Novice is the second in a series of diaries by Meghan McDonnell. It covers the years 1997 to 1999, when she first fell in love, attended university and went to Australia. McDonnell should be commended for her courage in making so much personal material public.
The memoir is dominated by Meghan’s frustrating relationship with Lucas, a young man who I perceived as being a drip. Especially after he cheated on her. The plot also concerns Meghan deciding what to do with her life. All this is much more interesting than it sounds, partially because McDonnell makes it clear her story is set in the nineties by referring to the contemporary music of the time.
My favourite section was Meghan’s trip to Australia with her friend Cassidy. They go to Sydney, Melbourne and even the cheesemaking town of Bega – all places that I’ve visited. I was fascinated by her description of Lygon street and its Italian restaurants, even though she misspelled it Lyon Street. Similarly, Swanston Street became Swanton Street. While these mistakes initially amused me, I figured that they also effectively communicated Meghan’s disorientation in a strange country.
I also liked how she included a list of every song mentioned in the book as an appendix. This list is practically an invitation to the reader to make a mixtape or a playlist, so maybe it should be at the start of the book.
I don’t have a lot of experience reading diaries. The lack of dialogue threw me at first, but I soon got used to it. It also bothered me that we couldn’t see things from the perspective of other characters, although this would be impossible to do honestly in a diary. I just really wanted to know what Lucas was thinking.
The ideal audience is people invested in nineties nostalgia, particularly if they live in Washington State where the book is mostly set. It would be interesting to see what fans of Romance or YA react of Novice‘s depiction of a real young adult relationship. I’d also recommend it to young people trying to imagine what their lives would be like before the iPad or Facebook. Overall, Novice is a book for those interested in the inner lives of ordinary people.