I really enjoyed This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp, so when I heard about No Heroes by Anna Seidl, a book that looks at the aftermath of a school shooting rather than focusing on the shooting itself, I was really intrigued. Unfortunately, I wasn't a fan of this book.
It's a perfectly normal day at school - until Miriam and her class mates hear gunshots. Loner Mathias Straudt is shooting at teachers and pupils. Hiding in a cubicle of a toilet with her best friend, Miriam hears a boy outside the cubicles - a boy they tried to get to come with them, but was frozen in fear - shot and killed. Her boyfriend Toby is also killed. In the days, weeks and months that follow, Miriam and her friends try to come to terms with what happened, and why, whilst overwhelmed with grief, fear and guilt. What if Mathias' rampage was their fault?
This is a German novel that has been translated into English, and unfortunately, the translation is a little clunky and awkward. I believe I've only read one other translated novel, Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff, and perhaps I was spoilt by how good a translation it was. Maresi could have been written in English, the translation was so good. I kind of expected the same level of knowledge of the English language with No Heroes, too, but it wasn't brilliant. It's not so much that it didn't make sense, it made perfect sense, but it was the choice of synonyms that made it so clunky, or words used in slightly the wrong context. It just didn't flow as well as it could, and it kept nudging me out of the story.
The story itself was quite a let down. There wasn't much of a plot, it was more a novel of Miriam's internal thoughts and feelings. Not a huge deal happened other than her coming to terms with the shooting and the grief over the death of her boyfriend. It was also very repetitive. Miriam kept coming back to the same thoughts, the same fears, the same worries time and again. I can understand this is probably quite realistic, but it doesn't make for an interesting novel. It was constantly, "Oh, I miss Toby! I need him! I can't go on without Toby! How can anyone go on? What's the point? There is no point. We're all going to die, so why bother trying? Nothing is the same, nothing matters any more." These are Miriam's thoughts almost constantly throughout the novel, until she starts to make a breakthrough, but even then she's still repeats some of the things she thought previously.
And, I don't know if it was the story or the translation, but I didn't feel anything from it. I didn't really feel anything from Miriam; it's all internal really, so we get what she's thinking, but apart from hiding away in her room under the duvet, we don't really see her expressing her emotion in any real way. It's all about what's in her head, and I simply couldn't emotionally connect with her.
All of this coupled with very little plot, with very little going on at all... I just really didn't get on with it at all. No Heroes wasn't for me, unfortunately.
Thank you to Little Island Books via Foyles for the reading copy....more
I picked up You Know Me Well by Nina Lacour & David Levithan expecting a light, happy read. What I got wOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I picked up You Know Me Well by Nina Lacour & David Levithan expecting a light, happy read. What I got was a very quick read that left me feeling lukewarm.
Mark and Kate sit next to each other in Calculus, but have never spoke. However, a chance encounter between the two at the beginning of Pride week sees them becoming close friends. A bond is formed as they help each other through their problems. Mark is in love with his best friend, Ryan, who has no idea. Kate has loved Violet from afar for years, but when the time comes to meet her, she panics. The two find solace in each other's friendship as they struggle with their problems, but the courage to take the steps forward that they need with the support and encouragement from each other. This Pride week will be unlike any other.
You Know Me Well was heavier than I expected. I think the theme of friendship and that light coloured cover led me to believe this would be the light book I needed, but it wasn't. There was nothing too awful about the problems the characters have, it's just the frame of mind I'm in at the moment, I need books that aren't going to bring me down - and unfortunately, this book did a little. It was nice, though, to be reading an LGBTQ+ YA where the issues have nothing to do with the characters' sexuality. The problems revolve around love, relationships, change and the future. Both are dealing with fear in one way or another, but they're each able to help the other.
But You Know Me Well is a very short novel, and I think it was perhaps too quick, because I wasn't very emotionally involved with the characters. That may sound odd considering it was too heavy for me, but I just didn't feel I really got to know the characters that well, I didn't really care about them. The story moved too quickly, not giving me a chance to warm to the characters.
That saying, there was such a huge cast of characters, and all but three, I believe, are part of the LGBTQ+ community. With the mention of The Angel Project, a charity that helps LGBTQ+ youth, the story touches on the homo- and transphobia LGBTQ+ people experience, and how it can lead to them being homeless. I loved the poetry slam and the experiences the various characters shared. And I loved the huge community and celebratory feel to the book as it takes place during Pride week, all these people celebrating who they are was just wonderful.
