Mädchenmeute is a book that should come with a torch attached. It's a book that will make you feel fifteen again, will get you utterly hooked, and will require reading under the covers until late at night. Hence the torch – preferably with batteries included.
The name means "pack of girls" because it's a novel about seven girls who run away from a creepy survival camp, steal a van that turns out to be full of dogs, and camp out with their new pets in a disused mine entrance in an Erzgebirge forest. Narrator Charlotte is fifteen and painfully shy but a bit of a Nancy Drew. Except that she gets distracted from the Scooby Doo-like goings on in the camp by all the running away business and doesn't solve the crime until pretty much the last pages.
Alongside the girl detective genre, Kirsten Fuchs plays on other literary precedents, and I prepared myself for the book by watching the 1963 film of Lord of the Flies with my fourteen-year-old daughter. After which we were both pretty shaken and disgusted with boys, let me tell you. Fuchs's gang of girls also spend much of the time in the forest arguing, understandably, having been complete strangers until a day previously. And one of the characters has a great dig at boys, a full-page monologue about how they always want to prove themselves but their brains aren't big enough so they end up breaking things. But, as Yvette points out, girls are much cleverer, so although they do get wilder and wilder no one gets killed in Mädchenmeute. Or do they?
Charlotte is a fabulous narrator. I bought the book on the strength of hearing Kirsten Fuchs read from it, and that voice accompanied me throughout the novel. I can't find a video of her reading the book, but if you put "Kirsten Fuchs" into YouTube you'll realize she's a very funny woman. I also went drinking with her once, which was pretty adventurous for two mums out for a night in Berlin. Anyway, we get a fifteen-year-old view of the world, cynical and naive at the same time, which is gorgeous. And also some stunning descriptions of the forest, but most of all a whole lot of very funny moments, wry observations, a first kiss that makes the kissee stupider afterwards, a bunch of great characters and an ending that made me think of The Breakfast Club. Maybe because I felt like I was fifteen again.
I told one friend I was reading it and she said a male friend of hers had said it was boring. This puzzled me for some time. How on earth could anyone find Mädchenmeute boring? My only conclusion was that this is a book proudly written for women – and girls; although published as an adult title, it's been reeling in accolades as a YA book as well. If you've never been a fifteen-year-old girl, maybe it would be boring. Poor you. The other thing I loved was Charlotte's developing relationship with her dog, Kajtek. Taking responsibility for him (and for the other girls) is what makes her grow up, as she remarks herself at one point. So yes, how could this avoid being a (yawn) coming-of-age novel, but it's done in a delightful way through the narrator's new-found feelings for others.
Oh, and did I mention that the setting is fabulous? It's all in East Germany but the girls don't really care about that because they're the wrong generation. And there are folk tales and ghost stories and natural phenomena and skinnydipping lakes and moss growing on everything and acidheads and weirdos and lovely made-up place names.
I'll try and encourage my daughter to read it. She'll probably ignore me. It has been compared to Wolfgang Herrndorf's runaway hit Tschick, so maybe translation rights will sell and English-speakers will get a chance to read it under the covers. I hope so. I think even the sense of humour would work.