Diary of a Chav, (aka Diva Without a Cause), by Grace Dent
Shiraz Bailey Wood is a wannabe ghetto fabulous fifteen year old in Essex. That's Essex, near London, not Essex, near Baltimore, although they are weirdly similar. OUR Essex is a blue-collar community with a reputation for teen pregnancy, lottery addiction, and recreational drug use. It also smells like poo, due to the proximity of the county's sewage treatment plant. (That's according to my colleague TinkerCinderBellaHontas, who grew up there, so don't email me.)
Shiraz's Essex is pretty similar. Her mom, who works at Essex's version of the OTB, cooks nothing that is not processed. Her family watches reality TV to the exclusion of anything else. Her favorite outfit is her pink tracksuit, accessorized with her biggest gold hoops.
And Shiraz speaks in this incessant drawly slang - half Cockney, half what is euphemistically called "urban". It's hilarious, it really is. For a school assignment, she has to write a letter of complaint.
"I have just spent two weeks of sheer unmitigated hell in a half-finished hotel, what was advertised as 'the most stunning jewel in the crown of this fabulous island.' Well if this is your most stunning jewel mate, you ain't got much bling bruv, 'cos this place was a right state and you are a proper liberty sending anyone there."
The whole book kind of reads like a stand-up comedy character gone long-form. Which we've seen - Jeff Foxworthy has a whole slew of "redneck" books. Belzer has written a few novels, pretty much AS Detective John Munch. I used to entertain people with my excellent South Baltimore accent at parties ("Aoh yeah hon, all's zere wen 'at sugar plant sploded - it was sew laut ah fought we's unner attack bah da British again!"*), and I will bet you real money that Grace Dent has been doing her Shiraz impersonation for years. She loves this girl, like you love a trashy cousin who doesn't yet realize there's more to life than chain restaurants, reality TV, and the mall; and in the course of Shizza's year, Dent begins to gently (and not so gently - the mashed rat in the bhaji is pretty rude!) remove her pavé-rhinestone blinkers.
It's so funny, and in the end, it's big-hearted and lovely. The slang will be an impediment for some readers, but there's an equally funny glossary in the back. For example: about the incomprehensible British TV series Last of the Summer Wine, Shiraz says "This is the most boring 'comedy' in the universe... despite never being funny, it is on every week and always has been and always will be until the end of time due to the cast making a pact with Lucifer in 1982 and becoming immortal."
I for one really appreciate that explanation.
*Oh yes, friend - I was there when the sugar plant exploded. It was so loud I thought we were under attack by the British again!"