I celebrated a little presumptuously a few months ago when I finished the Naughtiest Girl continuations by Anne Digby. I then remembered I also had The Diary of the Naughtiest Girl. By remembered I mean found the book behind the sofa. I borrowed it at some point before the lockdown in 2020, so it’s high time I read it so I can return it.
Several degrees of separation
A diary belonging to Elizabeth Allen could be quite interesting. Difficult to write, perhaps, making sure all her entries matched the events of the books whilst still adding something new and interesting for readers.
But that’s not what Jeanne Willis has done. Elizabeth Allen has been brought smack into the 2010s, and enough changes have been made that no painstaking timelines and detail-checking are required. The girls’ names are different, and I wonder who this book is aimed at. If it’s for fans of the OG* naughtiest girl then there’s a lot of work in trying to figure out who’s supposed to be who. If it’s for children who have never read the original books then… why bother?
So, in short, this Naughtiest Girl is not at all like the original one.
*original gangster, but means someone who’s old-school. I threw it in to reflect all the slang in the diary, but I’m not sure that I can pull it off.
A guide to the characters
Anyone who’s read the original series will be familiar with the characters, but I feel like a guide is needed here as it’s not always obvious who is who.
Elizabeth is still Elizabeth, and her mummy and daddy are the same (but they’re off to Africa to study baboons, and instead of buying Elizabeth a laptop they bought her a diary, leading to a big rant at the beginning of the book).
Instead of Miss Scott, Elizabeth has Kesi, who has lived with them since Elizabeth was born in Kenya.
On the train, then at the school Elizabeth meets:
- Hannah James aka Hamster – Ruth
- Ellie Marden (referred to once as Ellie Marsden) aka Smellie Marsden – Helen?
- Joanna Townsend aka Mousie – obviously Joan Townsend
- Mei Ling – Eileen
- Melinda Cartwright aka Carthorse – Belinda?
- Shauna O’Sullivan – Nora O’Sullivan, one tiny improvement is that she speaks in an Irish-sounding pattern, whereas Blyton mentioned she was Irish once then seemed to forget about it.
- Rebekah Shah – Rita the head girl
- Harry Dunn – Harry Dunn
- William Murricane – William the head boy. Murricane is actually a real (if uncommon) name but has clearly been chosen purely so Elizabeth can nickname him Windy Hurricane.
- Rowan McDonald
- Kenji Nakahara
- John Terry – John Terry but nicknamed JT (and now Scottish)
- Humphrey Pickleton aka Grumphrey (accuses Harry Dunn of cheating)
- Ricardo Marconi – Richard
The fact that names have been changed and events and dialogues are reported via Elizabeth’s diary entry means it’s really hard to know who a lot of the pupils are meant to be. It’s not until Elizabeth quotes a bit of dialogue from the original book, or makes a particular observation that some of them become clear.
While the story plays out in more or less the same way various details are change throughout.
As above it begins with Elizabeth not getting a laptop, and she tries to burn the diary (might have been good if she had succeeded). She tries behaving really well, and also really badly to get out of going to Whyteleafe. There’s a strop over having to wear tights (not stockings) and Elizabeth does pin a pair to Kesi’s skirt, like she does to Miss Scott (though there’s no seccotine in the shoes). I actually liked the added detail that Kesi went to Tesco with the tights pinned to her, and they got caught in someone else’s trolley in the cheese aisle. That’s a good way of modernising the book while staying true to the original.
The uniform has changed to a kilt and beret, for some reason, and they are in year 7 rather than first form.
Shauna/Nora still has her run ins with Elizabeth and removed the belongings from the top of the dresser. The items are different, though, as they are now photos, hair straighteners, lucky hippo, catapult, musical torch, lip salve, scrunchy, bubble-gun stash and nodding dog.
Things then escalate. Elizabeth runs Shauna’s bra up the flagpole (Elizabeth frequently mentions that Shauna has boobs like melons etc) with Shauna retaliating by hanging Elizabeth’s pants on a hockey stick stuck out a window, getting them soaking. She uses a hairdryer to dry the pants as the rads (radiators) are off. Somehow this takes her an hour and she blows up the (borrowed) hairdryer.
Despite it being banned Elizabeth has snuck her old phone (but apparently not a charger) along. She also hides her money in a book so that she doesn’t have to hand it over, she is planning to use it to run away to stay with her uncle. She’s silly enough to put it back in her purse and take it to the meeting, though, so it gets taken in the same way as the original book.
She gets sent out of class (though her misbehaviours are a little different) she gets laughed at for wearing socks instead of stockings (though it happens at a different point in the story). She goes to the village alone and is caught by Rebekah. She pours blackcurrant juice on her rug (rather than ink).
She takes music lessons with Ricardo, who puts on an over-done Italian accent. She has her fight with Harry, though instead of tipping water over him she puts porridge in his pockets. He gets his own back by pinning a sign to her back. But it’s not the sign we know about the Bold Bad Girl. Instead it says I love John Terry.
She spends all her money (£50) on presents for Joanna’s birthday and gets caught out, Joanna goes for a walk and gets soaked and falls ill. Elizabeth writes to Mrs Townsend and it ends up resolved in a broadly similar fashion.
She still intends to go home at half-term and is talked out of it by the head boy and girl.
I really didn’t like the writing, but I could tell that from reading one page. As it’s a diary it isn’t written in full sentences. Bridget Jones’ Diary is a bit like that, quite abbreviated to reflect it being handwritten and often at speed. But the Naughtiest Girl’s writing is just all over the place, and although possibly accurate for an 11 year old it’s awful to read.
