Photo by Paul Jerry
Heidi Ryder is fifteen, single, and a pupil at a boarding school. Unlike her friends, she goes home every night, because her parents work there. Heidi has spent the whole summer working in the Little Leaf Café, waiting for her friends to return. When term begins, they find themselves at the first party of the year, despite their outcast status, and there, they all find boyfriends. Goth Fili meets the newly darkly-inclined Simon, Ludo pairs off with the pierced Peroxide Eric, and Dai catches the eye of popular Henry. Heidi, however, is alone until Etienne Gracey sits down with her. Her hopes go up, but he’s only there to ask her to distract her dad so they can start the real party. Heidi is embarrassed, but her friends assume that she turned Etienne down because she already has a boyfriend. She doesn’t want to correct them, and before long she finds herself designing Gingerbread Ed, the perfect guitar-playing, motorbike-riding boyfriend, social networking profiles and all. Heidi enjoys pretending to be a girl with a boyfriend, but then her friends start sending Ed messages, and she finds herself juggling secrets, and struggling to keep her own.
I usually find books in which the heroine Keeps Getting It Wrong a bit annoying, but I really enjoyed Girl Meets Cake. It’s got enough quirk to compensate for the more predictable consequences, and when, about halfway through the book, Heidi starts getting e-mails from Mysterious E, I spent ages trying to guess who he might be. I wasn’t quite happy with who he turned out to be in the end, but I can’t discuss that here without spoiling the book!
I liked the character details. Heidi’s obsession with Mycroft Christie, a Doctor Who-esque time-travelling detective, was quite funny. I really enjoyed the conversations she had with him in her head. I liked that although Ludo was quite over the top, being one of those constantly energetic people, nobody described her as annoying. I wished that we got to see more of the friends interacting before they fell out, I felt that I just had to take Heidi’s word for it that they were really close, as they were all quite secretive throughout the novel, and spent much more time with their boyfriends than with each other. I also felt that the characters moved in and out of relationships a bit easily – I would have been exhausted by it!
This novel includes some great locations. It’s rare that the scenery gets this much attention in a teen novel. I loved being able to imagine Heidi’s attic bedroom, the school auditorium, the party by the lake, and of course, the Little Leaf Café, with its red bus teapots, bright walls, and Daily Wisdom on the chalkboard. I was a bit bemused at Heidi’s description of the Goldfinch school as being ‘where you get sent when you’ve been kicked out of everywhere else – if your parents can afford it’, because her friends seemed quite well-behaved, in school at least, but it did fit with the occasionally decadent atmosphere of their social events.
I have to confess that I'm not a fan of the UK edition's cover. I think it's a bit young, I tend to associate covers of this style with books for 9-12 year olds (you can tell I've worked in a bookshop, right?) more than with teenagers. I think Girl Meets Cake is intended for younger teens rather than older teens, but still. Then again, I used to read Ros Asquith's books when I was in secondary school, and I had to visit the library almost daily to make sure I could get hold of the next one I wanted before someone else did, they were so popular - probably because of the bright colours and cartoons on their covers rather than in spite of them. That was the early noughties though.
However, in my opinion, the worst thing about the cover is the blurb. Which is far too short in any decade. I don't think it does enough justice to all the action that goes on in the book and the fabulous settings and range of characters. Girl Meets Cake has only 215 pages of story (although the typeface is quite small), but an enormous amount happens in that space, and it’s all a lot of fun. I would recommend this novel to everybody looking for a quirky, warm-hearted read, especially if you ever considered making up an imaginary boyfriend of your own. Did you? I did, but only for one second or two, before I realised that I'd have to deal with even more questions from the gossipy-girls who wanted to know all about my non-existent love life.
I first read about Girl Meets Cake at Chicklish.