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
I bought Horns by Joe Hill after having it recommended to me by my best mate. It's not my usual thOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I bought Horns by Joe Hill after having it recommended to me by my best mate. It's not my usual thing, I tend to stay away from horror, but my friend convinced me, telling me it's not actually horror. I'm so glad I took his advice, because Horns is awesome!
It's been a year since the rape and murder of his girlfriend Merrin when Ignatius wakes up from a drunken night out to find horns have sprouted out of his head. No idea what's happening to him, he seeks help. From doctor, from a priest. But instead of helping - or being terrified at the sight of his horns - everyone he encounters has a compulsion to tell him their deepest, darkest desires, and ask for his permission to do the things they want. He also discovers that whenever he touches anyone, he gets a glimpse into their past, their memories of the sins they have committed. When someone reveals something about the night of Merrin's death, Ig decides to embrace his new abilities to discover what happened to Merrin, and seek revenge for her death.
Oh my god, this book! Despite being shelved in horror when I bought it, there's nothing typically horror-esque about this novel. I'm quite a wimp, and I can't deal with scary, but there's nothing terryfying about this story - at least not in the way you'd think. What scared me the most was the things people would admit to wanting when they saw Ig with his horns. It's such a clever idea, but complete car crash territory. The things the various characters admitted to wanting or feeling were so disturbing, sometimes sickening and disgusting, but I couldn't help be fascinated by the horns compulsion and by what would be admitted to next. It's horrifying to think that these normal, ordinary people would harbour such desires - not all sexual, though some were. It really has your thoughts going in directions regarding the people you know you don't want them too; what do these people really think? At the same time, it was also darkly funny; the matter of fact, calm way they admitted to these thoughts, and then their eagerness and hope when asking permission for Ig to do these things. The first third of the book is about this side of things as Ig tries to work out what's going on and how to fix it, and it's pretty amusing while disturbing.
Then the story moves on when we discover hints about what happened the night of Merrin's death. There are a few flashbacks throughout the book from Ig and two other people, giving background to Ig from when he was a teenager, and then from others about the night on Merrin's death. Despite being a fan of YA, I wasn't so interested in Ig's life as a teenager, despite feeling like YA. It's just, with what's happening to Ig in present day, and the piece of pivotal information he's just been given regarding Merrin's death, I was eager to get back to the present day and find out what would happen next. The background is necessary though; it shows us the start of Ig and Merrin's relationship, and various other relationships that become important later on. When we get back to present day, it's interesting to see how things go with knowledge of who people were in the past. And with the other flashbacks... wow. I don't really want to say much more because of spoilers, but with everything pieced together, it's seriously screwed up. With other people's flashbacks, you get their points of view, and some people are just really not at all who they seem.
Considering this, Horns does an amazing job at looking into good and evil, and also religion. Ig seems to be turning into a demon, but he's not the person who has wronged. And there are nice, good people, who turn out to be the complete opposite, and yet are thought so highly of. There is a part of the book where Ig gives a speech to some snakes (who have become enamoured by him since the horns) about God and the devil, and the supposed respective good and evil of the two. It's really thought-provoking, and as an atheist, I found it a really fascinating discussion. It's not a book that talks about devil worship or anything like that, but it does ask the questions, is God really good, is the devil really bad? The arguments are really interesting, and Ig really had me seeing where he was coming from.
I do have one problem with this book though. The ending. Once it reaches it's conclusion, and the main plot has been wrapped up, it ends really ambiguously. To the point that I was complaining to my best mate and to my mum, and "What the hell?!"-ing. I like explanations, I like to know the hows and the whys, even if the answers are non-plausible fantasy elements. I'm a fantasy fan, I'm great at suspending disbelief and just going with it. But don't just leave me hanging with no explanation whatsoever! I want to know how and why that ending was possible, and it's bugging the hell out of me that there are no answers! Seriously, I was thinking this book was amazing until that part, and now I'm left floundering with no answers. This doesn't sit well with me! It feels unfinished! Not the story, but my reading experience. I need to know, but I never will. And I am so wound up about it.
Saying that, this is maybe one or two pages of the whole book, which really is awesome! A really fantastic story, with an awesome premise, that gets you thinking. If you have no problem with ambiguous endings, I highly recommend Horns. I highly recommend it even if you do. So looking forward to watching the movie now....more
For a while I've been thinking a lot about feminist issues and what my opinions are. I have also had a lot oOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
For a while I've been thinking a lot about feminist issues and what my opinions are. I have also had a lot of feminist articles on my Twitter feed recently, but some of the issues that came up were things I'd never thought of, never considered. I realised I should probably educate myself, and tweeted asking for recommendations of feminist books to help me become a better feminist. Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O'Toole was recommended to me by YA author of Only Ever Yours, Louise O'Neill, and blogger Charlie Morris. And what a brilliant book!
O'Toole looks at gender as performance, albeit an unconscious one; how we dress and how we act within our gender roles, and how thinking consciously about the way we live in a patriarchal world and playing with our gender roles, we would not only make a statement and confront society's biases, but become happier in our selves. O'Toole walks us through her path from an anorexic teenager wanting to be thin as society tells us thin and pretty is best, to a gender-bending woman who has grown out her body hair and will wear heels one day, and have a shaved the next, discussing psychology and theories on gender along the way.
Unfortunately, I don't have quite the academic brain I would like. Complex concepts I find difficult to get my head around. So it took me a while to get through Girls Will Be Girls as I tried to understand what I was reading, and then form an opinion It's frustrating to me that I'm not the kind of person who can understand these things first time round, and a few times I would morosely think about putting the book down and giving it up as a lost cause, but this is a topic that is important to me, and I want to have my mind broadened, so I stuck at it. Fortunately, O'Toole breaks down these concepts and theories pretty well, so rather than reading the book and thinking, "I don't have a clue what's being said here at all," I would read certain paragraphs a few times over, and it would click. Yes, I would have to do this more times than I can count, but I have found that people at large tend to understand such things better than I do, generally, so the point is I finished Girls Will Be Girls understanding what the book was saying about gender performativity, schema, and so on, which is a great feat for O'Toole! And if I can understand, then Girls Will Be Girls is pretty accessible.
And I've found that reading Girls Will Be Girls slowly, reading certain sections over, and educating myself has already been so worth it! O'Toole has got me thinking about the way I, and the women and men around me, act. I have had discussions about certain aspects with my family and friends, I've thought about how I view my body and how I dress it, about how I present myself to the world as a woman through my behaviour, even about how I work as a bookseller. Changes were being made before I even finished the book, both in mentally and in how I act. My perspective was shifted and I asked myself "Why?" about so many things I think about myself and my body, and women in general, getting to the root of those thoughts, and then attempting to change them. I've started not asking customers whether the child they want book recommendations for is male or female, no longer selecting books based on their gender. I've also thought about the heavily gendered books that are on many bookshops' shelves and what they can lead too; we want to encourage children to read, but girls are automatically going to the pink and sparkly fairy books, and boys to the superheroes, astronauts and car books.
These are the things that have been on my mind for several days now, and I love how I'm thinking and questioning everything so much! I genuinely think that so many women would start to feel much more confident in themselves and about their bodies if they read this book, if they see why they view their bodies as they do, and how they can change that. It's so obvious, and yet something that simply didn't occur to me. This book is so powerful! My review has come nowhere near close enough to doing Girls Will Be Girls justice, seriously. It's so interesting! I was nodding my head along to so much of it, and even the parts that I didn't agree with or didn't think would work for me were so fascinating to read about. I'm learning to be a better feminist, but O'Toole has kick-started my education brilliantly. I can't recommend Girls Will Be Girls enough!...more
I was really excited for P.S I Still Love You by Jenny Han as I loved To All the Boys I've Loved Before, and was looking forward to seeing where Lara Jean's story would head next. While it was a really enjoyable read, I did find myself a little disappointed.