I'll end with a beautiful quote that I think sums up the whole celebratory feel, but also the theme of the story. 'Hiding and denying and being afraid is no way to treat love. Love demands bravery. No matter the occasion, love expects us to rise[.]' (p243)
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books for the review copy....more
Having loved the Burn for Burn trilogy Siobhan Vivian co-authored with Jenny Han, I was really excited to read Vivian's novel The List when I heard it was being published in the UK. Covering the topics of beauty and body image, The List sounded right up my street, and it was such a wonderful, thought-provoking novel.
Every September at Mount Washing, a list is released that will affect the lives of eight female students. The list announces the prettiest and ugliest girl in each grade, and how they are seen by their fellow students and themselves is altered. This year, the prettiest girls are Abby, Lauren, Bridget and Margo, and the ugliest girls are Danielle, Candace, Sarah and Jennifer. New found confidence, insecurity, taunts and mocking, sympathy, a new perspective, the suspicion of others, family issues and rebellion are experienced by the eight girls in the week leading up to the Homecoming Dance. Surprises - some good and some bad - come their way, as the girls discover that the list can only hurt.
This is such a brilliant book! The title of ugliest and prettiest affects each girl in such different ways, both in how they see themselves, and how others treat them. Abby, a popular and pleasant freshman, is flattered to be named the prettiest freshman, and likes how the boys in the grade above now know who she is, but she wishes she got on better with her super smart, geeky older sister. Danielle is announced ugliest freshman, the list insinuating that she looks like a boy. She's upset by being on the list, and by boys in the grade above hurling abuse at her, but at least her boyfriend doesn't care - right? Lauren has just moved to Mount Washington, and is going to public school for the first time since being home schooled. Being named prettiest sophomore, she's suddenly making friends with girls who weren't interested before. Candace, however, was named the ugliest sophomore, the list commenting on how mean she can be, and her friends ditch her for Lauren now the truth is out. Bridget is the prettiest junior, the list acknowledging the weight she lost over Summer. But she's starting to put it back on, and she feels she's unworthy of the title, the list exacerbating her insecurities and her issues with food, leading to her starving herself - again. Bolshie and angry Sarah, the ugliest junior, is sick of the school's obsession with all things shallow, like the list and being crowned Homecoming Queen. They think she's ugly? She'll show them ugly! As prettiest senior, people are starting to be suspicious that Margo wrote the list. Although she tries to pretend it doesn't matter, she wants to be seen as perfect, maybe then Matthew will notice her. Jennifer is the ugliest senior, making it four years on the trot she's been on the ugly list. But some think things have gone too far, and she's shocked to find the popular girls extending a hand of friendship.
I don't want to say too much more about the story as we follow each girl over the course of six days, and so events happen quite quickly. What I really loved about The List is how it doesn't focus very much on how these girls actually look. We know Lauren has waist-length blonde hair, that Sarah's hair is dark, and Jennifer is overweight, but otherwise, there's very little description, if any, on how the girls look. The List isn't about how the girls look, but how they are seen - by themselves and others. It's with this lack of physical description that Vivian plays with society's idea of beauty: we are told what's beautiful and what's unattractive, and we believe and act on what we're told. The List is a reflection of society; it takes place in a high school setting with teenagers, but the list could be magazines and the media, and the school students all of us, judging people - famous or otherwise - and ourselves on what we're told is and isn't attractive about the female form. The subject is dealt with deftly but subtly within the narrative, with us readers getting emotionally involved in the individual stories. We can see ourselves in the eight girls, as they struggle with their self-esteem and insecurities, and with how their peers now treat them, whether throwing slurs their way, or suddenly wanting to be their friends.
The List is a fantastic feminist novel, and one that made me think so much, it led to me I writing about how beauty simply doesn't matter. It's such an incredible book, and one I'll definitely be recommending to every teen girl I meet!
Thank you to Mira Ink for the review copy. ...more
Reading the description above, When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid sounded like a fun, glitOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Reading the description above, When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid sounded like a fun, glitzy read with a gay protagonist, and I was so excited to read it! But now I have, and I have absolutely no idea whether this book is good or not.
Normally, include a summary of the book in my reviews, but I have no idea how to summarise this novel. I just don't know what to say. So I'll just get straight in to what I thought: I didn't like this book at all. I didn't like the characters, I found the story hugely disturbing, and, to me, it just felt like Jude was a walking stereotype.
