Book Review: Sarah Tipper – The Very Metal Diary of Cleo Howard


Author: Sarah Tipper
Book title: The Very Metal Diary of Cleo Howard
Release date: 1st April 2014
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The year is 1997. Channel 5 is about to be launched, Woolworths still exists, and a lot of people are wondering exactly what the hell Metallica are playing at. As fourteen year-old Reading, UK, resident Cleo Howard begins the New Year by securing her Kerrang! year planner to the wall, the trials and tribulations of a teenage metalhead await her world with open arms.

Based on Cleo’s daily diary entries throughout the calendar year, Sarah Tipper’s latest work[1] will naturally draw comparisons with Sue Townsend’s endearingly naive and hilariously honest thirteen and three quarter year-old protagonist Adrian Mole, yet peering further into Cleo’s world reveals not only a more modern, cosmopolitan perspective (understandable due to being set sixteen years after Townsend’s original book), but an entirely more conscientious and refined human being who appears to be much more aware of — and in touch with — the realities of the modern day society in which she resides.

That being said, some things never change: the passage of time proves meaningless and generation gaps are all but eroded when it comes to the average teenager’s foremost concerns, which (as we all know) comprise of everything from self-consciousness and future life uncertainties to insecurities regarding the size of certain puberty-affected body parts. Cleo reveals herself to be a typical teenager in many ways and yet her taste in music — as it is with so many of her punk- and metal-loving compatriots — dominates her personality, not to mention her sense of identity and (only half seriously) her superiority complex regarding her fellow classmates, especially those obsessed with the Spice Girls and other such vapid infatuations.

Cleo’s diary entries are a snapshot of a schoolgirl’s musings concerning her somewhat dysfunctional family life, her school life, her friendships and her social experiences, and it soon becomes clear that the one constant keeping her sane and providing focus is the world of heavy metal music. Her entries are also—understandably—full of the kind of female-centric issues that blight the thoughts and worries of most teenage girls, yet this does not detract or overwhelm to the extent that it would turn away male readers, just as Adrian Mole’s increasing libido and constant measuring of his ‘thing’ does not alienate readers of the opposite sex. Instead it serves to amuse as well as resonate with anyone who has either experienced life as a teenager or who—perhaps even more so—is currently locked into this seemingly endless and awkward period of transition in life. Her entries are frequently humorous, spanning everything from her own literary creations (alternative heavy metal horoscopes) to hypothetical dilemmas (would you rather be caught wanking or listening to Bon Jovi?), which—although juvenile—entertain throughout.

Much of Cleo’s diary is written by the hand of someone who believes she is unremarkable; someone who is constantly pondering the mundane whilst, no thanks to her introverted personality, simultaneously failing to realise her potential. Yet when her world is unexpectedly turned upside down, a new perspective begins to surface and by the end of the year, although her future is still uncertain, her drive to achieve becomes significantly greater.

The book is undoubtedly geared more towards fans of heavy metal, containing a wealth of nostalgia for those metalheads (myself included) who grew up in Britain as teenagers in the nineties and facing such crucial issues as whether to buy the weekly issue of Kerrang! or not based on the cover, or what band t-shirt to wear to the pub. It is however certain to be a highly enjoyable read for anyone who ever thought they were alone in the way they or their insular group of friends viewed the world at fifteen.

1. Despite being somewhat of a spin-off from Tipper’s main ‘Eviscerated Panda’ series, prerequisite reading is not necessary, making this work a stand-alone book in its own right.


About Author

Advocate of riffs and general noisiness. From London - now slightly further North (but not too far). Music // words // vinyl // nature // ale // coffee.

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