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Granny Was a Buffer Girl - Berlie Doherty

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Author: Berlie Doherty / Genre: Fiction

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      29.11.2004 21:09
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      I have recently been re-reading some Berlie Doherty stories as part of a book promotion at work (I work in a library). Recently I noticed that Granny Was a Buffer Girl had been republished and thought it was time to read and review it.

      ~~~THE AUTHOR.

      Berlie Doherty was born in Knotty Ash (the Liverpool area made famous by Ken Dodd and his Diddy Men) in the November of 1943. She did a degree course at the University of Durham and did Postgraduate Certificates in Education and Social Science at Sheffield University. She has done quite a few different jobs, including working as a Social Worker, a teacher and for BBC Schools, before settling down as a full time writer in 1983.

      Berlie’s books cover a variety of subjects and are aimed and different age groups ~ she has also written books for adults as well as children. Many of her books deal with sensitive subjects, such as teenage pregnancy and all of her stories are well written and insightful.

      Berlie now lives in Edale in the Peak District, not far from where I live and she uses the countryside around her as the basis for some of her stories (Children of Winter, which I have previously reviewed, deals with the plague at nearby Eyam), although others are set further afield (Street Child is based around the work of Dr. Barnardo). Many of her books have been dramatized and have been seen and heard on radio and television ~ many of them are used as educational resources for schools.

      ~~~THE AWARDS.

      Granny Was a Buffer Girl won the Carnegie Medal, the Burnley Book Award and the Globe-Horn Honor Book Award in 1986.

      ~~~THE STORY.

      This is primarily the tale of a young Sheffield girl called Jess ~ but there’s loads more to it than that. Jess is 18 and is leaving home to go to France for her gap year. She is scared that the home she is leaving will change and that the place she loves will never be the same again. Jess also has a secret that she must share in case she doesn’t get the chance when she returns. The rest of the book sees Jess and various members of her family spanning three generations sitting and telling the stories of their lives. Jess learns that everyone has secrets and that change is natural and builds memories and lives.

      ~~~BACKGROUND.

      If you don’t already know you may be wondering what a “Buffer Girl” is and why Granny was one. Berlie Doherty based the Buffer Girl Granny on a painting she saw while in Sheffield called “Sheffield Buffer Girls” ~ portraying two girls in their work clothes. These girls polished cutlery in Sheffield and Jess’s Granny Dorothy made her living as one. The other characters in the book are either loosely based on people Berlie knew or members of her own family ~ for example, the story of Bridie and Jack is based on the lives of Berlie’s mum and dad, who continued a relationship despite religious difficulties and family disapproval.

      ~~~WHAT I THINK.

      Granny Was a Buffer Girl is beautifully written and is very typical of the eloquent and descriptive writing style I have begun to expect of Berlie Doherty. The story is full of atmosphere; the words are like a tapestry showing the interaction between families and different age groups. My favourite line is “I was a snake, shedding its skin; a glistening, fleshy thing; a jewel in dark grass. I shuddered, thrilled, scared.” It shows the changes that are taking place in Jess and her life ~ she has secrets, is growing up and is scared of these changes. Berlie’s book offers reassurance and explanations ~ Jess learns that all her family have secrets and even her Granny Dorothy had secrets.

      'I wanted to tell Mum something I'd never been able to say to her before. If I left it till I came back home I might never be able to say it. I might be a different person.'


      The book is about change and sharing. The stories that the family tell each other that night bring them closer together and also help them to understand each other a little better too. Berlie has a knack of being able to describe things well and she is very good and linking the past and present in her stories. She is also very good and combining laughter and tears ~ some of the stories are a mixture of humour, sadness and tragedy, but all are interesting.

      The characters are very real too. I think this is all the more so for me ~ Sheffield, the story’s setting, is close to where I live and the industrial background of Jess and her family is pretty similar to my family’s history. We get to see quite deeply inside Jess’s family and find out what has shaped them and makes them tick. I found myself identifying pretty strongly with them all and shared a smile and even a tear while reading. The family has seen their fair share of tragedy, hardship, loss, change and grieving. By sharing these happy and not so happy memories Jess, and hopefully the reader too, learns the importance of families and interaction.

      “You tell your secrets, ands I’ll tell mine, said Granny Dorothy. “I’ll tell you something that Albert doesn’t know, even. My best secret.”

      Granny Was a Buffer Girl is aimed at an age range of 12 to 15 years. I think this is an appropriate audience, but that it is also suitable for older readers too. It touches on areas that would make it a bit too advanced for anyone younger ~ there are love stories and we share the experiences of adolescence too. Despite this, it is easy to read and not too long; just long enough to get your teeth into, but not so long as to make it drawn out or boring.

      There is a nice warmth in this book and a general “feel good” factor, but the story still evokes strong emotions. I found myself drawn into the story and it made me think too ~ the sign of a really good novel. I hope that you are your children enjoy reading it too and that maybe you will enjoy sharing memories with your loved ones.

      ~~~Product Details:
      • Paperback 208 pages (August 5, 2004)
      • Publisher: Puffin Books
      • ISBN: 0141318058
      Currently listed on Amazon for £4.79 ~ full cover price is £5.99 (second hand copies and other editions are available)


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