When Rebecca Sparrow’s debut novel came out in 2003, I was probably the boy least likely to pick it up. I’m glad I did though (albeit nine years later) because otherwise I never would have found out that you don’t actually have to enjoy fruit loops, 80s television or erotic fiction (all this from the blurb) to get a kick out of The Girl Most Likely. Sparrow’s humour and charming writing style will invite you into the lives of her vulnerable, accessible characters, who are the sort of people you’ll want to be friends with, so failing that, you’ll just keep reading about them until the pages run out.
In her semi-autographical novel, Sparrow introduces us to Rachel Hill aka the Girl Most Likely to Succeed after high school. But high school was ten years ago for Rachel and she’s probably held onto her accolade a bit too tightly, because even though she is an Honours graduate and a high-flying magazine editor, when something happens to disrupt her winning streak she doesn’t know how to cope with it.
What disrupts her is that she gets married to her American boyfriend in Vegas and the marriage lasts about as long as the wedding. The novel opens with Rachel, an almost divorcee, living back home under her parents’ roof and unfocussed and unmotivated for the first time since, well, ever. With her birthday approaching, she decides to regain control of her life by teaching herself to play an 80s television theme on the piano, as per her list of things to do before she turns twenty-eight. Evidently she strikes a chord with her neighbour Matt, who at this point enters the novel as Rachel’s inevitable love interest.
Meanwhile, Rachel’s mother has entered her into the Miss Brisbane awards. Deliberately trying to throw the competition becomes another distraction for Rachel, along with Matt, the piano lessons, her part-time babysitting gig and going to the RE pub. Rachel’s journey in the book is about letting go of the little things and learning to face her challenges head on…even the ones that come in the shape of handsome American ex-husbands.
In the cons column, there are admittedly moments when Rachel comes across as a bit conceited (like when she tells people that what she does for a living is “write for the country’s biggest travel magazine”) or impervious to consequence (like when she sleeps with her friend’s seventeen-year-old brother), but these instances are few and far between. Sparrow’s control of her characters is excellent, and their interactions with each other propel the narrative forward in funny and ridiculous leaps and bounds.
If you’re from Brisbane, you’ll be able to recognise the settings that the stories unfold in, as well as your changing relationship with the town when you’re in your twenties and you thought that you were about to get away for a while. If you’re from someplace else, Sparrow’s the girl to introduce you to the river city. Let her. She knows what she’s doing, even if Rachel doesn’t.