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The Independent Culture
2 First Time by Lara Harte, Phoenix House pounds 14.99/pounds 8.99. We are so used to coming-of-age novels by writers who have long since come of age and gone that a bona-fide dispatch from the adolescent front may be a shock. Is adolescence really so rife with treachery and neurosis? Does such magnified pettiness co-exist with such passion for justice? Lara Harte was 18 when she created the dramas of 14-year-old Cassandra, a well- heeled Dublin girl on the verge of everything. She spurns soft-focus for her teenage close-ups, and avoids glamorising any streetlife rites of passage as she brings the ineluctable Emma, whose housing-estate roots appeal to Cassandra's inverted snobbery, into the privileged environment of Cassandra's school. The two share a selective attraction to grunge, and, for Cassandra, Emma is a girl who has the many holes in her ears and nose in all the right places.

Inexperience and a dread of loneliness hang heavily on Cassandra. If only Emma can coach her through that first night out, that first cigarette, that first kiss, so that she doesn't look a complete eejit... But if Emma leaves Cassandra stranded, what depths of despair will her betrayal cause? Harte conveys the desperate earnestness of it all, as well as the social realism of haves and have-nots, and the argot which dictates that being "mad" and looking "deadly" are life's high aims. Detailed technical information about the application of mousse and masking cigarette smells will appeal to younger readers, but there is a concentrated skill and a conviction in the voice here which indicates interesting things to come.