The worst offenders are
- this + that + something else
- it was v v annoying
- I did it cos
- I’m in big trubs
I can understand wanting to be brief but given how long Elizabeth yammers on about nonsense, saving a few syllables here and there is largely irrelevant.
It’s clear that Jeanne Willis wanted to write in a ‘young’ style, as Elizabeth, but as so often the case a grown-up trying to imitate the slang and speech style of older children and teens it is often very cringe-worthy, and has dated very quickly.
I mean were 11 year olds (even in 2016) talking about strutting their funky stuff, or throwing crazy shapes?
There’s also a huge reliance on immature humour. It’s probably an accurate representation of at least some girls – I have an 8 year old niece who finds bodily functions and body parts hilarious. But you can barely go a page without Elizabeth talking about Shauna’s boobs, or her bra, or which teacher is adjusting her bra strap. Or kicking someone in the goolies, girls being sweaty or farting or peeing in the pool. Or Joanna’s boobies, or girls in the nuddy getting changed, or poop hitting the fan and it goes on and on. Even Mr Lewis talks about how his pupils don’t give a ferret’s fart.
It is also very definitely set in 2016, which is not a particularly bad thing. This is made clear by references to WH Smiths (though she has the notion that the shopkeeper would put aside a CD for her, as if it’s some quaint independent store), Pizza Hut, DVDs, decimalised (and reasonable amounts of) money, Coke, Britain’s Next Top Model and so on. Though there are a few darlings and shan’ts thrown in.
What is not so great is it has fully embraced the depressing modern trend of girls as young as 11 being obsessed with their looks. Blyton could be rather mean about girls who were fat, pasty or spotty but it was mostly (I believe) her way of encouraging good eating and exercise in an over simplistic belief that it would fix these ‘problems’.
There’s a lot of nail filing, eyebrow plucking and even ladyshaves. Elizabeth mentally praises Shauna for getting rid of her moustache, as if that somehow makes her a better person (this is in addition to a lot of nasty comments about the size of her chest). There are even references to getting a plastic surgeon, along with a makeover for Joanna where they accidentally shave off half an eyebrow and repair it by gluing some fake fur on with a Pritt Stick.
There is also the pointless addition of Elizabeth having a big crush on John Terry, which adds nothing to the story and just pushes the idea that girls and boys can’t be friends without it becoming romantic.
There are also a few lines, casually thrown in that seemed a bit too mature for the audience, based on the rest of the writing especially. It’s not to say that these are inappropriate themes for older children, but the accessibility of the rest of the book and the immature humour means that it will probably be read by girls like my 8 year old niece and I’m not sure I’d be happy with her reading the following:
- I hope they haven’t built gallows in the playground or I’m gonna swing
- this hell hole
- what do I have to do to get out of here, commit homicide?
- Beans [her pet] is suicidal
Handled sensitively none of these themes should be excluded from children’s books but the casual, blithe way they are thrown in as jokes seems very distasteful and inappropriate to me.
A few positives
There were a few clever jokes, I’ll admit that. As above I enjoyed the modernising of the stockings prank.
Elizabeth changing the school name to Frightleafe, Blightleafe Tighteleafe, Spiteleafe and so on (though she runs out eventually and has to reuse some of them) is quite funny, especially at the end when she decides to say and changes it to Righteafe.
Her joke about someone looking like a lizard as they were a monitor raised a smile, as did her observing that Joanna had more than six used tissues on her drawers and it was a wonder that Shauna didn’t have anything to say about it.
Lastly, when Richard says Sir, do I have to play with her? She’s a girl. Elizabeth writes how Mr Lewis ignored that sexist remark. (Of course it would have been even nicer if she’d challenged it out loud.)
A few things that don’t make sense
The French mistress is normally just referred to as M’selle (rather than Blyton’s usual Mam’zelle) but on one occasion she is M’selle Dupont. This is Whyteleafe, not Malory Towers. It’s possible that it’s a little in-joke, an Easter-egg, but it looks more like an accident.
At one point Elizabeth gets Shauna in a headlock, but this is never mentioned again. Attacking a monitor would surely lead to some sort of punishment?
Elizabeth defending her parents is similarly outlandish, she doesn’t just stamp her foot and insist that her parents have beautiful manners, instead she does that and also calls William you son of a baboon at the top of her voice. Again, this isn’t treated as a separate ‘crime’ and the story just carries on without it being mentioned.
Lastly, a back-story for Shauna is crammed in near the end of the book as she tells Elizabeth that she was so mouthy when she first came to the school that she had no pocket-money for a month, but with the school’s help she settled down and became a monitor.
So what did I think?
I thought it was pretty awful. The odd amusing part can not make up for the rest of it. All the heavier parts of the book – Joan’s backstory and her reconnecting with her mother, Elizabeth’s soul-searching over whether to stay or go and the lesson she learns about it being a brave thing to change her mind are completely ruined by the irreverent and always-trying-to-be-funny writing style.
Other enjoyable parts like the details of what Elizabeth does in the school gardens are abandoned in favour of her gushing about John Terry. It has the same number of pages as the 2012 edition of the original book, but somehow most of the details are missing and many minor things are skipped altogether. The font is larger and a fair bit of space is ‘wasted’ with scribblings, bubble fonts, bullet pointed lists and so on.
The majority of the changes – particularly the new names for the cast are pointless. I can understand wanting to modernise the odd name, and/or suggest a little more diversity but half the changes are plain silly, and Elizabeth’s nicknames on top are utterly ridiculous. Joanna is Mousie throughout, and she then starts calling Elizabeth Monkey. Elizabeth uses Carthorse, Hamster and Smellie Marden right though, which does not give her the same redemption arc as she realises she doesn’t hate the school or the pupils. Instead she just comes off as mean and nasty to the end.
One star, I do not recommend!