Lara Jean and Peter have just healed the rift between them that started when rumours were spread about what happened between them in the hot tub. And now there's a video – one where it seems like they're doing a whole lot more than just kissing – to put more strain on their relationship. Lara Jean is sure the video was taken by Genevieve, Peter's ex, but he's sure it isn't... always seems to be hanging around her. Lara Jean has also heard back from John, one of the boy's who was sent a letter, and he makes it clear he's interested in more than just friendship. Who will Lara Jean end up choosing?
The first quarter to third of the book is focused on the video that it put on Instagram by an anonymous poster. Because of the angle, it really looks like Lara Jean and Peter are having sex, and Lara Jean gets a lot of flack about it at school. The book takes a look at slut-shaming and sexism surrounding sex in a really awesome way, really showing the way things are in society, and how awful it is. It's quite a feminist beginning, with some added positive discussion about girls and their sexuality, depsite the crap Lara Jean is getting.
'Margot says, "Society is far tooo caught up in shaming a woman for enjoying sex and applauding a man. I mean, all of the comments about how Lara Jean's a slut, but nobody's saying anything about Peter, and he's right there with her. It's a ridiculous double standard."' (p50)
'Stormy leans in close and says, "Lara Jean, just remember, the girl must always be the one to control how for things go. Boys think with theur you-know-whats. It's up to you to keep your head and protect what's yours." "I don't know, Stormy. Isn't that kind of sexist?" "Life is sexist. If you were to get pregnant, you're the one whose life changes. Nothing significant happens for the boy. You're the one people whisper about..." ... "I'm saying be careful. As careful as life and death, because that's what it is." She gives me a meaningful look. "And never trust the boy to bring the condom. A lady always brings her own." I cough. "Your body is yours to protect and enjoy." She raises both eyebrows at me meaningfully. "Whoever you should choose to partake in that enjoyment, that is your choice, and choose wisely. Every man who ever got to touch me was afforded an honour. A privilege." Stormy waves her hand over me. "All this? It's a privilege to worship at this temple, do you understand my meaning? Not just any young fool can approach the throne. Remember my words, Lara Jean. You decide who, how far and how often, if ever."' (p131-132)
It might sound there that Stormy is telling Lara Jean that whoever she has sex with should be someone important, but within the contect of the story, she's saying it's about Lara Jean's choice. She gets to choose, and it's up to her - whether it's with someone she's in a relationship with or otherwise. Always by her own choice, because she wants to, and for no other reason.
After the video drama dies down, not a huge amount happens. Nothing all that substantial. There are obstacles to Lara Jean and Peter's relationship, and things get rocky, and then there's the fact that John is back on the scene, but he doesn't become a "problem" until the last quarter or so of the book. But Lara Jean and her life are just so interesting, and her naivity is endearing if frustrating at times, that even though there's a lot of internalising, I was still really hooked.
However, the last quarter made me feel like this would be continued in a third book. The John problem was only introduced in any real way quite late on in the book. So there's this other option, and what's Lara Jean doing to do? And then she discovers a few things, and then the story is resolved quite quickly - in a matter of pages, and then the book ends. It doesn't look like there will be a third book. That's it, finished. It just felt way too quick for me, which is such a shame, because I was really enjoying it! I don't like rushed endings, I really don't.
But I do love Han's writing. And this book had some really beautiful things to say on love. I really like being in Lara Jean's head, and I just love her younger sister, Kitty. So I'd still say read it. I just don't like being disappointed. This might just be how Han does things, because not a huge amount happening until the last quarter was part of my problem with We'll Always Have Summer, the last book in the Summer series.
A great book with awesome characters, some feminism, quotable thoughts of love, and Han's writing... a pretty awesome read, despite the ending.
Thank you to Scholastic UK for the review copy. ...more
Before I start this review, I feel I should give some context about my love of Louise O'Neill's first book,Originally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Before I start this review, I feel I should give some context about my love of Louise O'Neill's first book, and my anticipation for this one. People who follow me on Twitter and Once Upon a Bookcase will know by now what a huge fan I am of O'Neill's debut novel, Only Ever Yours. It affected me hugely, and I still rave about it to anyone who will listen, almost a year after first reading it. Even now, I'll remember something I read in those pages and something new will occur to me, making me think. Reading Only Ever Yours was a major turning point for me in terms of understanding society's treatment of women, and put me firmly on a feminist path. It blew me away, and I will continue to push it into the hands of everyone I can for being such a important, powerful and brilliant novel.
So you can understand how I have been eagerly waiting for Asking For It, O'Neill's second novel. I have just finished, and there are no words to describe how in awe I am of O'Neill. Asking For It is even more incredible than Only Ever Yours.
When Emma attends a house party, she expects it to be just like any other. She'll drink, she'll dance, she'll have fun, and she will be the most beautiful girl there. Girls will be jealous, and boys won't be able to take their eyes off her - as it is where ever she goes. She can have her pick of any of the boys, and that's just how she likes it. What Emma doesn't expect is to wake up the next morning on her front porch with no recollection of the events of the night before or how she got there. She doesn't expect her best friends to turn their backs on her. She doesn't expect the looks, the whispers, the malicious disgust-filled slurs thrown at her from everyone at school. She doesn't expect the photos, the explicit, degrading photos, that appear on Facebook. And, as she discovers what happened to her, the last thing Emma expects is for complete strangers to lay blame at her feet.
Asking For It is split into two parts; the first, the days leading up and immediately after the rape, and those same days a year later. I did not like Emma, but I could see the reasons for her being as she was. She had been brought up being told she was beautiful. Everyone told her so. Her mother ingrained it into her that being beautiful was important, and so her sense of worth was based on how she looked. Therefore she must be the prettiest at all times, and others must think she's the prettiest - she must be wanted, must be desired. Not only does she feel entitled to the attention she receives, but she needs it - who is she otherwise? I did not like her. But after she's raped - the rape she can't remember - she completely changes, becoming a mere shell of who she used to be. Despite how much I disliked her, it was unbelievably heartbreaking to see this change.
When Emma - and us readers - discover what happened to her, it's horrific. Realising that she was violated, raped, but also that photo after photo after photo was taken of her while it was happening, that these photos were put online, that everyone had seen them, and people were leaving such disgusting comments about her, about her body... being with her for this is so unbelievably hard. My heart bled for her, and I was feeling so much I had to stop reading. It was so painful, it was raw.It hurt so much, I was beyond being able to cry. I just sat there struggling with this unimaginable situation Emma was in, as her whole world crumbled at her feet.
And then things got worse. Not only did this happen to her, not only were those photos taken and seen by everyone, people blamed her. At the time it happened, and a year on. Emma made some bad decisions; she drank excessively and she took drugs. Because of this, and the short and low-cut dress she was wearing, people blamed her for what happened. The overheard conversations, the comments on the photos, the emails she was sent. The people discussing the "Ballinatoom Case" online, on radio, on TV, in newspapers. What did she expect? She was asking for it. The rage I felt! No-one seemed to realise that it doesn't matter what she was wearing, how much she drank, that she took drugs. No-one seemed to realise that she should be able to do these things without fear that she would be attacked and have control of her body taken away from her. The disgusting things people said, the excuses they made for Emma's attackers, the sympathy they had for them. Even the system, which seems to go in favour of the rapist than the victim! I got so angry! Then I got so scared, so, so scared. This is a story, fiction - but it's not. This happens; people are raped, and then they are sometimes blamed. People side with the guilty. Normal, every day people side with the rapists.
