Courtney Summers' books have been raved about for as long as I've been blogging, and it was alwaysOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Courtney Summers' books have been raved about for as long as I've been blogging, and it was always my intention to read them at some point. Then recently, Summers wrote on her Tumblr about how Some Girls Are was banned from a South Carolina high school summer reading list because of constant complaints from a student's parent. Banning books is something that makes me so angry, so upon hearing the news, I ordered myself a copy of Some Girls Are in support - and it's absolutely brilliant.
Regina is one of the most popular girls in her high school. She and her friends are feared and awed at the same time. Fellow students are there for their entertainment, to be mocked, to be humiliated, to be brought down. When Regina is sexually assaulted by her best friend Anna's boyfriend, Donnie, it's the beginning of her own downfall. Anna doesn't believe he tried to rape her. She is convinced by another member of the clique, Kara - who hates and is on a lower peg than Regina - that Regina actually slept with Donnie, consensually, behind her back. Now the clique is out to make Regina's life a living hell. They trash her locker, they reveal her secrets, they create a website of hate about her. As time goes on, the bullying gets worse and worse. Her only solace is Michael, an outcast she helped outcast. Regina treated him so disgustingly, and Michael has a hard time forgiving her. But there's nowhere else for Regina to go, and his honesty - as well as her treatment - is making her rethink everything. She's suddenly seeing Michael in a completely different light, and there's the hope of something more... but will her ex-friends allow Regina to have anything good in her life?
Some Girls Are is a terrifying story, and a hugely upsetting one. Although I was nowhere near as badly bullied as the people in this book, I knew these girls. I knew what they were capable of, and I did my utmost to be invisible to them. Reading Some Girls Are brought back the fear and intimidation I felt on a daily basis. Whether you've experienced it or not, it's impossible to read this book and not feel horrified at the lengths these girls go to hurt and torment Regina. It's shocking, but yet unsurprising. And it's upsetting to watch just how bad things get for Regina.
I need to talk about Michael, and how amazing he was. I'm a little worried my description is making Michael seem like a walkover who just allowed Regina to come into his life because it's Regina, or out of intimidation. Michael is a pretty strong guy, despite having next to no friends at school. The girls made it quite clear that he is the social parriah, and no-one is to give him the time of day. Rumours flew around about him and how he's dangerous, and no-one will go near him. He doesn't give Regina an easy time, at all. In fact, he confronts her with the truth of her actions over and over, and they argue, and Regina has nowhere to hide from the light he's shining on this person she was, because she has nowhere to go, but facing it is unbearable. By the time the book ends, Regina is a better person, but she's far from perfect. It's hard to shake off treating people in a way that's all you know, and she uses it whenever she can to try to get back at her old clique, and does some awful things herself. But Michael has her questioning it all, and it's great to see this affect he has on her.
I wasn't so keen on the ending. It seemed to end to abruptly, and it felt to me like things worked out a little too easily. After everything that happened, things are sorted within a few pages, and it just felt a little off. But it's only a few pages, and the book as a whole is amazing.
I am, I'm afraid, unable to review this book without talking about the banning of it. The parent who brought about the banning of Some Girls Are, who read the whole book, said it was "smut" and "trash". How this woman could even flirt with the idea that this book could be either is beyond me. It makes me so angry. This book is absolutely incredible. It's hard-hitting, it's terrifying, but it's so real, and for this woman to not just dismiss Some Girls Are, a book that shows the reality of how horrifying bullying can really get, as "trash" but also stop other teenagers from reading this book has me raging to the point where I'm almost crying. There are so many people who could be helped by this book. So many people who can see their own experiences reflected back at them, so many people who could read this book and think twice about either actively taking part in the bullying of another person, or laughing when they witness it, or being a part of the rumour mill. This book could even affect some people so much that they could actually help someone being bullied when they see it, stand up for them, do something. And those teens in that school are being denied the opportunity to have this incredible book affect and change them, and that is beyond wrong. I am livid.
Some Girls Are is such an important reads, and needs to be read. So do read it; support Some Girls Are and Courtney Summers, and fight against the banning of books. This is a book that could do so much good....more
I have had Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers recommended to me twice; once, a number of years aOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I have had Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers recommended to me twice; once, a number of years ago, and I only remember the recommendation because of the book's epistolary format, and again earlier this year when looking for books written in an unusual format. As it is with there being so many books you want to read, I've been intrigued by this book for ages, but never actually picked it up. Fortunately, due to this new edition just being released, I was sent a copy for review, and it's just so brilliant, and wonderfully surprising.
