This Will Go Down on Your Permanent by Susannah Felts
published by featherproof books, 2008
This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record is a story about Vaughn, a sixteen-year-old girl who decides to dump her trio of popular best friends right before school lets out for summer. She has a camera and is excited about her fall photography class, so she shoots pictures regularly. Then, Vaughn sees Sophie, a small, dramatic-looking fifteen-year-old girl sitting on the porch across the street. New neighbor from another state! After Sophie drops hints that she hates her mom and has possibly been sexually abused by her uncle, Sophie is permitted to stay with Vaughn’s family when her mother moves away. The story follows the typical coming-of-age novel: Sophie upsets Vaughn’s life by peer pressuring her into trying pot, starting smoking, and hanging out a Dragon Park with two teenage boys. Occasionally, Sophie doesn’t come home when she’s supposed to, and it’s clear she’s the “faster” of the two girls. The novel is set in the summer of 1989, so no cell phones or computers.
There was nothing particularly 1989 about the story. Cassettes are mentioned a couple of times, and we get a description of a Flock of Seagulls-inspired hairstyle, but Felts makes the mistake many other writers these days do: she sets the novel in a time before personal electronic devices simply to avoid the complication of text messages, social media, and Google. Think about it. How many books have you read lately that are set just before the widespread use of personal tech? I actually discuss this topic in a class I teach about technology and literature, and students can only come up with one book that uses current tech: the Fifty Shades series. So, E.L. James has that going for her.
While the story actually is predictable, there were many times I thought it was going to head into unusual territory. How many times does Sophie seem way too “familiar” around Vaughn’s dad? And isn’t Vaughn’s mom practically out of the picture? She creates handmade jewelry in a shed out in the yard. The mother seemed depressed or neglectful and doesn’t even come in for dinner, leaving room for another person to jump in. I was on the edge of my seat during these sections, predicting the weirdness that would ensue when Mom came out of her jewelry cave and found a teen in bed with her husband. But that never happens.
The characters lack complexity. Sometimes, they lack motivation. Why did Vaughn dump her trio of friends? Why are they so popular when she seems so non-descript? That’s not typically how teen girl group dynamics work. Even though Vaughn was independent enough to dump her popular friends, she’s enough of a pushover for Sophie to talk her into smoking, pot, and getting into cars with strangers with almost no effort.
The title is inspired by the damning potential of a photo printed and kept as evidence. Sophie is Vaughn’s model all summer; she has a unique defiant yet poverty-stricken look. But when Sophie gets the camera in her hands, she catches Vaughn in incriminating situations. The power of the camera is never fully explored, as the potential to control someone through blackmail, even the high school kind, is left untouched. Overall, This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record cracks open doors but never explores what’s in the room.