Reading about the immediate aftermath of Emma's rape was bad enough, but seeing how she was being treated a year later, the brilliant light O'Neill shines on rape culture, it's terrifying. Because you hear about it, and you know how disgusting it is, but until you see it through the eyes of the victim, I don't think we can really understand. And my heart broke. For Emma, for everyone who has been through this, for everyone who chose to suffer in silence rather than be on the receiving end of all this... . For everyone who has had the control of their body forcibly removed from them, degraded, violated, and told it was their own fault. The anger, the fear, the sadness. It's almost enough to make you lose hope in humanity.
But then you have O'Neill, and people like her, who give you hope by doing what they can to fight against rape culture. I have absolutely no doubt that Asking For It will do just what Only Ever Yours did. People will buy it, read it, talk about it... and it will make people think. It will open people's eyes. They will be as deeply affected as I have been. They will also get angry - because there is no-way anyone can read this and not get angry - and Asking For It will spread like wildfire. Because it's undeniably important and unbelievably powerful. And I believe, while it spreads, Asking For It will change lives.
I read The Baby by Lisa Drakeford thinking that it might work for my upcoming Sex in Teen Lit Month II blog event, seeing as it's about the arrival of a unexpected baby. It doesn't quite work for what I want the month to highlight, but I was surprised with how much I enjoyed it! It's pretty good, and takes a serious look at the changes a baby can bring.
When Nicola gives birth in Olivia's bathroom at her birthday party, it's the beginning of a massive change. A change that doesn't just affect her, but Olivia, Olivia's boyfriend Jonty, their friend Ben, and Olivia's younger sister, Alice. Emotions rocket, relationships are put to the test, and decisions need to be made. Life isn't one big party, especially when there's a baby to think of.
The Baby was a completely different story to the one I was expecting. Considering the way the description goes, I thought the whole story would be set at Olivia's party, but it's actually set over five months. Each character gets a turn to narrate, and they all have their own sub-story, which intersect because of their relationships and baby Eliza.
I was a bit worried when I first started. Olivia's narration is first, and seeing as it's the night of her party, she's drunk, which could be the reason why, but I found her to tell more than show. The party is great, she gets on so well with so-and-so, but we don't really get to see why. I found her narration to be one of the weakest, I felt like she was quite young and selfish, but again, it could have been because she was drunk, because I preferred her a lot more in the other narrations. But her story is also a really important one. Her boyfriend Jonty hurts her. He's jealous and controlling, and he physically hurts her when Olivia doesn't bend to his wishes. It was shocking to read, but the focus shifts once everyone realise Nicola is giving birth in the bathroom.
Then it's Nicola's narration, and it's brilliant. She didn't know she was pregnant, and now she's a new mum. She's struggling to deal with it. She is full of awe and wonder and this beautiful little girl that she's brought into the world, but she's so unsure of what she's doing and being up with her at all hours is really taking it's toll. She has people - health visitors, social workers, midwives, and so forth - ask her all kinds of questions. Is this what she wants? What is she going to do about school? What about benefits? Who's the dad? Question after question, and so much pressure. And she has very few people on her side. It's a fantastic narration, and very realistic. I felt really sorry for Nicola, and just wished more people would help her and give her a chance.
Then we have Alice's narration. Eleven-year-old Alice is "weird", and people avoid her. I can't say for certain, but it seems to me that she might have a form of Autism; she's very intelligent, but doesn't understand social situations and gets things wrong. She doesn't have friends, and her attempts to make them, while saying completely the wrong thing, and the reaction this causes from others is just heartbreaking. She's bullied and laughed at, and she doesn't quite understand why. She just knows she shouldn't mention her imaginary farm animals, because people don't seem to like that. But there is a baby now, a baby that was born in her bathroom, Nicola's baby, and she so loves to visit and help out. I loved Alice's narration, because she is just so wonderful and has a fantastic way of looking at the world, and I just wanted to give her such a big hug. She's a really special girl, and I don't mean that in the derogatory way.
Jonty. As the story went on, the more and more I disliked him. He's not a very nice guy at all, and he treats others so badly, not just Olivia. And then we get his narration, and wow. My feelings towards him shifted. He isn't a great guy, but he has problems of his own, and I started to understand why he is the way he is. It doesn't excuse his behaviour, but I did feel some sympathy for him. And we see a real change during his narration. He does grow up a bit, and realises that he can't go on the way he has been. He sees things differently, and I ended up feeling quite proud of him.
Oh my god, Ben's narration! It was the most disappointing of them all! Ben is gay, and he's really into this guy, Josh, but doesn't know if he's gay. Then a huge bombshell is dropped, one I did not see coming at all, and I was feeling so much anguish and sadness and, oh my god, really?! It was just so surprising and in some ways so awful, and... then it just ends. Ben's story gets wrapped up, I suppose, but the whole story doesn't! Not in my opinion! There is more to that bombshell, more that I need to know. There is so much more fallout from it to come, and I cannot believe it just ends like that. This bombshell would change everything for everyone, but we don't see it, we don't see what comes, and I am stunned. There was huge potential for this story to continue and follow it through, and be SUCH an emotional story. Just thinking about what this means for the other characters really has me getting upset, and to not actually see it... I am so disappointed. It's a really bad ending, in my opinion. There's no real conclusion. Things are left open, but not in a way that makes me feel there will be a follow up novel. It's just left, and it annoys me so much.
But over all, The Baby is really good! I would recommend it for Nicola, Alice and Jonty's narrations and stories because they're just so brilliant! A disappointing ending, but on the whole, an enjoyable read.
About the important subject of female genital mutilation (FGM), What Was Never Said by Emma Craigie is a booOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
About the important subject of female genital mutilation (FGM), What Was Never Said by Emma Craigie is a book I just had to read. A very shocking and eye-opening read.
Zahra moved with her family to England from Somalia when she was five, to escape the civil war. Now 15, she is troubled by memories of life back in Somalia and struggles to move forward from the events she witnessed. Then one day visitors arrive to her home, visitors from Somalia. Zahra recognises these women, and is filled with fear. All she knows is she and her little sister Samsam have to get away, to escape the same fate as her older sister, Rahma.
FGM is something I know very little about, but something I've always been horrified by. I know it can go wrong. I know girls who have this done can experience pain for the rest of their lives, more so when having sex. But I didn't know too much about why certain cultures performed FGM on their girls. What Was Never Said covers all these things through Zarha's experiences. The story focuses on Zahra trying to keep her and her little sister same, away from the cutter.