Claire's mum is an obstetrician, and is always busy at work delivering babies. Claire has school, an active social life and her babysitting job. They both always seem to miss each other, so they leave notes for each other on the door of their fridge. Their relationship is like any other between a teenager and her mother, although sometimes difficult as they both want to see each other more, wish the other was a little less busy. But then Claire's mum gets some devastating news - news that will change both of them individually, as well as their relationship.
The story is told solely through through the notes left on the fridge, and as the novel is only 226 pages long and some of the notes only being a few lines long, I read the whole book yesterday in under an hour. Even so, it was very emotional, surprisingly so, and very moving. It made me think about my own relationship with my mum, and how just earlier in the morning I'd left a note for her as we'd miss each other, about my dinner plans, but also to wish her well for something happening in her day. This novel made me wish I'd been able to wish her well in person, and I gave her a big hug when I saw her next.
When Claire's mum (who, as far as I remember, is never actually named in the novel, despite Goodreads' summary) is diagnosed with breast cancer, she plays it down. She's sure everything will be fine, it's nothing to worry about. Because of this, Claire worries less than she might have. Her mother is a doctor, her mother is also her mother, and so she believes her that there's no need to worry. And so life for Claire carries on as normal for the most part; boy worries, wanting to go shopping and spending time with her friends. However, her mum's struggles with the treatment and needs her daughter to help out a little more, or wish she'd seen her, or, on days when the treatment makes her ratty, they get into arguments. Claire is still thinking that her mum will end up fine, so she is a little selfish at times, and it's so upsetting when you, the reader, know her mum is just trying to protect her from the worry though she's really taking quite a hit. It takes a while for Claire to realise just how serious this is, and even then, she doesn't know the right thing to do. She tries to help her mum, do things she think she would like, that would make her smile, but actually do the opposite, because she's still quite young, even at 15.
As the story goes on and you see the two get closer through their notes, as they try to see more of each other and be more honest about what they're thinking and feeling, it gets very emotional. It's beautiful to see their relationship get better, but so hard to see Claire suffer emotionally about her mum, and her mum struggle with her cancer. Less than 45 minutes into starting this book, I was close to tears.
For such a quick read, Kuipers really sucks you in and takes you through so many emotions. It's a great talent to get a reader so emotionally invested in a story when it's so short and so quickly read, but I was completely gripped by these characters and their story, and so hopeful for them. A fantastic novel, a great read if you've got a spare half hour, just be prepared to have your emotions go through the wringer.
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books for the review copy....more
The title of this book alone had me really intrigued. I was sensing a possible feminist fairy taleOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
The title of this book alone had me really intrigued. I was sensing a possible feminist fairy tale retelling, and that was exactly what I got, but so much more. How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour & Rebecca Ashdown is a fantastic picture book, with all kinds of wonderful messages.
Rapunzel sits high up in the tower block where she lives, alone and miserable. Those who visit her try to help, but they don't seem to be able to reach her, she just stares out the window. Not even the Prince has any affect on her. When she finally opens a letter the postman delivers, everything changes. It's come from the library, and they have some important news that gets her smiling again!
How the Library is a book that promotes a good work ethic, with the idea that having a purpose is the key to a happy life. The letter Rapunzel receives is a job offer from the library, and now Rapunzel has some meaning to her life, she is back to her happy, sunny self again. Rapunzel doesn't need a man, she needs something to do.
It also seems to touch on mental health. Rapunzel is morose and despondent. She had "nowhere to go," "nothing to prove," "nothing to say," and "nothing to think". She won't eat, she won't leave the house, she won't talk to anyone, until her friends - the milkman, the postman, the baker and her auntie - orchestrate an intervention.
The lift had broken down, and no-one really wanted to climb all the stairs due to ill-health, but seeing how Rapunzel has shut herself off from the world in the tower - her almost self-imposed imprisonment - they realise they have to do more to help her, and they climb the stairs to her flat. They cook her some food and get her to eat, and are just there for her. And when she reads the letter, it's the one good thing she needs that turns her life around.
From page 12 of How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour & Rebecca Ashdown.
Ashdown has down a wonderful job of making How the Library a really diverse book with her illustrations, which is so wonderful to see. Not just in the characters who visit Rapunzel, but in the people out and about near the tower block. The Prince, who appears only briefly, is a person of colour, which is just brilliant - he's modern and trendy too!
