CleoDiary1998Do teenagers keep diaries anymore? More importantly do teenagers even know how to write longhand anymore? Before loads of teenage readers of the site (probably around 5 of you) write in to put me in my place for such a sweeping statement I am sure they do, even though quite a lot of it is done on the computer where password protection is more difficult to crack from snooping parents than a simple lock. They certainly did keep them back in 1998 and that is where Sarah Tipper takes us with the second yearly diary of 15-16 year old metal head Cleo Howard. Those familiar with Sarah’s books will know that Cleo along with Ian Edwards and Jenni Maxwell are major characters in her series of books about fictional Reading based metal band Eviscerated Panda. This offshoot has given the writer the opportunity (partly inspired by her love of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole books) to step back in time from this and look at the formative years of Cleo and share her innermost thoughts and secrets with us all.

1998 was a time not that far removed from us in the present and to fit the scene it was the year that some very important things took place such as computers started integrating themselves upon us with dial up connections (ugh) and other not so important things like The Spice Girls were all over popular culture. Metal lover Cleo and her friends are just finishing school and are feeling a bit more adult as they embrace sixth form to further their education, that’s not all Cleo is embracing as she has come of age and got to grips with the joy of sex (not the popular 70’s manual but the real kind) with her boyfriend Barry. Whilst some of these details are frank and humorous and may make sensitive readers blush they also account for the odd day when not much more than a couple of lines are entered in the diary date. The bulk of the 365 entries have a lot more substance to them and offer a chunky paragraph or page or so telling us exactly what has been going on in Cleo’s life.

Naturally a lot of this revolves in the first part around sitting exams and getting through all that but it is no case of all revision as plenty else is going on especially in pub The Green Man where her and friends spend a good night a week, allowing us to mix with an easily identifiable subculture of metal heads, goths and punks. There’s also the odd jaunts out of Reading to events such as Black Sabbath and Slayer in Milton Keynes as by that time Reading Rock festival was no longer an option with its safer more commercial fare and Indie drivel for the likes of them and indeed us. The biggest problem I had with this as the previous book was not charging through it too quickly like a bull in a china shop. It would have been easy to do but it’s the sort of book to savour and I found the best way (although not ideal as far as a quick review is concerned) was to read it in 12 instalments of a month a day. Naturally I also had to race through the rest of Stephen King’s ‘Finders Keeper’s before I started it; Sarah seems to have the habit of sending me her books when I am reading one of his.

It’s an incredibly endearing book and I think on reading it the feeling of voyeurism that I had on the first part had started to wear off and it’s just a nice trawl through the life of someone who could well have been the sort of person you feel would have been a really good friend if you met them in the real world. The author keeps things humorous throughout and seems a natural at writing in this style as she is on the Eviscerated Panda books developing alongside them. As far as Cleo is concerned I would expect that there are a few more years and tales to tell here before the two series in effect tie up with each other, I certainly hope so as I’m keen to read them and find out what life has in store for the characters next. Speaking of life, although it seems all rosy most of the time you should be prepared for some stings in the tale too as otherwise it really wouldn’t be realistic. I did find this volume slightly lighter than the last one but events that happened in it are still far reaching, what exactly these are though you will have to read to find out.

Although slightly different than what we normally review, Sarah Tipper is a bona fide metalhead and writes from the heart about a subject that she knows and loves so give her a chance and check out her work for yourself. The kindle editions of the diaries are only a couple of quid apiece so what’s to stop you?

(Pete Woods)