What Was Never said is quite a short novel, only 200 pages long, so not only did I fly through it, but it's quite a tight, compact story. You learn about what happened in Somalia, what happened to Zahra's older sister, and all that led to the move to England. However, because of how short it is, and the focus on staying same, we don't learn as much about the Muslim culture in general, or about the specific beliefs some Muslims - in the case of this story (though it does point out that this isn't the case for all Muslims) - have about FGM. We learn why they perform FGM, but not the why behind their beliefs so much. Even so, what we are told is unbelievably shocking. This from a flashback to when they were in Somalia:
'Aunty Noor was speaking, "You need to face up to it. Look at her. It won't be long. How are you going to protect her? You need to think of the future." "Anyone can steal from an open purse," said Grandma.' (p96)
And when Zahra explains to a friend, Krysty, her fears about the women who turned up at her house:
'"Women who carry out this practice, of... Well," I pause. I don't know how to sound real. I can't help talking like an information leaflet. "In my culture there is a tradition of, um, performing... of cutting young girls. You know, like circumcision, but for girls. Sometimes it's called FGM." "Oh my God. What are you saying? That you think they had come to cut you and your sister?" "I don't know. I was scared that they would." "Come on. Surely people don't really do that nowadays?" "They do. In lots of countries. Egypt, Africa... It's a very old tradition. People think it's good, keeps women clean and pure. You know." [...] "So, what, it's like women can't enjoy sex or anything?" "It's not just cutting, usually they stitch you up... stitch up the vagina. It's so you can't have sex. Not easily. To keep you pure."' (p79)
It's terrifying to imagine, even more so when you think that this is a very real thing facing, or experienced by, many girls around the world. So when Zahra is faced with this fear, she is so brilliantly brave to get her and her sister out as soon as possible. She doesn't know if she's done the right thing, if maybe she's misunderstood, or what she's going to do now she's out of there. She's scared about what might be waiting at home, but worried about where she's going to go, how she can get out of this rather than just stall it. But she knows she can't let it happen. She won't. She has so much courage, and I am filled with so much admiration and love for this young girl who is trying to keep herself, but mostly her six-year-old sister, Samsam, safe and whole. It's a hard-hitting novel, and really gets you thinking. In her Acknowledgements, Craigie tells us, "According to the World Health Organisation between 100 and 140 million women and girls worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM." And yet this is something we hear so little about. It makes me so angry. Why aren't we hearing more? Why aren't we being told how we can help?
Amazingly, there are a few other issues touched upon in this novel. They don't get developed very much, but there is enough to make us uncomfortable and think about things like cultural stereotypes, pressure to conform to (other) cultural traditions, racism and treatment of black people by police, and child grooming/abuse. As well as treatment of women within culture, it also touches on other aspects of sexism.
'"Why do you want it all in the living-room? Isn't it easier if everyone helps themselves in here?" Noor untied her apron. "If we have it in the living-room the men can easily help themselves in seconds." "Oh sorry of course. We've got to make sure the men are happy. Can't have them making any effort to feed themselves." [sic]' (p28)
What Was Never Said is a brilliant book. Without being too graphic or heavy-handed, it doesn't shy away from the truth, but forces you to sit up and listen. FGM is still being forced on girls, a fact that's almost too horrific to comprehend - but there is help out there. This doesn't have to happen. A really amazing story, and one that should be read and discussed.
Thank you to Short Books for the review copy....more
Oliver & Patch by Claire Freedman, was unexpected, but a joy to read! A really sweet picture book!
Oliver has moved from the countryside to the city, and is feeling lonely. His new home is very different from what he's used to, and he's left all his friends behind. When out exploring one day, Oliver finds Patch, a dog out on the loose on his own. Oliver and Patch quickly become friends, Patch helping Oliver feel less lonely. But Patch is missing his owner, and Oliver realises it's time to try and reunite them, even if it means being on his own again.
This is a beautiful story about the power of friendship, but also of love for animals. It's lovely seeing what a different Patch's presence makes to Oliver's life, once he's no longer alone. The fun they have together puts a smile on Oliver's face, and their antics will have any child smiling too. But Olive & Patch is also a really sweet moral story, about doing the right thing. Patch isn't Oliver's dog, and knows he has to give him back - and not only because Patch is missing his owner, but because it's simply the right thing to do. This is a great story to teach young children about being selfless and thinking of others, and doing the right thing.
Hindley's brightly coloured illustrations are so cute, ans surprisingly detailed despite their simplistic nature. There's lots to see in the full-page illustrations, and they will have children lingering over the pages.
Any child with a pet of their own, dog or otherwise, will warm to Patch, and know exactly how Oliver feels having him around. A great story to read with your child while they're cuddling their pet!
Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children's Books for the review copy....more
Ever since seeing the recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical of Cats, I've been intrigued by the book ofOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Ever since seeing the recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical of Cats, I've been intrigued by the book of poems the musical was inspired by, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. It's a charming book of poetry that will delight child and adult alike - especially those who love cats!
It was great to see familiar characters within the poems, such as Macavity, and Munojerrie and Rumpelteazer, who were very memorable from the musical. Was sad to see Grizabella - the cat who sings Memory in the musical - doesn't actually feature in the original poetry book, but there are quite a few characters that did originate from Practical Cats. From what I remember, the lyrics are pretty close to the original poems, so I would hear the the music in my head as I read. Saying that, there's no storyline like there is in the musical; no Jellicle Ball, no cat being chosen to go to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn by Old Deutronomy.
Axel Scheffler's illustrations are quirky and familiar from the picture books Scheffler has illustrated. Seeing what the cats get up to along with the poems will have young children giggling as they're being read to.
A wonderful book of poetry, and a great addition to any bookcase.
Thank you to Faber & Faber for the review copy....more
I loved the sound of Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff the first time I read the blurb, but I've finOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I loved the sound of Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff the first time I read the blurb, but I've finished it feeling disappointed.
Hayden has taken his life. There's no explanation why, just a USB stick he left with a note for his best mate Sam to listen and he'll understand. Except Sam has listened to the playlist over and over, and he's as clueless as he was the first time he listened to it. All he knows is that the last time he saw Hayden, they argued, and he's burdened with his guilt and anger. When Hayden's bullies are slowly taken down one by one, Sam starts to worry that perhaps he's doing it without realising, and with other strange goings on, like getting messages from Hayden's avatar on Gchat, Sam starts to worry about his mind. But he needs to know what led to Hayden taking his own life, and he's determined to find out.
I had several problems with Playlist for the Dead. Firstly, there's the fact that we don't really get to know much about Hayden. He's Sam's best friends, he's a geek, he likes to play Mage Warfare, but he doesn't like socialising with other people. That's all I know about him as a person. He was bullied, one of the bullies being his older brother, and his parents didn't really care about him. Despite what Sam says about these things, and what he saw, I never felt like I knew where Hayden's head was. There were flashbacks of conversations Sam and Hayden had, but there was nothing major about how he felt. As the story goes on, we find out about the events that led up to Hayden taking his life, and there were some awful things happening, but I didn't understand why he took his life. Not that it didn't make sense, but that there should have been more about how he was feeling, because I simply didn't get it. Perhaps Sam was the wrong narrator, because he didn't seem to know anything about what was happening with Hayden, so it makes it difficult. And the playlist... I really didn't get that at all. No idea what Hayden was thinking when he left it for Sam, no idea how it was supposed to help.
Then there's the fact that it was really slow. It took ages for the book to really get going, and when it did, trying to figure things out but getting nowhere until the end. I was so frustrated with the pace, I kept putting it down. I just wasn't really interested. And I simply didn't like Sam. I didn't warm to him, he annoyed me more often than not, and he was ridiculously obtuse. How he only started figuring certain things out towards the end that were obvious from the middle of the book, I don't know. There would be a whole realisation moment for him, and a face-palm moment for me.
