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Rich and Mad by William Nicholson

Full of the myriad and criss-crossing emotions of adolescent love, this is a warm-hearted and finely observed view of two teenagers’ experience. Sixth-formers Maddy Fisher and Richard Ross both want to fall in love. Both want the heady experience of the real thing. Rich and Mad is a brilliant novel about love, sex and growing up. It's honest and emotive, and explores the inner workings of the teenage mind.

Rich and Maddy are both characters I easily related to, because of their innocence and insecurities. They're both trying to navigate their way through adolescence, and are somewhat overwhelmed by all the relationship problems that accompany those later teen years. First love, first sex... when you think about it, it's an emotional minefield. There's so much to worry about, and so much to learn -- where do you start?

Nicholson manages to write about a first sexual experience with such honesty and insight; every awkward step is noted, every fear is addressed, and it's far from those perfect movie moments we're all so used to. His realism reminded me of early Melvin Burgess books, most notably Junk and Doing It, which are two other stories dealing with similar themes. I never thought male authors could capture a teenage girl's emotional state so well, but Nicholson's writing has proved me wrong.

Love also plays a huge part in Rich and Mad. What is it? How do you get it? Who do you give it to? These are all questions asked and answered over the course of the novel, with insightful extracts from The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm interspersed throughout. As a 17-year-old, love is a mysterious thing; it's new and confusing, and there's no rule book to guide you through it. Rich and Maddy do their best to figure it all out and, as a result, a really beautiful friendship forms. I loved their whole relationship from start to finish, and I'm holding out hope that Nicholson might continue their story in the future.

At times it was a bit too sweet and sugary for me, but that's not so much a criticism, more like a personal observation. I think teen readers will really respond to this one, as Nicholson has done a fantastic job of presenting a relatable plot with characters you'll love. Rich and Mad will give every reader something to think about, and a new perspective on love in all its many forms.
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