Lucy Babbage remembers Nadia Wheatley

Words by Lucy Babbage

Published on September 9, 2012

At the age of 11, my godmother – who always gifted me with really meaningful, age-appropriate puberty books that featured my name in some variation – gave me a copy of Nadia Wheatley’s Lucy in the Leap Year. I read it, and I guess I must have deeply related, because inexplicably I reread the thing at least 15 times between the ages of 11 and 14. Is this the same dependency issue that compels me to watch all four seasons of Felicity every year and firmly believe that we have the same life, even though the show ended when she was 22, hair straightened, and I am now 26, hair still difficult? I guess we’ll never know. But back to the book…

Basically, Lucy in the Leap Year details the life of title character Lucy (whose own mother died when she was very young) and her literal ‘leaps and bounds’ as she navigates the year in which she hits the awkward zone. To really rub salt in the wound, her oncoming womanhood coincides with her father getting a new GF that eventually becomes his wife (despite Lucy’s relationship-destructing aloofness/passive aggressive sabotage).

Yeah… This is the book that emotionally damaged me for years to come. To give you a play-by-play would probably send me into months of therapy, but just for kicks let’s take a look back at three of the most prescient (and haunting) moments in the book that spring to my mind:

For book day, Lucy dresses up as the wardrobe from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  and guess what? Nobody gets it. Instead the teacher announces her as a “television” and Lucy cries salty tears into her fur-lined cardboard gateway to Narnia. As a person who once went to my school’s fancy dress ball as ‘Amy’ from Little Women  with a peg on her nose at the behest of her mother (the girls in my grade were like, ‘Dude… we’re the Spice Girls‘), I totally felt her pain. We are the same!

Lucy sucks at swimming and has to attend multiple lessons to gain confidence in the water arena. I also sucked at swimming. I couldn’t dive (fear of hitting rock bottom… little did I know that would happen years later, seven vodka shots deep in a Brisbane gutter). In fact, my grade four teacher used to publicly humiliate me in front of my class by screaming, “Hurry up you wobbly pot of jelly.” Don’t worry my mum intervened. The teacher left under mysterious circumstances two weeks later. What’s up workplace bullying!

The final nail in my proverbial coffin was the big proposal. For all I know this could be the entire reason Wheatley built her plot around a leap year. Towards the end of the book, Lucy’s dad’s sweet but much-maligned girlfriend eventually drops knee on leap day to make it official, much to Lucy’s (and my) disgust. So desperate! Cloying! OMG just wait a second will you – you’ve been dating for five months!

And yet here you find me, halfway through the best part of a bottle of wine and a tub of mint-choc-chip thinking: when is the next leap year? Because I better lock some shit down soon.

This September, we’ve asked eight writers to revisit their favourite books from childhood for our new series, When I was young.