From page 10 of How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour & Rebecca Ashdown.
And this is probably not as important as all the other things How the Library covers, but it's so pro-libraries and reading! Not only does the library give Rapunzel a job, but she gets to read so many books and she learns so many things! One of the parting messages encourages girls to be more concerned with books than boys.
'So don't wait for your prince to show. He might turn up, but you never know. Pop down to your library and borrow a book - there's SO MUCH to find out if only you look. (p25)
From page 17 of How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour & Rebecca Ashdown.
Although this book is mostly pretty feminist, there are two ideas in How the Library that I find partially problematic. Once Rapunzel has read the letter and is happy again, she fixes the lift "in a ladylike manner!" (p17). I'm all for the idea that girls can fix things as well as boys, but I winced a little at how Rapunzel was "ladylike" while she fixed it. It's a small thing, but it perpetuates the idea that there is a "girlish" / "ladylike" way of doing things, and that there is a "boyish" way, and girls should be "ladylike". It's almost a mixed message; yes, girls can do things that are stereotypically things boys do, but only if they're ladylike while they do them. I know "manner" rhymes with "spanner", but I do wish they managed to make it rhyme without this idea.
Also, when her friends make it up to her flat, they find Rapunzel "sat alone with only her cats" (p14). Again, cats rhyme with flat, I get that, but it's the cat lady idea. The book might be saying girls don't need boys to have a full life, but still, without them, girls are alone with their cats. It feeds in to the stereotype, I think.
From page 14 of How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour & Rebecca Ashdown.
As I said, these are only small things. The book on the whole really is brilliant, with it's great message and by challenging gender roles, and would make a wonderful addition to child's feminist library.
Thank you to Frances Lincoln for the review copy. ...more
On hearing about Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne, I was really intrigued. A YA novel covering mental illnesOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
On hearing about Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne, I was really intrigued. A YA novel covering mental illness and feminism, and a book highly recommended by YA author Louise O'Neill - I had to read it. However, I was a little nervous as I didn't fall completely in love with Bourne's first novel, Soulmates. I picked it up with slight trepidation, but within pages, I was hooked. This book is incredible!
Evie has just started college, and is thinking of it as a new start. She has OCD and Generalised Anxiety Disorder, but her medication's being reduced, and hardly anyone at college knows about her past. Now is Evie's time to be normal, which becomes easier when she makes friends with Lottie and Amber. Together, the girls laugh and have fun, but also getting talking about sexism and feminist issues. They for the Spinster Club, and hold meetings, discussing how to fight the patriarchy. Evie is finally feeling like her life is on track, and decides all she needs now is a boyfriend. Evie is determined to be normal, and refuses to tell anyone about her mental illness, but boys come with their own complications and worries, the kind that might not be so helpful to someone in recovery.
Oh, how I loved this book! I don't know what I loved most; how realistically Evie's mental illness was depicted, or how wonderfully feminist this book is! Both aspects of this novel are just so incredibly well done, I have been marking pages and pages to quote for this review, I have too many to use them all!
There are several members of my family who have depression, and the stigma around depression is so awful, that mental health is a topic really close to my heart. Bourne tackles Evie's OCD and Generalised Anxiety Disorder brilliantly. I have no real personal experience with either, but with all the research Bourne has obviously done to give us such a detailed look at Evie's experiences with these mental illnesses, I feel confident that this is a realistic portrayal (though not the only way these mental illnesses can manifest, as Bourne points out in the interview included at the end).
Not only does it feel so real, but Bourne writes it in this incredible way that I was completely drawn in to what Evie was experiencing. When Evie was anxious, I felt anxious with her. When she needed to wash her hands, I was internally screaming, "For god's sake, let her wash her bloody hands!", even though I knew how bad for her it would be. When I found out my Nan was terminal, my health was affected by the news in various ways, including panic attacks, one major, maybe four minor. Sitting on a bus, suddenly overwhelmingly hot, finding it difficulty to breath, thinking there were far too many people around me (the bus wasn't busy), and feeling this intense fear for no reason I could understand - it was horrific. I just needed to get off that bus, now. It was a choking and all encompassing fear, and oh my god, I couldn't breath, which scared me further. Once off, I needed to get home. Once home, I needed my mum, because oh my god, something's wrong with me, and I don't know what, please, please help me! Sobbing uncontrollably, struggling to breath, and so scared. Those feelings all came back to me while reading this book, and I know, back then, if there was something I could have done to have stopped how I was feeling, I would have done it. So I can understand Evie's need to wash her hands, or do whatever else she needed to do, while under the influence of her escalating bad thoughts, totally illogical but scary thoughts she couldn't ignore. And I was right there with her. Even though it was heartbreaking to read, I was right there with her.