And when we have all the details, I was left feeling... that's it? But as I said above, I think that's more to do with not know what was going through Hayden's head. It doesn't necessarily take much to push someone over the edge. I really think we needed to see that. And, despite his crappy life, there was no sign that he was depressed. It's important to me that we see that. We should see that. Depression shouldn't be hidden, and if he was depressed, then he hid it pretty damn well. That doesn't sit comfortably with me. Not even his best friend seeing something wasn't right - even I, as the reader, could see that something wasn't right. It bothers me, it really does, because it's scary. People with depression shouldn't hide it, they should seek help, and there's nothing covering that in this book. And if he didn't have depression, then I'm at a complete loss as to what I think about this book, I really am. Because then I don't get it at all.
Really not my cup of tea, unfortunately. This book just wasn't for me....more
When I heard about One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart, I was originally put off by the fact that Nadia is a thOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
When I heard about One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart, I was originally put off by the fact that Nadia is a thief. Stealing is not something I have any time for. But the words "rare neurological disorder" piqued my interest, and I just had to read it - and it's absolutely beautiful!
Nadia is having a difficult time. She's finding herself changing, and she doesn't know why. She's having difficulty speaking. She's stealing, and she can't help it. The compulsion to steal is not something she can control. She's become obsessed with birds and nests. There's a boy who's caught her eye, but nobody else has seen him. Her thoughts jump about, and she feels she's slowly disappearing. In Florence, she loses herself. But will she be able to find herself again?
One Thing Stolen is a really interesting story. When Nadia is narrating, it's almost lyrical. Such beautiful prose is used as she shares with the reader her thoughts, as we see her jump from focusing on now to memories. There are no speech marks when people talk. It's a little jarring to realise someone is talking to her, and she's not actually thinking at that point, but it's a great way to show the confusion Nadia feels. She is obsessed with birds and nests, and has a compulsion to steal, using the things she's stolen to create beautiful, intricate nests. She has trouble communicating; she understands everything everyone says, and her thoughts are complete, but she is unable to get the words out of her mouth properly. And she constantly feels like she's disappearing. She seems to talk to the reader; see this, remember this, I'm here, I'm real - this is real, isn't it? She's just not sure. And it doesn't help when she meets Benedetto, yet no-one else has seen him. Surely he was there, right? Did she make him up? She can't be sure, but he seemed so real. She's so scared of this person she's becoming - or, as she feels, unbecoming. She feels she's losing a bit of herself every day, and doesn't know how to hold the pieces of herself together.
The narration changes once Nadia starts getting help, and the story is now told from the point of view of her best friend, Maggie, who has come to Florence to help her. Here, the writing becomes what you expect from your general YA novel; we get speech marks back, we get a typical teenage voice. The contrast is brilliant; showing how Nadia's mind is works against a teenager who has no mental health problems. I'm not going to go in to what's wrong with Nadia, because we don't find out for quite a while, and I think you should get to know Nadia, her mind, her story before labels are put on her. She's unique, and your heart breaks for her as she tries to work out what's real, and as you see her try to work at improving. It's a really beautiful story.
Florence. Oooh, Florence! The descriptions are lush and beautiful, and I felt like I was there - I could see it all (and now somewhere I want to visit). There is quite a lot of mention of the flood of 1966, which Nadia's father is there to write about. It's the reason they're all there, and so it's discussed a lot. Although the flood was devastating and horrific, I found myself simply not interested in it. I just didn't care in comparison to what was happening with Nadia, with her trying to get help, trying to work out if Benedetto was real. I kept thinking, "Why are you talking to her about the flood? Why aren't you discussing what's going on with her? How is talking about this flood going to help her?" I just didn't get it. In the Acknowledgements, the author talks about her interest in the flood, which makes all the references to it make sense, but I just didn't think it was as important as Nadia's story. It frustrated, but I guess that's what partly inspired the story. If there was no flood, they wouldn't be there, and the story would be different.
One Thing Stolen is a really beautiful and poignant book, with a great look at a rare neurological disorder. I loved it.
Thank you to Chronicle Books for the review copy. ...more
When I was offered a copy of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Owens, I was told that the book had beeOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
When I was offered a copy of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Owens, I was told that the book had been adapted for the big screen and would be shown later this year. Seeing as it had rave reviews for being very funny, and I love reading books before seeing the movie, I jumped at the chance. And those rave reviews? Well this is about to become one of them.
Greg is in his senior year of high school, and has perfected the art of invisibility; be on friendly acquainted terms with every group clique without being a part of any clique - and don't let any clique see you with another. This means Greg has no real friends, but he doesn't have any enemies either. Oh, well, there's Earl, but Greg would tell you he's more of a co-worker than a friend. They make movies together, remakes of cult classics. That is Greg's life; avoid everyone at school, make movies with Earl. But when his mother tells him that someone at school, Rachel, has Leukaemia, and that he has to go and hang out with her to make her feel better, his life gets turned around. Suddenly he has a friend, and his invisibility is gone. He's faced with the awfulness of cancer, and the responsibility of making this sick girl laugh. When it's suggested he and Earl make a movie for her, things get even worse.
I cannot tell you just how hilariously funny this book is. It is unbelievably funny, especially considering the dying-girl-with-cancer. This is not a sad, poignant, heart warming John Green novel. This is down to Greg - Greg who has this really unique voice, who has a talent for comedy. Everything he says, or narrates, had me smiling away, despite the serious subject matter. Put him and Earl together, and oh my god, I was laughing out loud. Earl talks in grammatically incorrect sentences, with a lot of profanity, and can be a little lewd. He comes across as being quite stupid, but he isn't, as we discover towards the end of the book. He was probably my favourite character. Rachel I wasn't that bothered by, to be honest. She was ok, but nothing spectacular. She wasn't very memorable for me, but Greg screwed up quite a bit around her, so there were more laughs for me.
Greg is the one writing this book. Although Andrews is the author, the plot is that Greg is writing this book, for unknown (until later) reasons. The book even starts off with an Author's Note from Greg saying how bad this book is going to be, because he's a filmmaker, not a writer. Greg is quite the amateur at writing books. The story jumps back and forth when Greg realises he needs context and back story for something he's talking about; his history with girls, his relationship with Earl, or maybe a pause just so he can explain something for a chapter, so when he goes back to the story, his actions make sense. It's quite a strange style, but I quickly got used to it, and added to the humour. When a chapter started along the lines of, "I guess I should probably tell you about...", I knew I was in for more laughs. But at the same time, I was wondering for quite a while if there was any real plot to this book. It was like Greg just felt like writing about what happened during his senior year. I could see where things were going with Rachel, and that affected Greg's life, but the reason for the story, why Greg was writing it, I just couldn't see. Until the end.
The ending of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is surprisingly beautiful - especially when it comes to Earl, who is a lot deeper and smarter than he seems. You get used to all the laughs and awkwardness, but when Earl lays in to Greg for complaining about something, and tells him he needs to be a better friend to Rachel, who is dying, or when he talks seriously about the future... it's amazing. There is more to this boy than meets the eye - as Greg said throughout the whole book, Earl is smart. I ended up loving Earl even more when we saw this new side to him. I'd love if we got a book about him, and got to know him better. He's just awesome.
Before I finish, I just want to add something about the diversity of this book. All the main characters are diverse; Greg and Rachel are Jewish, and Earl is black. None of these things impact the book in any real way; there are mentions, but they're just tidbits in a bigger story. I just really liked how they were diverse characters, but it wasn't about that. This made me happy
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a brilliant, ridiculously funny story, and this review has come nowhere near to doing it justice. You'll just have to read it for yourself - and I highly recommend that you do.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin UK for the review copy....more
My best friend recommended Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh to me while he was reading it himself. HOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
My best friend recommended Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh to me while he was reading it himself. He loved the movie, and so wanted to read the book, and found the book to be just as amazing. Although I'm not a huge fan of graphic novels, I trusted his opinion and bought it for myself. Having now read it, I can say this is a seriously beautiful love story.
