lip lit: no ordinary excuse
Everyone feels the pressure of meeting deadlines at one time or another. At least, I do. Maybe there are many lucky people who simply take a Douglas Adams approach to deadlines and laugh in the wake of them. For those of us who don’t, whether that deadline be at school, or at uni, or in a job, there is a definite sinking feeling that accompanies the realisation that you’ve suddenly forgotten about a very important project and have nothing to hand in on the due date.
So it is for twelve-year old Gemma Martin in Michelle Adams’ debut novel No Ordinary Excuse. Gemma has promised her parents she’ll work harder at school this term, after her less than perfect school report at the end of the previous term. But then she completely forgets about a major assignment until she wakes up on the morning its due, and must use her wild imagination to come up with a good, believable excuse to explain why she couldn’t finish it. The problem is, Gemma has a long history of creating excuses as to why she couldn’t complete her work, and this time she needs to come up with something brilliant and believable, or else.
Or else what? Well, to be honest- I’m not really sure. Gemma’s motivation behind creating her outlandish excuse seems to be simply because she promised her parents she’d try harder and she doesn’t like breaking promises. The consequences of her simply admitting she needed a couple of extra days to complete the project seemed to be nothing more than some lunchtime detentions. And, for a student who notoriously hands work in late, lunch time detention is something she must be used to.
While Gemma’s character comes across very strongly, I felt as though the other characters in the book fell flat, in particular Gemma’s best friend Kellie. I got no indication as to why the two girls are such close friends, or anything else about Kellie’s character, apart from the fact that she hates Monday mornings. Then there’s Brittany, who walks a line too close to a stereotype for my liking, who is supremely popular and yet has no real friends, and, of course, manages to foil Gemma’s big plans.
Gemma is a likeable character, but I didn’t really relate to her situation or understand the lengths she goes to in order to convince her teacher that she has finished her project on time. For one thing, Gemma is in Year 6. Sure, schoolwork is important whether it is high school or primary school, but as the primary school system does not rely on formal marks, I struggled to see the urgency in Gemma’s situation.
I was wondering if I simply wasn’t relating to the story or the situation because I am so much older than the protagonist, but then I thought back to my favourite books from childhood, and the majority of those books are still books I would read now and enjoy, despite the age difference. Besides, I have experienced the situation of trying to meet deadlines and feeling the pressure of schoolwork, yet there was nothing about Gemma’s situation I could empathise with. I felt like there needed to be some other reason why Gemma had to complete her schoolwork by the due date, such as missing out on a school camp if she failed to do so or not being allowed to go to her drama classes, which she absolutely loves because she dreams of being an actress, but no – she constructs an elaborate story because she promised her parents she’d try harder and she doesn’t want to break her promise.
Gemma’s Aunt May is one of the redeeming factors of the novel. She is a wonderful, quirky character, who clearly adores her niece and is willing to help her out. Yet Gemma soon learns that it is not only kids who can be sneaky and deceitful.
Gemma is a charming character with a wild imagination, who has big dreams and expectations of who she’ll become when she’s older. You’ve got to admire Gemma’s persistence and imagination, and, in the end, she does learn her lesson and also a few things about herself. Overall, Michelle Adams’ No Ordinary Excuse is a vibrant read, but probably most suitable for an eight to ten year old readership.
No Ordinary Excuse, Odyssey Books