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Childish Things, Tafelberg, 1996

What can you say about the seventies – except to wish you hadn't been there? The sixties produced hippies and sex, the eighties yuppies and money. But the seventies? Disposable fashion, disposable dances, disposable music. And disposable lives in the warm country where I grew up . . .

Thus thirty-three-year-old Mart looks back from 1990s London on to her seventeenth year in 1970s South Africa. It's not easy being a teenager, particularly when you have to wear flares and platform shoes. But in a land surrounded by revolution there is more to grapple with than school and sports, music and sex. There is politics, and, tragically, death.

When shy, serious Mart meets the almost embarrassingly extrovert Dalena on her first day at their new school, she discovers rebellion. Mart's elder brother Simon, newly conscripted into the army, discovers it through his enigmatic friend Pierre. As the year unfolds Mart and Dalena face battles with the school, their families, their feelings; but Simon and Pierre face actual combat, 'somewhere on the Border' with Angola.

All four will be forced – some more brutally than others – to put away childish things for ever. This touchingly perceptive tale of the delights – and horrors – of the 1970s is punctuated in witty counterpoint by Mart's letters from the present day. Narrated with wry humour and clear-eyed compassion, Childish Things brings into focus all the exhiliration and heartbreak of growing up.

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