This is a really wonderful story of a young girl discovering her sexuality and finding love. Watching Clementine learn about herself is really sweet; from the first stirrings of attraction to Emma, her initial confusion, shock and disgust with her feelings and desires, and eventually coming to accept her sexuality and that there's nothing wrong with it. It's lovely watching Clem and Emma's relationship develop, Emma trying to help Clem accept her sexuality; the fragile, nervous beginnings; and plunging head first into their love affair.
Theirs isn't a relationship without it's problems. Clem does take some risks to be with Emma, but Emma doesn't seem to be fully committed at first. There is almost a selfishness to Emma, but also fragility and fear. As much as she helps and encourages Clem to discover her sexuality, she's also worried about being hurt. The actions of both characters, at some point, really caused problems for me, I had a hard time dealing with the lack of respect shown, but it's very realistic. Everyone makes mistakes, and I could sympathise with their reasons for the things they do. Although they get past their issues, they still have to put up with the disgust of others, and their lives are far from easy.
Blue is quite sexually explicit, but it's not gratuitous. It's not sexy, it's more sweet, with Clem finally allowing herself to feel and do what she wants, and just give in to it, discovering and falling in love. It's quite beautiful really.
A wonderful graphic novel with a beautiful story....more
I first heard The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin at work when my colleagues were discussing rOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I first heard The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin at work when my colleagues were discussing reading the US edition. I thought it sounded amazing, so when I was offered a chance to review it, I jumped at the chance. And I'm so pleased to say it's an absolutely incredible book!
A.J. Fikry owns and runs Island Books, a small indie bookstore on Alice Island. His wife died a year and a half ago, and he's all but given up. He's curmudgeonly and has no patience for anyone. The only bright spark in his life is that he owns a very rare first edition of Tamerlane by Poe, which he plans to sell so he can retire early. One night it's stolen, and he's left with nothing. Except for Maya, a little girl who is abandoned in his store by her mother. Their lives are about to change drastically.
My description above barely covers the story, but to say any more would be to ruin how wonderful it is to discover the story yourself. The characters are individual and quirky, the plot is charming, and the narrative is amusing. As A.J. runs a bookstore, various books are mentioned throughout, and there is such love and enthusiasm for reading and the written word, it's fantastic. A book that talks about and understands this passion I have!
The novel is told in third person, mostly from A.J.'s point of view, but it does jump between the characters. A.J. is such a great character, and seeing how he changes throughout the story is just wonderful. He is so past caring about pretty much anything at the beginning after losing his wife, and the theft of his rare copy of Tamerlane is the final straw. But when Maya comes into his life, everything changes. He's pulled out of the dark hole he's in by her small little hand, and is remembers what joy and love are. Maya is the cutest little girl, and so precocious. Even though she's unable to string together full sentences, she understands enough to get across how she feels and what she wants, and she's just adorable! Chief Lambiase and Amelia are two of the other prominent characters in the story, and I love them both too!
One of my favourite aspects of the novel is how amusing it is. Even when tragic, Zevin writes the story with a comical tone, so nothing is too sad, and there's always something to make you smile. This isn't as awful as it sounds; it's not Zevin making light of or laughing at the characters' misfortunes, but more the ability of the characters to make themselves the butt of a joke, to laugh at themselves. It's not depressing, but charming and poignant. There are ups as well as downs, though, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is quite an amusing story, as well as beautiful.
With a story set around a love of reading, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is an amusing and beautiful novel for book lovers everywhere. If you read, you must read this book!
Thank you to Abacus for sending me the proof....more
I'd not read anything by Tamara Ireland Stone before reading Every Last Word, so I didn't know what to expecOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I'd not read anything by Tamara Ireland Stone before reading Every Last Word, so I didn't know what to expect. Every Last Word is a fantastic story, with a beautiful romance, of a girl dealing with her OCD and learning to accept herself.
Sam and her friends have been popular for as long as she can remember. However, as time has gone on, being popular has come be difficult, with all the expectations. Look good all the time, say the right thing, keep your place at the top of the social ladder at all costs, or lose everything. This is even harder for Sam who suffers with Purely-Obsessional OCD, so being and perfect is on her mind all the time. Then she meets Caroline, with whom the expectations just fall away. With Caroline, she can just be herself without fear of judgement. When Caroline brings her along to Poet's Corner, a secret group of students who write and read out poetry, Sam finds a place she feels she belongs, and she slowly starts to feel better, more normal. But then Sam makes a discovery that turns everything she knows on it's head, and Sam ends up fearing her mind even more.
Every Last Word is brilliant! Sam is such an amazing character, and through her, I got to see a side of OCD I haven't before. She has Purely-Obsessional OCD, which means, for her, it's mostly internal, having obsessed thoughts that she can't let go of; a spiral of thoughts that she can't control and can't stop, which can cause her to have anxiety attacks as she's so scared she might act on her thoughts, or they simply just freak her out. Some of her thoughts aren't that unfamiliar - I'm sure everyone has had the fear of not fitting in, or what their friends might think of them - but where we might push the thoughts aside and try to think of something else, Sam can't do that. They go on and on and on, and they're all-consuming. It scares her, and she hates it; hates the way she thinks, how theirs a glitch in her brain, how she's not "normal".
She has an absolutely wonderful relationship with the psychologist, Sue, who is just brilliant, and really helps Sam get on top of her mental illness. She really tries to get Sam to change the way she sees her OCD, so instead of seeing it as something to despise, it's something that's special, because she sees things differently to others. These moments come a little later on in the book, but I just loved them, because throughout this novel, with Sam's opinion of her OCD, I was reminded of the first half of this post on Hello Giggles, An Open Letter to My Anxiety-Riddled Brain - although Sam suffers with anxiety as well, her negativity on her mental illness is more towards her OCD, but there is a similarity in her feeling towards her mind and her brain. But with Sue's efforts to change how Sam sees it, I was reminded of the second half. The post is amazing for understanding what people who suffer with anxiety go through, and helped me to understand where Sam was coming from better. As someone who doesn't have OCD, Every Last Word seems to be an amazing book for promoting understanding.
As well as being a brilliant book on OCD, it's also a really great story. Sam's friends are simply awful, so I was so happy when she met Caroline, who is so laid back and care-free. She has had her own issues in the past, and so is able to help Sam with her own, without judgement - the first person Sam has ever told about her illness outside her family. To be understood, able to trust, and just be is so freeing to Sam, she and Caroline form a close friendship very quickly. And when she's introduced to Poet's Corner, Sam finds an outlet for her thoughts through writing, and more people who just accept her for her. She doesn't confide in them about her illness, but they don't pile expectations on her to be perfect, and she feels at home amongst them, which she has only felt before during the summer holidays, when she's competing in swimming competitions. And there's also AJ, and the sweet, sweet romance that develops between them. I loved the Poet's Corner, seeing these people reading out very different poems and the sense of belonging they all felt there. I loved it so much, I've been inspired to start writing my own crappy poetry again!
