Before I get started, I should point out that this book is not for the prudish. It borders on disturbing that 10-year-old narrator, Bettina is so in touch with her sexuality. Then again when she describes her exposure to her vivacious mother Babs’ sexual appetite, it makes some sense.
Babs Ballentyre is the rich (and apparently mentally unstable) heiress to the Ballentyre chocolate fortune. She lives in Chicago with her only child, Bettina. She throws parties, goes shopping and sleeps with other women’s husbands. Bettina is privy to almost all. She is a lonely and unhappy child, anxious for her mother’s affection and attention. Her young life is ruled by the whims of her volatile mother.
As a teenager, Bettina finds some relief when she is sent a prestigious New England boarding school. Rooming with innocent Holly makes Bettina realise just how much her mother’s influence and bad habits have rubbed off on her. More worrying though is her desperate need for affection.
There’s something quite poignant about her misplaced appeals for approval, particularly from her equally wealthy golden girl housemate Meredith. Substituting Meredith’s affection for her mother’s is one thing, but when Bettina turns her attention to classmates Jake and Cape things get really uncomfortable. It’s a story probably best described as the paper equivalent of car crash TV. There is something to be said for that though…
Two complaints. Firstly, the blurb and various publicity quotes mention humour. I couldn’t find it anywhere. It had the potential for some real black humour, and I was disappointed it didn’t deliver.
Secondly, the ending kind of petered out, it was more a puff of air instead of a huge climatic bang. I suppose it was a coming-of-age novel and read as that the story is in the detail, Bettina’s transition.
For me though, the weak ending coupled with the absence of humour make this story a bit of a let-down.