Loving David Cassidy
I Think I Love You Allison Pearson (Chatto and Windus, £12.99)
In seventies south Wales, 13-year-old Petra is skinny, shy and struggling to blossom in the shadow of her beautiful but cheerless German mother. Though she has yet to be kissed by a real boy, she knows all about love because, like 30 million other teenage girls, including her best friend, Sharon, she is besotted with the singer David Cassidy. In the pink sanctuary of Sharon's bedroom, the girls study their bible, The Essential David Cassidy Magazine, convinced that their encyclopedic knowledge of his life will make them the perfect Mrs Cassidy.
But the man himself isn't wholly who they think he is. While Petra and Sharon pore over every word Cassidy writes to his fans, Bill Finn, a poetic but rather hopeless English graduate, is sitting at a battered typewriter in the magazine's dingy offices making all of them up.
The first half of the book alternates between his story and the girls' as Cassidy-fever mounts before his last ever concert: Bill battling pop-snobbery and Petra fighting to survive in the shark-infested waters of teenage friendship.
Part two returns to find them, almost a quarter of a century later, wounded by the trials of adult life -- Petra grieving for her mother and a broken marriage, and Bill stuck in the comfortable but lonely limbo of his own unfulfilled potential. Then a letter from the past leads them both back to Cassidy, to their former selves and, ultimately, to each other.
It's a finely tuned and satisfying plot and the writing is flawless and funny, especially the sections written in Petra's voice, which manage to inhabit the tricky territory of the adolescent mind so convincingly that you can almost hear your own teenage self speaking her lines.
But it is the book's subtle and profound examination of its central themes that really makes it shine. The nature of teenage girls' fantasies about love is explored with insight, both from the perspectives of the fans who worship an idol they know is unobtainable and from the more objective journalistic position Bill finds himself in as he reluctantly stokes the flames of their obsession.
As he scratches his head in bemusement at his readers' ardent declarations of devotion, Petra tries to weigh the high romance of her daydreams against the strange, more primitive stirrings aroused by a boy in her class.
Equally well illuminated is the strange gulf between the present and the past, which Pearson shows widening slowly enough to be imperceptible to Petra until she looks back across it from her adult life and realises the youthful version of herself is so distant that she can barely bring her into focus. Some of the most poignant sections are those that describe her sense of separation from the Welsh countryside she once called home.
Pearson also makes pleasing use of the parallels between her own experiences and those of the character she has created. In certain ways, Pearson is Petra, and David Cassidy is, well, David Cassidy, who Pearson was obsessed with for 18 months of her early adolescence, and who she interviewed, many years later, for the Telegraph's Saturday magazine. The transcript of the interview printed as an afterword is the cherry on an already-scrumptious cake.