The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge

Clare Strahan

The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge
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The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge

Clare Strahan

Shortlisted for the Readings Young Adult Book Prize 2019

Vanessa (Van) Partridge is curious about the idea of having sex. But she can’t tell anyone. And no one would believe her anyway - because everyone knows she’s a goody-two-shoes. But over the summer holidays, Van rebels and everything changes.

At first it feels like delicious freedom as she explores her independence, practising her favourite cello pieces, reconnecting with her long-time summer friend Kelsey and exploring her attraction to environmental activist Bodhi.

But when her sense of self is shaken, Van wrestles with issues of desire and consent, and the questions that have been plaguing her all along… Can someone with sensible plaits and an interest in philosophy really be a raving sex-o-maniac? And if they are, is there anything wrong with that?

The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge is a funny and warm coming-of-age novel about love, sex, friendship, family, and finding your voice.


It’s the start of the summer holidays, and the Partridges are off to the beach. But it’s a new kind of family holiday altogether – mum’s gone to Paris to ‘find herself’, abandoning siblings Vanessa and Ash to the reality of their newly appointed stepmother Rochelle, previously their nanny, and their difficult mogul father. Vanessa packs a suitcase, empty but for her pyjamas, deciding that this summer she will reinvent herself into an alluring 15-year-old woman. But this summer project is interrupted when Vanessa meets some environmental activists who are convinced her dad is doing dodgy business deals, putting the entire coastal town at risk. Then there is Bodhi, the attractive older activist who shows an interest in Vanessa as she begins to explore her sexuality.

Things get complicated pretty quickly. With an absent mother, and a distant, potentially evil father, Vanessa does her best to grapple alone with understanding desire, consent, rape culture, sexual assault, and ‘doing the right thing’. This is smart, wickedly funny, and painfully relatable teenage fiction that explores heavy topics with honesty and humour. Vanessa is a wonderful protagonist, and invites the reader to sit with all too familiar teenage discomfort, awkwardness and angst. Vanessa’s life is bog-standard teenage chaos, but she’s got a lot of heart and grit to get herself through. Amazingly, amidst all the drama Vanessa never seems to forget to do her cello practice either.

Expect laughter, and more laughter again. It will be a definite hit with those who love contemporary YA. For readers aged 14+.

Kushla Egan works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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