Manda and Malin are about to start ninth grade and are waiting for life to begin for real. But how? There’s nothing going on in the town where they live. They girls are practically fuelled by their longing to be somewhere else as they cycle around the little community. They hang out at the beach, in the play park, at the kiosk, and in the library, places that harbour their still diffuse perception of what it means to grow up, become someone else, and conquer the world.
Strömberg’s young person’s novel Vi ska ju bara cykla förbi (2022) (“We Can Just Cycle Past”, not published in English) is a sincere, believable rendering of the teenage girls’ chafing existence. They dream of being “mysterious” and “cool”, living the great teenage romance shown in all the American TV series, and one day moving to New York. At the same time, they’re unsure how life will pan out and what they really want and can handle. Two older boys in their village become their romance project, which they pursue – somewhat hesitantly – from the sad safety of Easter with their family to a rowdy drunken party in town that they’ve not even been invited to. As Malin stubbornly points out, they shouldn’t actually go to the party but “cycle there and just kinda see what it’s like”.
Manda and Malin are thick as thieves, but their friendship is far from uncomplicated. The girls tease each other, squabble, and quarrel every other day. While there’s usually a liberating guffaw lying in wait, a serious note also emerges between the girls’ rows. The cocky rebellion and think-skinned vulnerability of adolescence are closely linked, even in Malin, who is the more risk-inclined of the two. A broader friendship and transgenerational solidarity are forged when Manda’s older – and initially annoyingly clear-headed – sister and her friend come to the rescue when the girls’ romance project fails.
Strömberg’s sparkling prose is crystal clear, and Manda’s narrative voice clearly rendered. With impressive confidence, Strömberg captures the high-spirited dreams of the girls’ approaching adolescence, which stand in stark contrast with the prosaic bleakness of their day-to-day life. Vi ska ju bara cykla förbi is bursting with life and longing, showing the continued relevance of realist young people’s novels.
Ellen Strömberg (born in 1987) is an award-winning Finnish-Swedish author who writes for children and young people, as well as for adults. She made her debut in 2018 with the novel Jaga vatten (2018). Vi ska ju bara cykla förbi (2022), her first young people’s novel, was nominated for the Finlandia Prize for Children’s and Young People’s Literature and won the August Prize for the Swedish Children’s and Young People’s Book of the Year in 2022.