'Chartbreak' by Gillian Cross

One of the few books I returned to again and again as a young teenager was Chartbreak by Gillian Cross, known as the writer of The Demon Headmaster. Chartbreak was out of print for a long time and it was recently re-published.

It tells the story of Janice Finch, a girl of 16 who isn’t great at school and whose mother lives with a man whom Janice refers to as Himmler. She walks out one evening after a family row, ends up in a motorway café expecting to simply trudge home again in the rain after a coffee, and comes face to face with a rock band on their way to a gig. They start talking, and she challenges the lead singer, Christie, saying she can sing better than him, and she proves it. They invite her to the gig, which is recorded, and her life is changed from then on.

However, it’s not as simple as that. The recording turns out to be terrible. The sound was bad, the performance awful. Christie sends her a copy of the tape in the post and instructs her to come to the band’s flat in London. This is quite a trek for her - she lives in Birmingham - but she packs a bag and goes anyway. After all, what does she have to lose?

Her image is changed - Christie makes her learn karate - and they start to call her Finch. She joins the band, called Kelp, and the story then goes on to tell how they go from being a local London band to Top of the Pops. Janice moves in with Christie’s mum, which is preferable to staying with the band in their ‘two-rooms-and-a-bog’ hovel, but it proves to have its own problems.

This is very much a coming-of-age novel. It’s well written, the writing flows, the characterisation is spot on, and Gillian Cross makes you truly care for Janice. I lost count of the number of times I read this when I was younger, but suffice to say that it got to the stage where I could open it at any page and know where I was. Like a film you’ve seen a million times, I could pick up instantly from wherever I landed. The funny thing is, I still can, although I haven’t read it for a long time, now. I think, however, it won’t be long before I read it again.