There's this wonderful part earlier on in the book when Evie discusses how wrong people can be when it comes to mental health. She starts off discussing how great it is that things have progressed to the point where people are able to get the help they need now, and there's less of a stigma than there once was. But then she goes on to say how she thinks progress has gone too far:
'I can say, with some confidence, that it's gone too far the other way. Because now mental health disorders have gone "mainstream". And for all the good it's brought people like me who have been given therapy and stuff, there's a lot of bad it's brought, too. Because now people use the phrase OCD to describe minor personality quirks. "Oooh, I like my pens in a line, I'm so OCD." NO YOU'RE FUCKING NOT. [...] These words - words like OCD and bipolar - are not words to use lightly. And yet now they're everywhere. There are TV programmes that actually pun on them. People smile and use them, proud of themselves for learning them, like they should get a sticker of something. Not realizing that is those words are said to you by a medical health professional, as as diagnosis of something you'll probably have for ever, they're words you don't appreciate being misused every single day by someone who likes to keep their house quite clean. People actually die of bipolar, you know? They jump in front of trains and tip bottles of paracetamol and leave letters behind to their devastated families because their bullying brains just won't leave them be for five minutes and they can't bear to live with that anymore. People also die of cancer. You don't hear people going around saying: "Oh my God, my headache is so, like, tumoury today." Yet it's apparently okay to make light of the language of people's internal hell. And it makes me hate people because I really don't think they get it.' (p91-92)
Oh, how I was aggressively nodding along and agreeing in my head as I read this! It's a long quote, I know, and I'm sorry, but it's so incredibly important! And I'm so over the moon that Bourne, through Evie, has said it. Listen up, people! Be educated!
Lottie and Amber! I loved these two girls so much! Such opinions and ideas on gender inequality and sexism! They both educate Evie with feminist ideas - some I'd heard of, some I hadn't - throughout the book, and it's so incredibly wonderful.
'I always felt I learned something when I was with them. They had such strong opinions, such high opinions about being a girl and how it's amazing, it was hard not to get swept up in it. Especially with Einstein Lottie teaching me all these knew thoughts and words. I did feel a bit glowy about girlfolk. I mean, we are really cool, aren't we? And the world is, like, totally against you if you have a fanny, isn't it?' (p189)
I love the Spinsters Club, and I so want my own! What I love is how Bourne breaks down these ideas so they are so accessible! I reviewed Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O'Toole earlier in the year, and I did have some trouble understanding certain parts, and would have to read them over a few times to fully get it. With Am I Normal Yet? there is no way anyone would be confused! Readers will learn about the Bechdel test, learn about Manic Pixie Dream Girls, and benevolent sexism, all in relation to the character's lives. It's brilliant! And I am so excited by the idea that teenage girls will be reading this book, and will find out about these ideas and think, and oh my god, maybe even change the way they think and do things? Can you imagine?! There are a few feminist YA stories out at the moment, but this is the first I've read that actually talks about feminism and discusses how to be a feminist, and I think it really could be a game changer! And I am so happy! I am so, so happy and excited!
I could go on, but I think I've maybe raved about this book long enough. Am I Normal Yet? really is such an incredible, and hugely important book! I will be recommending this book to pretty much everyone! And what is even better, this is only the first book in a trilogy of feminist stories! There will be more! And I can't wait to have Bourne help continue my feminist education. Read this book!
Originally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase. I'm a Girl! by Yasmeen Ismail is brilliant! I knew I had to read it as soon as I heard about - a picture booOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase. I'm a Girl! by Yasmeen Ismail is brilliant! I knew I had to read it as soon as I heard about - a picture book for children that challenges gender roles and stereotypes!
This little girl likes to play however she wants, whether it's loud or fast, whether she makes a mess, whether she's a little rough and tumble. But because of the things she likes to do, people keep thinking she's a boy. Instead of not doing the things she enjoys because of what people think, she continues to do the things she loves, proudly declaring that she's a girl to those annoying people who get it wrong. While she's playing, she meets a boy who likes playing with dolls, and another boy who likes to wear skirts, and together they have fun, embracing who they are.
