lip lit: i made lattes for a love god
Orlando Bloom is a sexy beast.
This is scrawled in blue ink on the autograph page of my grade eight yearbook. At 13, that was only the beginning of a long obsession that my best friend and I had with ‘Orli’; we were dedicated fangirls. It seems fangirling is an essential part of growing up for many young women – not just a harmless way to engage in our sexuality, but also a manner of testing the limits between fantasy and reality.
During adolescence the cloak of innocence is shaken off, and we learn how to face the real world. It’s one of the great parts of being a teenager – wising up to what’s really going on. Learning how to distinguish reality from the misconceptions of celebrity culture and the advertising world is an important part of growing up.
In Wendy Harmer’s novel for teen girls I Made Lattes for a Love God, protagonist Elly Pickering embarks on the journey of separating fact from fiction.
Elly’s Mum is handling the publicity for a Hollywood film, Monster Class 3, that is coming to Beach Heads – with heart throb Jake Blake in the lead role. It’s shaping up to be the Best Summer Ever; the film is being shot during school holidays and Elly’s bestie Carmelita has come to stay.
There are a plethora of typical teenage concerns that Elly must deal with; being left behind, old friends turning into enemies, and being ignored by her family and friends. She also manages to juggle worshipping Jake Blake with her relationship with surfer boyfriend, Will:
I’ve always wished Will talked more. Why can’t he be like the character of Joey Willis in Monster Class? Joey says what’s in his heart. He cries. He’s funny. He’s the type of boy every girl wants.
At the beginning of her novel, Elly views what happens in the movies as the best possible version of her life. She compares her boyfriend to Jake Blake’s character, convinced that if he tried hard enough, her boy could become as perfect as her celebrity obsession.
When Elly encounters Jake Blake in person, she treats him like a god: ‘Whenever he moves the bright light follows him. Or is the light actually radiating out of him? It’s hard to tell.’
But the more time Elly spends around the world of film, the more deceptive it’s revealed to be. Paparazzi catch Jake kissing her ‘hello’ on the cheek – and gossip magazines all over the country announce their romance. When Elly has lunch with local soap opera actress Julie Jessop, she reflects: ‘I find that spending time with actors is really confusing for the fairly obvious reason that you don’t know when they are acting and when they are being real.’
In a rushed PR experiment, Elly’s Mum invites TV crews to the family home for a barbie with their favourite movie star. An illusion of immaculate domesticity is created for the cameras, and Jake is at his charismatic best. But as soon as the stage lights are turned off, he is whisked away by his minder, unable to enjoy the food and company. Elly realises that his life is a mechanic production, projecting an image that the public desires:
I fell for it for a while there, and I believed everything I read about Jake Blake, but now I’ve got my eyes wide open.
While the rest of her schoolmates are extras in the film, Elly is delegated to the catering van where new friend Rosie di Masi works. Initially distraught by this unglamorous role, Elly is soon delighted to be spending every day with the wise and compassionate Rosie.
As Elly grows, she deconstructs the world around her, giving herself authority to decide what is true and what is not. She also turns these new skills inwards, and decides what kind of person she wants to become.
‘She doesn’t seem to care much what people think about her. I wish I could be more like that,’ says Elly in a description of Rosie.
Deciding to break free from conformity, Elly begins to make scary decisions. She breaks up with her boyfriend and accepts her own desire for more from life. ‘If I can’t share my hopes and dreams with Will along with my disappointments and the things that really worry me and get me down, what’s the point?’
In a further demonstration of her individualisation, Elly participates in a spoken word competition, and wins the heat. Her poem is about existing outside of expectations:
I won’t make an apology for my genealogy.
Just one of me, that’s all that there is.
I’ll take your advice,
I’ll listen well,
And when the time’s ready I’ll ring my own bell!
Don’t study my psychology, try Eleanor-ology
‘Cause I’m unique – me – in every cell.
Throughout the novel, our protagonist evolves from an obsessive worrywart into a passionate young woman with direction and optimism. While Harmer’s nattering first-person narrative (which makes extreme use of exclamation marks) can be irritating, it’s an accurate portrayal of the flitting teenage mind. Overall, fangirl meets Hollywood is an entertaining backdrop for Elly’s story: distinguishing between fantasy and reality.
I Made Lattes for a Love God is published by Allen & Unwin.