There was a part of the book I did, for a while, feel kind of annoyed about. As I was reading, I was thinking, "I must talk about this in my review." I felt let down by a certain aspect of the story. But then we had the twist. There is a big, major twist that I did not see coming at all, and completely explained and made sense of the aspect I had a problem with. The twist is just brilliant, it completely wowed me! At times in the story, it felt that Sam's mental illness wasn't as focal as Sam's time with those in Poet's Corner and Caroline. But then you get the twist, and realise it flows throughout. It's just so, so clever, and I felt all kinds of things; shock, sadness, sympathy. I know I've said it already, but it's just brilliant!
Every Last Word is an incredible story, one I highly recommend! I am now so eager to read the rest of Stone's novels; she's not an author to miss.
Thank you to Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley for the eProof....more
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz is a novel about Etta - a black bisexual girl with an eating disOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz is a novel about Etta - a black bisexual girl with an eating disorder. So intersectionality, I just had to read it! And it was an even better read than I hoped it would be.
Etta recently split up with her boyfriend, but despite that, the Disco Dykes, the group she was formerly apart of, still don't want to know her, and treat her appallingly for stooping so low as to go out with a guy. She's also recovering from an eating disorder - though not one she can be medically diagnosed for, even though she used to starve herself and throw up whatever she did it, because her weight isn't low enough. And because of her curves, she was told by her ballet coach she wasn't quite right for ballet, despite being an incredible dancer. Etta isn't gay enough, not sick enough, not skinny or white enough for anything it seems. But when she's encouraged to try out for Brentwood, a theatre school in New York that could be Etta's ticket out of Nebraska, she meets Bianca, a girl who is also in her recovery group. Bianca is everything Etta isn't, but the two bond over trying to get into Brentwood and over the shared experience of eating disorders. Bianca is the one person accepting Etta as she is, but Bianca is so very sick; can she really lean on someone who can only just hold herself up?
Not Otherwise Specified is an incredible book about body image, sexuality, bullying, going for your dreams, and, most of all, friendship. The relationship between Etta and Bianca is beautiful! Despite the age difference - Bianca is 14 and Etta is 17 - the two get really close. Theirs is a really close friendship, not a romantic relationship, and Bianca brings Etta into the fold with her brother James and their friend Mason. Finally people Etta can just be herself around - whether it's talking about health or getting nervous over auditions.
Etta has a fair number of issues, but there are two things about her that inspired me so much! As mentioned, because of her weight, she's not giving a specific eating disorder, but also because of her weight, there were those, including her mother, who didn't think she had a problem. Doesn't matter that she was starving herself or binging and throwing it back up, because she wasn't skin and bone, some people failed to noticed. The reason she's in recovery? Because she herself decided to get help. Other people may not have seen it, but Etta knew she had a problem, and she got herself the help she needed. That's just amazing. It's hard and it's difficult, and she still struggles with food or with what people say about her eating or her weight, but she decided to try and get better, and I can't help but be in awe of her.
Also, when her lesbian friends dumped her when she got a boyfriend, she knew the problem was theirs. Even though she missed them, even though she still wanted to hang out with them, she knew she had done nothing wrong, and voiced that. She has always been bisexual, she never hid that and pretended to just be lesbian, the girls knew that. And that was ok, until she actually starts dating a boy. The way they behave is atrocious, the bullying - the violence and the names and the taunts, it's disgusting. But Etta knows who she is, and won't apologise for being bisexual. It's not about being a part-time lesbian and straight when it suits her. The girl likes both guys and girls, at the same time. Bisexuality exists, and she owns it! And I love her for it, even if she doesn't completely pull them up on their crap, and still, some of the time, wants to get back into that crowd. But it's like the girls really don't get it:
'"This is hard enough as it is, and then you have to go and completely piss on everything we stand for. Did you miss the part where the heteros make our life shit? And now here you are slutting around with the first guy who's nice to you, and what do you think that does besides make us all look like we're just doing the lesbian thing for attention?"' (p9)
I really think Etta's relationship with Rachel - who was her best friend before she got a boyfriend - is really screwed up. Those two do not have boundaries, which can be fine, but theirs is a relationship that needs them, because things get way to blurry. Rachel has this idea of who Etta is and who she should be, and if Etta does something that doesn't quite fit Rachel's image, Rachel will talk her back into her image, and Etta will follow almost without thinking. Who cares if ballet is her passion? Rachel thinks it's not right for her, is causing her too much pain, so she should stop. Rachel actually gets hurt by Etta getting a boyfriend. No worries when it's a girlfriend she has, but a boyfriend, and Rachel acts like Etta has done something terrible to her personally. Because Etta isn't who she thought she was - go figure. And Etta actually feels bad about that, that she hurt her best friend, because she's her whole world, even if she doesn't regret what she did. Their relationship is really toxic, in my opinion. But this isn't a criticism of the book, sometimes people do have toxic friends, and this was shown brilliantly. Rachel isn't necessarily mean, exactly, she does care about Etta, she just wants to control her, and it's really awful to read about.
Something I absolutely loved about this book was the look into sexuality and religion. Bianca is religious. She goes to Church, but her faith is less about organised religion and more about her relationship with god. Her faith tells her homosexuality is bad. And yet Etta, and other people in this book, aren't bad. She really struggles with this, and I love how Etta - who is an atheist as well as bisexual, comes to her defence. (Some names are removed below to avoid spoilers.)
'She's not in this to hate gay people. She doesn't hate gay people. She's just a girl who really loves her God and doesn't want to do anything to pull herself away from that... probably just as much as she doesn't want to be pulled away from [redacted]. And yeah, we can ask her to deal with [redacted] being gay, we can ask her to accept it, but I don't think we can just say that something she believes, something that she fundamentally wants to not hurt anyone, is something she can, or should, just get over.' (p126)
'"Hey. I'm the queer one here and I'm saying leave her alone. She's... fourteen. She doesn't hate anyone. She isn't running around telling people they're going to Hell. She's struggling because her damn God told her something she's questioning and that's really scary for her and she's fourteen. Leave her alone."' (p128)
Isn't that awesome?! This is the first time I've read a book where the actual queer character is defending someone's beliefs. Granted, Bianca isn't telling anyone that who they are is wrong, she is really struggling with what she believes, but Etta isn't saying her beliefs are screwed up either. Whatever your personal beliefs on what religion says about homosexuality, you've got to admit Etta is pretty awesome here? She loves her friend, and so understands her struggle, and doesn't want her to be so upset by it, or get so much grief. It's wonderful.
This review is already a lot longer than I planned, and I haven't even touched on the body image/eating disorders side of things yet. I'm not going to go on, but this is dealt with beautifully; Etta's issues, Bianca's, how Etta feels about Bianca's issues - how she worries about her being so sick, yet also struggles with feeling like she's a failure in comparison... it's heartbreaking to read, but feels so real and honest to me.
And despite the seriousness of the mental illnesses of eating disorders, it's wonderful to read a book that deals with this - and all the other serious elements too, like the bullying - in a way that doesn't make the book feel too heavy, too depressing. I absolutely loved Etta's voice, she's a fantastic character who I'd love to hang out with, and even with everything going on, she keeps things fun, mostly. And you've just got to love all the theatre school auditions/ballet practising. It's just good!
Not Otherwise Specified is a truly beautiful, amazing book, and I would force this book into your hands now if I could. This is my first Moskowitz book, but I'll definitely be picking up her others. Please, read this book....more
Panther by David Owen, a book focusing on the experience of living with someone with depression, had me gripOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Panther by David Owen, a book focusing on the experience of living with someone with depression, had me gripped from the very first page. An amazing, realistic portrayal.