I am a massive believer in that children should be allowed to be children, and play however they wish rather than be forced into gender roles, only allowed to play in a way that's "right" for their gender. There is no right or wrong when it comes to playing, gender shouldn't come into it, and this book shows exactly that.
I love how the little girl keeps doing what she's doing. She's not cowed by the opinions of others, but stays true to herself. She gets annoyed by these people and defends herself. She doesn't doubt for a second that there's anything wrong with who she is and how she plays, and she is sets such a wonderful example for children reading.
I would have liked there to be a little more about the boys in the story though. When the girl is playing with dolls with a boy, another boy disparagingly says, "Dolls are for girls," to which the boy replies, "No they're not!" looking a little sad, while the little girl says, "I am a girl!" angrily. And with the boy who wears a grass skirt over his shorts, there's no reference to it, just the two characters being happy about how brilliant they are. If there isn't going to be a version of this book for boys, then I wish there had been a little more about boys playing in supposedly "girlie" ways/with "girls'" toys, as I think, generally, boys get the flak for stepping outside their gender roles more so than girls do.
A really fantastic book that every child should read if not own, to see it's ok for them to just be theselves.
Thank you to Bloomsbury for the review copy.
Thank you to Bloomsbury for the review copy....more
My head of department at work knows how much I love reading LGBTQ YA, so after she had a meeting with a repOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
My head of department at work knows how much I love reading LGBTQ YA, so after she had a meeting with a rep from Scholastic where she heard about George by Alex Gino, she told me about it. It sounded amazing, so as soon as she had read the bookseller proof she was provided, she lent it to me. And oh my god, this book is so good!
Ten-year-old George has always known she is a girl, despite the fact that she has a boy's body. She knows there are other people like her from using the internet, but she just doesn't know how to broach the subject with anyone. Her class are reading Charlotte's Web, and George really loves it, especially Charlotte, so when it comes to auditioning for a part in the school's production of the book, she knows she has to be Charlotte. But Ms. Udell, her teacher, tells her that she can't be Charlotte because she's a boy. With George getting increasingly more upset with being treated as the boy she isn't, her best friend Kelly comes up with a brilliant idea, an idea that will change everything.
I can't even begin to tell you how amazing this book is. I'm not one for young fiction, I tend to find it's much too young for me to enjoy, but George is such an incredible story! I've read a few YA stories with transgender characters, and George doesn't really cover anything new, but it's written so beautifully, and does something those other books don't - George introduces LGBTQ characters to younger readers.
Let's take a moment to think about just what a big deal that is. When we think of YA, the intended audience is around 12+. YA misses those younger children who aren't ready for YA reading levels or some mature themes they cover. So those younger children don't really get those LGBTQ stories - except maybe when they were younger and read some picture books with same sex parents, which are, of course, important, but there's still this massive gap. And now we have George, a book for children around the same age as the title character, helping those who are cis-gendered understand what it means to be transgender, showing those who are transgender that they're not alone, that there are others out there like them, and that things can change. They see themselves represented in the fiction they're reading, and I cannot stress how important that is, nor how emotional with joy it makes me. Also, I think it's important to point out that if children are taught at a young age about many different things, including about LGBTQ lives, it will encourage understanding and acceptance as they grow and mature, creating a much more accepting world with the next few generations.
Back to the story. This is the first book about transgender characters I've read that's told in third person, and the whole way through Gino uses female pronouns for George. Normally, the books I read are generally told in first person, and I use the correct pronouns for the characters' gender identities in my reviews. But it's great to actually see "she" and "her" used in relation to George like this - of course they would be as the story is from George's point of view, it was just wonderful to see.
George is such a sweet girl, and oh my god, I wanted to give her a hug so much! She tries so hard, but she just isn't a boy. It hurts her so much whenever she's called a "young man" or "my little boy", but whenever she tries to talk about it, the words just won't come out. It's heartbreaking to read about this generally, but to read about it happening to a child! I just can't even begin to tell you how emotional it is.
But she has an incredible friend in Kelly. When George finally tells Kelly about the real her, it takes her a while to get used to the idea, because it's a bit of a shock, but once she does, she is all about treating George like the girl she is. She keeps it quiet when necessary, but when it's just the two of them, George is as much of a girl to Kelly as she is, and her acceptance is so beautiful! But even before she's told, Kelly is completely supportive in George wanting to try out for the part of Charlotte in the play. I just love her!
