Oliver Phommavanh: ‘I don’t get girls’


When I was a teenager, I used to read Girlfriend magazine. I thought it would help me get a girlfriend. I wanted to do some research because I don’t get girls. My favourite pick up line was, ‘What’s better, Nintendo 64 or PlayStation?’ Yes, I grew up in the pre-smartphone era. Back in my day, you couldn’t hide behind Snapchat or Instagram. You had to talk to girls, like face-to-face. It was ugly. I mean, that’s why there’s no emoji with pimples everywhere.

So when it came to writing The Other Christy, I finally had a ‘female protagonist’. Now I know this girl is in Year 6, but it doesn’t make it less complicated. I used to be a teacher of a Year 5/6 class and girls took their fights undercover. I mean you couldn’t set up a hotline to report any fights between girls, because you wouldn’t suspect a thing.

I remember a girl burst into tears in my class and it was because of something that another mean girl said. I later discovered that this was not a one-off incident, but something brewing over the last few months. It was like starting Game of Thrones at the beginning of season six. How did I miss this mean girl’s behaviour? Why didn’t anybody tell me? What’s the big deal with Jon Snow anyway?

So I drew from my teacher observations to get inside the Other Christy, Christy Ung’s head. She’s a quiet girl with loud ideas. She’s a little misunderstood. She just wants to be heard. No, her middle name is not Carrie. But she does kill people with kindness, shaped like cupcakes and muffins. Christy Ung is every shy girl that I used to teach in class. The ones who didn’t have many friends and felt a little left out. Kinda like Pluto. He can’t hang out with the other planets anymore, so he’s just floating around on the edge.

Christie Owens is a queen bee in the same class as Christy. Christie borrows a lot from other popular girls in my classes. They had their cliques. They had their besties. But in The Other Christy, Christie’s besties turn to beasties and she gets kicked out. Christy starts to befriend her, but the question remains, can you be friends with your rival? Of course you can. Look what happened with Mario and Sonic.

I’m a little part of Christy Ung too. The insecure kid who wants to be one of the popular ones, know all the latest trends, have the coolest things. I see this all the time when I visit schools as an author. I’m always overhearing conversations, trying to get in tune with what kids are into. I’ve witnessed the rise and fall and resurrection of Justin Bieber. I’ve lived through fads, trends and viral dances and memes that fade quicker than whatshisname, you know that guy who did that thing. Yeah, him. I know friendships that can be fickle things, if you’re hiding behind masks. Be yourself and find your tribe or LAN group. Yeah, I don’t get out often these days.

I’ve had a lot of fun writing The Other Christy. It’s a different tack for me. It’s a story made up out of all those things I’ve seen in the playground and in class. How can I make these characters up? I’ve seen them up close. When people ask how me how I know Christy Ung, I’ll tell them, I’ve taught her. I’ve seen her come out of her shell and make a genuine friend unexpectedly. So I know a little about girls. But I still get all awkward around them. Just ask my wife. She thinks I’m weird. But she gets me. Even if she doesn’t know what a Nintendo 64 is.

The Other ChristyThe Other Christy by Oliver Phommovanh
For the last two years, Christy Ung has been in the same class as the loud-mouthed Christie Owens, and now it’s third time unlucky in 6C. Christie Owens is the popular one so everybody calls Christy Ung, the Other Christy. When Christie is ditched by her besties, the two girls who share a name strike an unlikely friendship, but Christy soon realises that she and her new friend are worlds apart. Will the two girls ever have more in common than just their name?

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