Book Review: It Only Happens in the Movies // Holly Bourne

Being a teenager is difficult. For most of us reading this, we’ve been there, done that and got umpteen t-shirts to show for it.

Add in newly divorced parents, a brother you never see, mounting schoolwork, and a UCAS application, all while dealing with a break-up from the boy you thought you’d marry, it’s easy to see why overworked schoolgirl Audrey Winters is feeling the strain. With faithful and straight-talking compan`ion, Leroy, at her side, she sets about trying to rebuild her life, her emotions and her attitude towards the ever complex topic of love.

But when she starts a new job at her local cinema, she begins to see that love does exist – even in the most unlikely of people.

Meet Harry. A typical bad boy, with his charming good looks, swept-up hair and cheeky personality, he’s the epitome of who to avoid. Known for his love of directing his own zombie films, Audrey approaches with caution, but will she be the girl to change Harry’s laddish ways?

Holly Bourne’s ability to build believable and relevant characters is her finest trait. Having read a few of her novels now, I can see the reason I’ve become enveloped in each of them is due to the characters and their stories. For example, Audrey’s fragile nature is made worse by her mother’s excessive drinking, her own father taking legal action against his ex-wife in a bid to take back their house to give to his new family. Her brother, Dougie, plays no part in his fractured home life, choosing to scarcely come home from his university town. Throw into the already chaotic mix a new job, the stress of A-Levels, choosing a university and coping with her own personal heartache – ex-boyfriend Milo strutting around with new girlfriend, Courtney – sympathy is a prominent emotion to feel towards Audrey and explains a lot about her icy demeanour when first approaching Harry.

The subject of love plays a huge part in the novel, designed to test its characters emotionally. For instance, we see examples of teenage love – Audrey’s end-of-the-world feelings towards breaking up with her boyfriend, Milo; coupled with the fact that her father doesn’t seem to love his own family – or else why would he have left them, and her loss of love for a school subject she once adored. Love comes in many forms and for Audrey Winters, she feels three different types simultaneously.

Harry’s own life leaves much to be desired – living with his weed-smoking friend, Tad, after being forced to leave his family home due to conflicting religious views, Bourne’s protagonists are seemingly hard done to on the home-life front. The long-legged cinema worker lives for his passion of directing zombie movies, something he refers to as wanting to do for a career, prompting a sense of encouragement and pride from the reader. However, looking back at the whole novel, it’s clear that a camera and a few packets of fake blood is what seemingly keeps Harry going; directing budget films and working at an overpriced cinema provide him with the solace he needs to escape the everyday and let his true colours show. His once stereotypical ‘lad’ barricade breaking down to reveal a warm, sensitive and enthusiastic individual.

It Only Happens in the Movies deals with a variety of issues young people can certainly relate to, including loss, betrayal, anxiety, rebellion and losing sight of what truly matters. Only when encouraged by oddball teacher, Mr Simmons, to consider a media studies degree after pursuing an A-Level project about romance movies, does Audrey realise that she let her one true passion, drama studies, slip through her hands when Milo and Courtney both opted for the subject at A-Level, leaving Audrey to immediately rethink her own suitability for the course.

Along with her fractured family and loyal group of friends, Audrey begins to piece her life back together – starting with Harry.

By the end of the novel, we see Audrey has blossomed from a sad, isolated and lonely shadow into a confident, capable and re-energised individual who has used her trauma to help become the best version of herself. It’s refreshing to see that the loveable character has shed her old skin, coated with loathing, betrayal and worry and has replaced it with energy, self acceptance and confidence.

It’s clear to see why Bourne’s novels have been successes in their own right – they’re uplifting, funny, and deal with real, complex issues that youngsters face while presenting believable characters and scenarios – must readers young and old, everywhere.

If you’re interested in Bourne’s work, make sure you check out her other titles: Am I Normal Yet?, How Hard Can Love Be?, What’s A Girl Gotta Do?, and Are we all Lemmings and Snowflakes?

Words by Paige Bradshaw

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