What was more difficult to stomach were the reactions from Ms. Udell and George's mum. Ms. Udell isn't pleased when George auditions for the part of Charlotte, and thinks it's a joke. Of course she can't play Charlotte, especially when there are so many girls who already want the part! She offers George the chance to audition to play one of the male characters, but completely dismisses the idea that George can play Charlotte, or really any female character. Let's put aside that George is trans for just one moment, because even if she wasn't, I think this is just so wrong! George is ten-years-old, she's a child still, and yes, it's school, but a production is still a part of play, and children should be allowed to play, and not have gender-roles forced onto them! Oh my god, this wound me up! I can't tell how angry this makes me. But this book is about George, and all she wanted was for a chance to show who she really was; if she got to play Charlotte, maybe people would see she was a girl! But that opportunity has been taken away from her, and it's so upsetting.
Then we have George's mum. When she discovers certain secrets George has been hiding, she talks about how George dressing up in her clothes used to be cute when she was a toddler, but it isn't now, and when George tries to broach the subject of her being a girl, she doesn't want to talk about it right now. And it's not just dismissive, it's annoyed, like her "son" is purposefully misbehaving and being naughty, rather than trying to have a serious conversation with her mother. Her mum isn't like this the whole way through the book, but it happens enough to really wind me up. There's no effort to understand and listen for a fair while, and it bugs me so much. If anything, this book is teaching me about the kind of parent I want to be when I am one, so I suppose George's mum's behaviour works; if parents read this and change their thinking when it comes to how they may react to any serious conversation with their child, then it can only be a good thing.
The ending of this book is far too beautiful for words. It's completely uplifting, and so emotional! It brought tears to my eyes! I'm not going to go into the specifics, because the beautiful wonderful things that happen not just in the story, but in the writing, are things to be discovered and felt by you as you read. But it's so completely wonderful!
George is undeniably one of the most incredible LGBTQ books I've read, and maybe one of the most important. Every child should have a copy of this book, every school library should stock it, and every parent should read it with their child. I know once it's published, I'll be buying myself a copy, and a copy for best friend's baby. It will be waiting for her for when she's old enough to read this beautiful, powerful, uplifting story.
Thank you to Scholastic for the bookseller proof. ...more
When I was contacted about reviewing The Awesome by Eva Darrows, I was drawn to two things; the amazing sounOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
When I was contacted about reviewing The Awesome by Eva Darrows, I was drawn to two things; the amazing sounding plot - Maggie has to lose her virginity in order to fight bigger monsters? Whaaat? - and how it was described as being a feminist story. That was me sold! However, although The Awesome is a good story, I did have a few issues with it.
In a world where monsters exist, though most try not to think about it, Maggie Cunningham is a confident, snarky, no-holds-barred, kickass hunter. Well, almost, as she is informed by her mother she can't get her journeyman's license until she's lost her virginity. Vampires can smell virgin blood, and can send them into a blood lust craze, so until Maggie has had sex, she can only help her mum out with the easy jobs. There's no way Maggie is going to accept not getting her journeyman's license and becoming a proper hunter, so she's on a mission to have sex as soon as possible. Any available guy will do, so long as she gets rid of her inconvenient virginity. What she doesn't expect is to start having feelings for the lovely if a little awkward Ian. But things don't go quite to plan, and soon her inexperienced state gets her into a whole heap of trouble; a vampire dies, a first born to a vampire prince, and now Maggie and her mum are in serious danger.
I had some trouble with Maggie. She's snarky, which, generally, can be quite funny, and I'm sure went towards this book being considered hilarious by all the authors who blurbed it. Her voice is completely different to what I normally read in YA, but once things started getting into the urban fantasy side of things, I was reminded a lot of the amazing adult urban fantasies I read. Maggie is like a cross between Cat from Jeaniene Frost's Night Huntress series and Dorina from Karen Chance's Dorina Basarab series. Her voice was easier to get used to when I took myself out of the YA reading frame of mind and into urban fantasy reading frame of mind, but still, I found her too snarky. She verges on having an attitude problem, and I found her really frustrating and her voice a little annoying.
The Awesome does have it's feminist elements, which I'll get to, but at times it almost seemed to have the opposite. Maggie's attitude towards women got my back up from the beginning. I can understand that, with her job, she'd have little time for those horror movie cliches, but her language towards women - and women who have sex - is pretty appalling.