Derrick's older sister, Charlotte, has depression, and it's affecting everyone. To Derrick, home is no longer a place of comfort, but a place of walking on eggshells around Charlotte, so as not to upset. Three months ago, Charlotte attempted to commit suicide, and his life has gone from bad to worse. His best friend has ditched him, he stands no chance of ending up with the girl he fancies, Hadley, and he's put on a huge amount of weight - and it's all Charlotte's fault. When there are rumours of a panther roaming his town, Derrick puts two and two together; the panther appeared around the same time as Charlotte's incident, and is sure this can't be a coincidence. If he can catch the panther, everything will be ok - Charlotte will get better, and his life will go back to normal. But how do you go about catching a panther?
This is a really fantastic story of living with someone who has depression. There are quite a few books out with protagonists suffering with depression, but they focus mainly on the central character. However, depression affects more than just the person who is suffering with it, but also those around them, and with Panther, David Owen brilliantly shows just what this can be like.
Derrick is having a really hard time dealing with Charlotte's depression. He blames for everything that's going wrong in his life, and is just so angry with her. And also guilty, that he can't seem to be able to help her. As someone who has been in Derrick's position of living with someone with depression, I found his anger really callous. He doesn't really understand what depression is, but for most of the story. As far as he's concerned, if you're having a crap time, you don't throw huge crying and screaming fits and throw things about the room like a child having a tantrum, you just get on with it like everyone else. He's so angry and so frustrated, and can't stand being in that house. He doesn't seem to try to understand, either. He's too busy blaming Charlotte for everything - not just everything that's changed, but his bad decisions and the consequences of them, too. It's all her fault. Despite my personal reactions to how Derrick handles things, none of this is a criticism of the story. Derrick doesn't get it, and his reaction is pretty realistic of a young guy who's a little selfish, and just wants his life back. Saying all this, he does genuinely care about his sister and wants her to get better, wants to help her, he just doesn't know how. Which is where hunting the panther comes in. He gets it into his head that this is something he can do, something that will fix everything, and he fixates on it.
Derrick has his own issues, too. The book opens with Derrick in an alley, rooting through bin bags for cookies. He's put on a lot of weight because he binges. His need to binge is a physical pain in his stomach, a need he has to fill. He knows it's a bad idea, he hates the way it's changing his body, but it's a compulsion he struggles to fight. With everything that's going wrong around him being out of his control, binging, even though it's bad for him, is a bad thing that he has control over. His binging is happening because he has made a choice, because he puts the food in his mouth. He's punishing himself for not being able to fix anything else, but temporarily feels better for having some kind of control over something. It's really upsetting to read, and I just felt so sorry for him. He also makes some bad choices and does things that are also worrying and disturbing; Derrick is quite clearly not a guy who is coping well. It would have been nice to have seen him get some kind of help, to have someone to talk to maybe. However, if he did, we would have a completely different story, and I think it's important to see why help might be needed in the first place.
The panther. This was a really interesting part of the story. There is a panther roaming in Derrick's town; everyone's talking about it and it's in the news. However, for most of the book, I was never entirely sure whether Derrick ever actually saw the panther, or whether he was imagining things. Derrick's mind definitely played tricks on him whenever these confrontations took place, emphasising further just how bad Derrick is getting, but whether the panther was ever actually there, I'm not sure. It's possible that it might be a complete coincidence, but I like the idea that Charlotte was suffering with depression, which can be known as the black dog, and Derrick is out trying to catch a black cat to make it all right again. For Derrick, the panther did become intrinsically linked with Charlotte's depression, and was almost a physical representation of it - trap the panther, and depression can no longer trap them. I really like this extra layer to the story, even if it's just my interpretation of it.
Though at times a difficult read, Panther is a really incredible, important and powerful story; moving and very real. A brilliant debut I highly recommend.
FYI: My review will spoil what Darren's dad reveals to him. We find out about this revelat**spoiler alert** Originally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
FYI: My review will spoil what Darren's dad reveals to him. We find out about this revelation really early on in the story, so I don't feel it's really that much of a spoiler, and considering it's a focus of the majority of the story, I have no idea how I can review this book without talking about it. If you don't want this spoilt for you, though, do not read any further.
As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. A story told entirely through lists, that's as long as it is - 656 pages, about what sounds to be quite a complicated story? I am sold! This book is really amazing, but the ending has left me totally confused.
Darren isn't doing so great. His parents are divorced, his brother has left for college, and his best friend has moved away. Dealing with the divorce has been hard, but he doesn't really have anyone to talk to. And then one morning, his dad drops a bombshell on him; he's gay. Darren doesn't know how to deal with this sudden declaration, or how to work out what it means. Not being able to cope with all that's going on in his head, or with having to spend a several hour journey with his dad later to visit his brother, he decides to skip school and visit his brother early. But Zoey, a quiet and seemingly strange girl from school Darren has always had a thing for, adds further complications; she turns up mid-journey, and spends the day with him. And then disappears.
I felt quite sorry for Darren. He has really struggled with his parents' divorce. He understands that now they're apart they seem happier than they were together, but that's not what he wants. He wants his family whole; his parents together, and happy about it, and possibly his brother back home. Even now, there is still tension between his parents, and flitting between the two homes is difficult. It doesn't help that his mother isn't really around as much, as for her job she has to travel to and from California quite a lot, so Darren is forced to stay with his dad who just wants to talk about everything. And then his dad throws another spanner in the works by revealing he's gay.
I really like the way this was handled. Darren isn't homophobic, he doesn't have a problem with gay people... but this is not something you expect to be told from your dad. He's gay? He's always been gay? So what does that mean for his mum and dad's relationship? Was it all a lie? Had his whole childhood been a lie? Darren really isn't happy, and doesn't know how to deal with it. Also, although being gay isn't a problem, having a gay dad kind of maybe is, because of how he's going to be seen - he's always going to be the guy with the gay dad, he's a little worried what people will think of him. But mostly, his struggle is with accepting it himself. His dad is not who he thought he was, he never has been, and although he doesn't have a problem with gay people, it's a complete shock. And with his mother not always there, and his best friend nowhere near by, he's lonely, and doesn't really have anyone to talk to. Hence him deciding to go visit his brother on his own.
The voices of the various characters in this book were brilliant! So distinctive! I especially loved Nate's, even though he frustrated the hell out of me. It was Darren's, Nate's and Zoey's that stood out for me. In fact, it was Darren's relationship with Zoey that was the highlight of the book for me. In the end, it turns out to be only one part of a book with many parts, so not as much of a focus as I would have liked. But hey, Darren has a lot going on, and does spend a lot of time thinking about her and questioning things, even if there isn't much page-time of them together. And Me Being Me isn't so much a book about Darren's relationship with any one particular person, but with all of them. It's a book about him.
However, this book had one major flaw for me; the ending. I have no idea if I missed something, or if that is just how it ended. There are so many questions left unanswered! Maybe there will be a sequel, from someone else's point of view, where we find out the answers to these questions. But if not, and that is just it, with me having not missed anything... then that is one hell of an infuriating ending, to the point where I'm quite angry. To get so invested in a story, in a character, and wanting them to work out everything, and then to have... things end like that?! I'm really trying not to spoil it, but it just felt cruel. I want to know what was going on too, how comes I don't get to hear? I really do hope there's a sequel, but if not, I'm really not happy. Has anybody else read this yet? Please talk to me about the ending in case I have completely missed something! Because there are just no words really.
Overall, though, a really amazing book, apart from those last four pages. I'd still really recommending this book despite the ending, because it's just so, so good otherwise! And the format is so interesting and works so well! Definitely something to check out!...more