharing them with others, growth and self-love is one more kids need to hear.
Protagonist, Natalie, is eighteen, smart but introverted. At 14 she had (what she describes as) life-destroying acne and, although it has largely cleared, save for some scarring, she considers herself unattractive and unlovable.
Her parents are about to divorce and her emotions are careening, like a joyrider-filled Commodore in the car park of a regional BWS.
Her friends, Zach and Lucy are the only people who know the real Natalie. Zach and Lucy have themselves become a couple, making Natalie realise even more starkly how very alone she is.
One day, while dissecting the impending divorce over Tim Tams at Zach’s house, Natalie gets to chatting with hot guy Owen Thomas and Zach’s older brother, Alex, who she has known for many years. Owen invites her to Benny’s party.
Natalie arrives at the party, is overwhelmed by all the people (and the fact that she has no idea who Benny actually is) and promptly hides in the bathroom. Alex finds her, advises her that it’s probably best to avoid crying at a party and lures her out.
Through a game of Never Have I Ever, a strange mechanism for redemption, Natalie finds herself part of the party. Seeing Alex interact with his ex-girlfriend, it begins to dawn on her that she might have feelings for him.
It becomes progressively clear that he feels the same way but Natalie cannot fathom that she might deserve to be liked by a kind, smart and cute guy like Alex. She self-sabotages and refuses to listen to the ways in which Alex earnestly tells her that, to him, she is wonderful and beautiful.
Things are further complicated by the constant reappearance of Alex’s very cool and gorgeous ex-girlfriend, and Zach’s anger at the coupling of his best friend and his older brother.
The book centres around Natalie’s deep insecurities, the challenges she faces in making herself vulnerable enough to be in a relationship, and the impacts self-loathing have on the person one projects to the world. Her road to self-acceptance is fraught and, although she comes a long way in this book, Kenwood is also realistic about the fact that insecurities will always have a role to play in any relationship.
This book is smart and fresh and unique. Natalie is the kind of protagonist anyone would want to befriend, even if she might be the last to accept that reality. Her weaknesses are, of course, what makes her so very endearing.
It’s become somewhat clichéd these days to say that a book made you laugh and cry all at once. But this book actually did that to me, multiple times.
I genuinely laughed out loud. I wept with compassion for Natalie and because I felt that Kenwood had put in words exactly how I had felt as a teenager and sometimes still feel in my moments of weakness.
I loved It Sounded Better In My Head so much I read it in a day. I gorged on it like a teenager with a pizza after an encounter with those annoyingly effortlessly beautiful people that abound in high school. I had none of the regret that would usually follow.
I gave It Sounded Better In My Head five out of five houses full of Gryffindors.
It Sounded Better In My Head was published on 6 August 2019. Thank you to Text Publishing for gifting me an advanced readers’ copy in exchange for this review.