You Don't Know Me
By Sophia Bennett
Published by Chicken House
ISBN 978 1 908435 46 0
If you were to read a synopsis of Sophia Bennett's new novel, you could get the wrong impression of the quality of her writing. Four teenage girls form a band. They enter a TV talent show - but the producers only want three of them. Rivalry and ambition rear their ugly heads, and long-standing friendships are threatened.
So far so unoriginal and uninspiring, so why bother with this book? It's a well-worn tale, but fortunately Bennett is a talented and clever writer, and in You Don't Know Me, she turns a cliched storyline into a gripping and intelligent novel.
What could have ended up as an empty bowl of froth is a stand-out YA read full of strengths and surprises. Bennett is very good at creating characters, and the four girls at the centre of the action are very realistic and easy to relate to - not just for girls who perhaps have been in similar positions to the characters, but boys, too.
Sasha, Rose, Jodie and Nell live in a small country town where nothing much happens. They all love their music, and as a joke they make a video of one of the songs that Sasha has written. The track is called Sunglasses, and it's pretty good.
Somehow - and the girls don't know how - the video mysteriously gets online, and things take a sudden turn that none of them could possibly have foreseen.
The popularity of the video leads to the four friends auditioning for a TV talent show. But the producers tell them they are better as a trio than a foursome. One of them has to go. What started as a fun way for four friends to spend time together is about to destroy their friendship.
Rose doesn't fit the image that the music producers want, so she has to be dumped. Little do the girls realise that getting rid of the popular Rose will start an internet hate campaign that will affect them all.
This is an engaging novel that readers will relate to. One of Bennett's strengths as a writer is her uncanny ability to create genuine characters and authentic dialogue.
You Don't Know Me is one of the best YA novels around at the moment. Don't group it together with some of the badly written chick-lit sagas on offer to female teen readers. What could have been predictable in another author's hands is a great story that is sensitively and wittily written, and far better than the cover or the basic plot line might lead you to believe.
Is girl power still with us? Of course it is, and it's got a great voice in the talent of Bennett.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com