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Girl Defective

Photographer Henry Beer



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About The Book

In the tradition of High Fidelity and Empire Records, this is the literary soundtrack to Skylark Martin’s strange, mysterious, and extraordinary summer.

This is the story of a wild girl and a ghost girl; a boy who knew nothing and a boy who thought he knew everything.

It’s a story about Skylark Martin, who lives with her father and brother in a vintage record shop and is trying to find her place in the world. It’s about ten-year-old Super Agent Gully and his case of a lifetime. And about beautiful, reckless, sharp-as-knives Nancy. It’s about tragi-hot Luke, and just-plain-tragic Mia Casey. It’s about the dark underbelly of a curious neighborhood. It’s about summer, and weirdness, and mystery, and music.

And it’s about life and death and grief and romance. All the good stuff.


THE SONG “WISHING WELL” by the Millionaires (Decca, 1966) was as rare as it was weird, and my dad named his record shop after it. The guy who produced it, Joe Meek, was famously bonkers. He had occult leanings and Svengali issues. He heard voices, but he also heard music in a way that no one else did. Just a few years after his greatest success, Meek killed his landlady, then himself, and for a long time his tapes were locked away in a tea chest. Dad had “Wishing Well” on a compilation. He didn’t like to admit to this (compilations are cheating), but it meant I got to hear it. The song was poppy and bent. It sounded like it was recorded underwater or on the moon. Dad used to say the only reason he even opened up in the morning was on the slim chance that someone would sell the single in. Every other week he’d get that hopeful, pathetic look. “It’s coming,” he’d say. “I can feel it in my waters. You’ll see, kids. Everything comes in eventually.”

And Gully and I would go, “Yes, Dad,” but we never believed it would actually happen.

This is the story of how it did.

It’s also the story of a wild girl and a ghost girl; a boy who knew nothing and a boy who thought he knew everything. And it’s about life and death and grief and romance. All the good stuff.

But first the specs—as Gully would say.

It was just Dad and me and Gully living in the flat above the shop on Blessington Street, St. Kilda. We, the Martin family, were like inverse superheroes, marked by our defects. Dad was addicted to beer and bootlegs. Gully had “social difficulties” that manifested in his wearing a pig-snout mask 24/7. I was surface-clean, but underneath a weird hormonal stew was simmering. My defects weren’t the kind you could see just from looking. Later I would decide they were symptoms of Nancy Cole.

At the time all this happened I’d known Nancy three months. She was nineteen and sharp as knives. I was fifteen and fumbling. We met when Dad hired her to clean the shop and the flat. I remember her walking into my room with the vacuum hose slung around her neck, sloppy and insolent like a bad boyfriend’s arm. She opened her mouth and all this stuff poured out. Did I know that sharks could switch off half their brains? That the average person farted fourteen times a day? That deep in the suburbs middle-aged couples were having sex dressed as plush toys? And I, who never said anything much to anyone, said, “Bullshit!” Soon enough we were gasbagging and lollygagging, and the dishes didn’t even get a look in. Dad had to let her go, but she kept coming around. Nancy’s laugh—and I can still hear it—was an unexpected heehaw that went totally against her glamazon appearance. “You’re all right, kid.”

“Kid,” that was what she called me. Or “little sister,” or “girlfriend,” or “dollbaby,” or “monkeyface.” Sometimes she even used my name—Skylark, Sky—all in that drawl that felt like fingernails on my back, lightly scratching itches I didn’t even know I had.

About The Author

Photograph by Tania Jovanovic

Simmone Howell is the award-winning author of Notes from the Teenage Underground and Everything Beautiful. Before becoming a writer she worked in a multitude of secondhand bookstores and record shops, and as a result her house looks like one. She lives with her husband and son and crazy dog in Melbourne, Australia. Visit her at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (September 2, 2014)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781442497603
  • Grades: 9 and up
  • Ages: 14 - 99
  • Lexile ® HL580L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

* "Funny, observant, a relentless critic of the world's (and her own) flaws, Sky is original, thoroughly authentic and great company, decorating her astute, irreverent commentary with vivid Aussie references; chasing these down should provide foreign readers with hours of online fun."

– Kirkus Reviews, May 2014, *STARRED REVIEW*

"Charming, funny, fun…a delightful journey through an Australian teenager's summer of weird and cool."

– Rachel Cohn, New York Times bestselling co-author of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

"Smart. Edgy. Beautifully written. One of my year's favorites."

– Melina Marchetta, Printz Medal winner for Jellicoe Road

"Melancholy and haunting, funny and hopeful, and just everything I love in a book."

– Trish Doller, author of Where the Stars Still Shine

"Like a cross between High Fidelity and The Killing, Australian novelist Howell’s (Everything Beautiful) story alternates between cheeky and dark."

– Publishers Weekly, August 2014

"Part mystery, part romance, and part unconventional family story, the book introduces an intriguing cast of characters, each of whom has his or her own mystery or problem to solve.... Sky’s first-person observant, questioning, and self-critical...the novel’s rich and well-described setting anchors the plot while its conclusion works to illuminate the relationship between its unique characters and their preoccupations."

– Horn Book Magazine, September/October 2014

"This is a story of characters. There are no good guys or bad guys, just a lot of complex people, quirky, flawed and layered.... The dialogue is snappy and sometimes brutally honest."

– VOYA Magazine, October 2014

* "Part coming-of-age tale, part family story, and part mystery, this novel provides the reader with a well-crafted, layered narrative.... The writing style’s cadence and phrasing perfectly suit both the character and the story.... Likely to suit fans of Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road (BCCB 11/08), this novel will also please readers who like their narrators as active as they are introspective."

– The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November 2014, *STARRED REVIEW

* "Australian author Howell brings stateside her intriguing story of a coming-of-age summer for 15-year-old Skylark Martin.... Howell’s writing is engaging and well suited to the pacing of the story, and the Aussie references are part of the charm."

– School Library Journal, November 2014, *STARRED REVIEW*

Awards and Honors

  • CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council)
  • MSTA Reading Circle List

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