'You know those horror movies where the silicon-inflated babe totters down the street in stilettos while a werewolf lopes after her at six thousand miles an hour? All I have to say to that is, "Bitch would have gotten away if she'd picked better shoes."' (p21)
'I, Margaret Cunningham, would try my hand at being a slutbag.' (p27)
'But he was cannon fodder, a victim waiting to happen. He might as well be the token slut in a horror movie with a sign that said 'Me First' hanging around his neck.' (p89)
These aren't the only times she talks about women in such a derogatory fashion, and it really bothered me. Maggie's attitude is all wrong, and for a book, that is being marketed as a feminist story, to be using words like "slut", and having Maggie obviously judge people who enjoy casual sex, is such a problem, in my opinion.
And it's odd. Because this book does have it's feminist values. This attitude from Maggie totally goes against what her mother tells her during a discussion about sex, but it doesn't change her attitude.
'"You realize it's totally screwed up that you're fine with me finding a piece of random ass, right? You should be going on some spiel about self-respect right now." "Why's that?" "I dunno. Most mothers would." "Well, then most mothers think sex is shameful for a woman and I think that's a heaping pile of shit. As long as you're okay and your boy treated you right, no spiel. If he treated you bad, I'll cram his dick down his throat and watch him choke."' (p57)
Pretty wonderful words from Janice, Maggie's mum. A really wonderful way to bring up teenagers, I think. Yet Maggie still says awful things, as shown by the last quote above, which came after this conversation with her mum. It's partially sex-positive, partially sex-shaming, and I don't know what to do with that.
Janice is a funny character, because I find some of the things she said awesome('"Nudity's a beautiful, natural thing. Be proud of your body, Margaret Jane. You only get one this life. No point in getting all hung up about it."' (p123)), and her strong relationship with Maggie is admirable, yet I really wasn't a big fan of her swearing at her own daughter. I'm not a big fan of swearing in books in general, but I tend to let it go as it's real, most people do swear. There is quite a lot of swearing going on here, but I'm just not for books showing parents swearing at their children. I don't really care how old Maggie is and how she may behave, I think it's wrong, and really quite shocking. But that's just me, and I was brought up by people who felt strongly that you don't swear at your children, and swear as little as possible around them when they're growing up. You might think differently, so this might not be a problem for you.
Although it's made a major part of the description, Maggie needing to lose her virginity becomes a smaller matter as the book progresses. Trouble is caused because of her virginity, but the focus then switches, mainly, to the trouble. I got really into this side of things, as I just love a good, fast-paced, action-packed urban fantasy, and oooh, for the most part, The Awesome delivers! There's a little vampire politics, some awesome twists, and a really interesting set up for more books, if they're to come. The main fight scene of the story wasn't quite as tight as it could have been, but it was still pretty awesome; violent and a little gory. There's a mystery surrounding Jeff, Janice's vampire boyfriend, that I think will end up being really amazing and wowsome.
As for the contemporary (ish) side of things, I loved Maggie's relationship with Lauren, a newly awoken zombie. Lauren isn't your typical zombie; eating your brain isn't her sole-focus. In actual fact, she doesn't want to eat humans, even though they smell so good, she doesn't look too dead, and she still acts and feels like a normal human (despite her developing the taste for raw meat, as well as making do with killing ducks and pigeons), rather than an incomprehensible, rotting, hunger-crazed human-flesh-eater. Seeing as she doesn't seem too dangerous just yet, Janice has to zombie-sit her until the Department of Paranormal Relations can decide what to do with her. Maggie and Lauren form a tentative friendship, with Maggie having to fight her suspicion and edginess around her, and it's great watching that develop. It's sweet.
There are also two sex scenes in The Awesome, and Darrows does a great job with them. Realistic without being clinical; not hiding away the awkward and the embarrassing, and showing equally that some things can feel good while other things, maybe not so much. It was definitely different to read about a character trying to get her virginity out of the way for a specific reason, rather than just to say she's done it. I was surprised about but admiring of Maggie's almost nonchalance about the whole thing until it got down to the actual event. Maggie might not be quite as confident as she'd like people to think she is. Really well done.
So, all in all, The Awesome isn't awful, there are some really fantastic elements to it. I just really didn't like Maggie's attitude to women and how she had to be snarky all the time. I'll probably read the next novel if there is to be one, and just hope her attitude improves. Others have really loved this book, so do check out a few more reviews, don't make a decision based on my review alone....more
5 to 1 by Holly Bodger is a fantastic feminist YA novel that looks at how having one gender superior to anotOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
5 to 1 by Holly Bodger is a fantastic feminist YA novel that looks at how having one gender superior to another is no good for anyone.
