Girl, Nearly 16, Absolute Torture, by Sue Limb, is my favorite book of all time. Yes, it’s a bit dated—it takes place during a primitive time when you had to get out of bed to access the Internet. Yes, it’s a silly teen comedy, and not a masterpiece of modern literature. And, yes, Jess Jordan wouldn’t stand a chance against someone like Hermione Granger in a knock-down, drag-out fight.
But it’s my favorite. It’s funny and heartfelt, and reading it was like a revelation. It honestly never gets old. I don’t even know how many times I’ve read it and every time I pick it up I’m still like:
What Girl, Nearly 16, Absolute Torture is about:
In Girl, Nearly 16, Absolute Torture, protagonist Jess Jordan is busy recovering from all the traumatic ridiculousness that she endured in the previous book (Girl, 15, Charming But Insane). School has just let out for the summer, she’s got a new boyfriend (the strange but wonderful Fred), and life is perfect…until sentence one of the book: “Disaster!”
Yes, once again, Jess’s life is being ruined—this time by her eccentric mother’s surprise holiday to Cornwall to see her dad. Jess tries frantically to postpone the trip, but she fails terribly and is forced to endure a meandering two-week road trip to St. Ives with her history-obsessed mother and murder-obsessed granny. Along the way, Jess stresses endlessly about Fred leaving her for her beautiful best friend, Flora; learns way too much about history and literature; and, when she finally gets to St. Ives, receives a life-changing surprise.
My thoughts on Girl, Nearly 16, Absolute Torture
So, you probably already know that I freakin’ love this book, but here’s my halfhearted attempt to explain why it’s objectively good:
- It’s absurdly funny without being unbelievable. A lot of comedy novels are funny because they’re crazily over-the-top. You laugh, but you also think, That would never happen. Girl, Nearly 16, Absolute Torture brushes up against unbelievability but doesn’t cross that threshold.
- Jess’s rich, panic-prone imagination. Like 80% of Jess’s problems are ones that she’s made up in a moment of hysteria. #relatable.
- There’s a real emphasis on the ordinary. Jess’s life is boring and messy despite its craziness. Fred isn’t particularly hot; he’s ordinary, even strange-looking, and Jess loves him all the more for it. And serious topics like divorce and death play as much of a central role as Jess’s silly escapades without weighing the story down.
Why Girl, Nearly 16, Absolute Torture is my favourite book:
When I was about seventeen, I was in the worst reading slump of my life. The woooorst. (I hope you read that in a Jean Ralphio voice.)
I was so freakin’ bored with books. By that point, I’d read everything from picture books to classics to complex, swear-filled contemporary adult novels (I’m looking at you, Everything is Illuminated). I could look at a book cover, read the synopsis, and get a pretty good idea of what the story was going to be like without ever actually cracking the book open. It seemed that nothing surprised me anymore.
Reading had become boring, and I stopped wanting to read.
I picked up Girl, Nearly 16, Absolute Torture and thought, “Oh, a funny teen comedy. I guess there’ll be a beautiful girl with low self-esteem, an unbelievably hot guy with a heart of gold, and a blonde who’s really mean for no reason.”
Wrong. Oh, so very wrong. Not only did none of those things happen, I was genuinely surprised and charmed by the plot and its characters. The book was hysterical without being forced. It was romantic without being sappy. It was relatable without being mundane.
I closed the book and thought, I didn’t know books could be like this. It was like I was discovering reading for the first time all over again.
Reading was fun again.
And I lived, and read, happily ever after.