In the not too distant future, things have changed in India. No longer happy with the worth placed on baby boys over baby girls, women of a certain area have revolted, and created their own country within India, Koyanagar. Here, women rule and men serve. Due to how things were before, when unborn girls were terminated, or girls who were born were abandoned, there are still far more males than females in Koyanagar - five boys to every girl. So when a girl turns 17, five contestants are chosen from the eligible boys of similar age, and they are to undergo tests to help the girl choose the best husband, who will help her produce healthy baby girls and who will serve her well. Sudasa doesn't agree with the system. Women rule, but to her, their is no choice. A woman must find a husband, and she can only choose from the five contestants, and her grandmother, one of the founding members of Koyanagar, seems to have more control over the "randomly" selected contestants than is legal. Sudasa just wants freedom and choice. Contestant Five has no interest in becoming a woman's lapdog and treated as nothing. He has his own plans. But when neither have much of a choice, who knows what the outcome will be?
Oh my god, this book was SO good! I was absolutely gripped by 5 to 1! With Sudasa's chapters in verse, I absolutely flew through this book! Due to work I was unable to, but it could quite easily be read in a day. This future Indian country Bodger has created is so scary. The description of India as it was - as it is now, to a lesser degree, as Bodger tells us - is awful. The President of Koyanagar makes a speech before the tests, and in this speech, we discover how Koyanagar came to be, and why. Due to over population, a former prime minister f India said that people had to limit themselves to one child. But:
'"The citizens didn't want any child. [...] They wanted a child who could carry the family name, inherit the land. [...] They didn't want a child whose dowry would empty their safes to fill the pockets of another. They wanted a male child."' (p20)
But after horrendous acts of gender selection, the country eventually had more boys than it did girls. Boys who needed wives, so they could have their own sons.
'"Suddenly a girl--any girl, even a poor, worthless one--could be sold to the highest bidder. And that's if she were lucky. Some girls were stolen out of their childhood beds. Others were raped, fated for ruin."' (p20-21)
Horrific. And so Koyanagar was formed. The patriarchy was turned on it's head, and Koyanagar had a matriarchy. Better, right? Wrong.
As Sudasa tells us, her life is one without choice.
I think that's enough of a taster about the world Sudasa and Contestant Five live in. There's more, but I don't want to spoil the story too much. Either way, it's highly thought-provoking. Not just because of how terrible Koyanager is, but because it's set only 39 years in the future. When I'll be 67 - just let that sink in. A dystopia set in a future it's possible I - and you - will still be around to see. There's enough history given in this book to see that things could change so much, so drastically in such a short period of time. As shown in the link I shared above, Bodger made some exaggerations to the ratio, but it's still terrifying to realise this is something that could happen - in our own lifetimes.
I also love how with 5 to 1 Bodger is saying that there is no way but equality between men and women. Feminists aren't after superiority for women. This is a country where women are superior to men, and still, everyone but the rich and powerful suffer. A gender imbalance, either way, is not helpful to anyone. The only way to sort out problems like in Sudasa's India are for women, girls, females to be valued just as much as men, boys, males. Only when women are worth just as much as men, when we are all equal - not superior - will things even out.
5 to 1 is brilliant, but I did expect more when it came to the tests the boys had to go through. The tests themselves aren't that exciting. I was expecting more dangerous, harsher tests - as Sudasa says, the contestants risk death - but the risk comes from the outcome of the tests. A woman will choose a husband, and the ones who aren't chosen end up living a harsh existence, where death is likely to be in their immediate future, but I thought the tests were going to be more than they were. 5 to 1, only set over three days, is more about how unfair Koyanaga is in the opinions of Sudasa and Contestant 5, rather than from us seeing too much of how terrible it can be. It's more a book to get you thinking than to shock you through the events that are on the page. I would also have liked to see what Koyanagar - and the India before Koyanagar - thought about LGBTQ people and how they were treated, what their options were, but there was no mention at all, which I'm unhappy about.
But as I said, 5 to 1 is such an amazing story! A fantastic debut novel, and a wonderful book to get people to think about gender, feminism, and equality. I highly recommend it!
Thank you to Knopf Books for the bookseller reading copy....more