Jude is gay and out to the world. He doesn't conform to gender roles; he loves to wear make-up and women's shoes, and wears his hair long. He's very feminine and flamboyant, and because of this, he is bullied in such a huge way. He doesn't just get name calling, he has the crap beaten out of him, to the point that he ends up in hospital. To deal with the bullying, Jude pretends he is a movie star; the haters are the paparazzi or his fans, and they always want more of him because he's so fabulous. His life is a movie, and he plays his part. He gets so lost in his imagination, that sometimes, I'm unsure if the events he describes are real or in his head. Most of the time it's pretty easy to guess, but sometimes not so much. He also puts himself in the position to be bullied; he will say outrageous things to the guys who bully him, just to get their attention. Why? Because at least then he's getting attention, and he feels hate is as close to love as he's going to get. Or, they love him so much, they can't stay away, and so they hurt him. Crazy stalkers. Jude was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, but I'm sure he has some serious mental illness that he retreats into his imagination like he does. It's kind of heartbreaking.
But at the same time, I've never come across a character who is more self-obsessed. All Jude really cares about is himself, and getting attention. He goads his bullies by sexually harrassing them, and, although he's not asking to be beaten up, he is after a reaction. He can't bare to go under the radar. He craves attention. He also feels like a very exaggerated stereotypical gay man; a caricature with all stereotypes thrown in to one. I know there are feminine/camp/flamboyant gay men, but with Jude, these traits are taken to the extreme. I didn't find his character believable in the least. This could be that I've never met anyone like him, but I'm not so sure. I had no trouble believing Tiny Cooper from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan, or the crossdressing Infinite Darlene from Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan - both camp and flamboyant characters. As I said, Jude felt like a caricature.
I was also really disturbed by this story. Normally in YA, a book will be written in such a way that the less-than-smart decisions or actions taken by the characters is written in a way that we, as readers, know these characters are making huge mistakes (thought without feeling like you're being preached to). This is now how Reid had written this novel. Jude and his best friend Angela take drugs all the time. Whether it's weed, Angela's mother's prescription pills, acid, they'll take anything. Always. But at no point is this written like this is scary dangerous and illegal. It's just a thing they do, like reading a book, eating some food, taking drugs. Also, Angela is very promiscuous, which I do not have a problem with in and of itself, but she doesn't use protection. She has had multiple abortions in her young life, and thinks nothing of it. It's abortion as contraception, and again, not one character bats an eyelid, or thinks this might be wrong. Jude takes the mick out of her for sleeping around, and for getting pregnant sometimes, but he doesn't actually think she's doing anything unwise. These two just have so very little self-respect and are so highly self-destructive, and completely blasé about it all, I was reading the whole thing in complete shock and dismay. I should add that these teens are in middle school, and are around 14-years-old, max. I can't be the only person who finds this incredibly disturbing, right? I was sickened by the things that happen in this book. But I've no idea if this is realistic or not. Things certainly weren't this extreme when I was 14. Because of how there's no consequences to their actions, nor any feeling through the writing that what they're doing is screwed up makes me feel that perhaps it was written for shock value. But I simply can't say this is unrealistic, because I don't know.
Other issues that are barely touched on in this novel are present-but-absent parents, domestic violence, self-harm, drug addiction (not Jude's or Angela's), and a kind of inverted Oedipus complex (Jude masturbates occasionally to the thought of his absentee father). Again, there's not really any feel that something is up with these things, or even Jude's movie star delusions. To me, it just feels a little irresponsible of the author. There are some serious issues in this book, but they're brushed over without being written about in any detail, and written in a way that makes it feel like it's all perfectly normal. That just doesn't sit right with me. Nor do the insults and blasé comments about rape, nor calling people "retard"/"retarded". Also there's a really awful comment from Jude where he compares himself to JonBenét Ramsey; I didn't know who she was when I read it so I just brushed over it, but it was brought to my attention by Jim earlier today, and after looking her up and discovering she was a six-year-old beauty queen who was murdered, I was disgusted by Jude. I don't know if it's Jude or if it's the author, but one of them really has no boundaries.
I didn't like this book. I didn't enjoy one second of it. But do you have to enjoy a book for it to be good? I did read the whole thing, after all. I really couldn't say if this book was good or not. However, would I read it again? No. Would I recommend it? No. Do I feel there are any redeeming factors of this book? No. How many stars did I decide to give it? One. You'll just have to decide for yourself if you want to read this book to work out if it's good or not.
When I first heard about Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate, I thought it sounded pretty good, but the thingOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
When I first heard about Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate, I thought it sounded pretty good, but the thing that made this a must read for me was the word "pansexual". Regular readers of my blog will know that I'm passionate about diversity, so on reading that this book had a pansexual character - the first I'd ever heard of in any book - it immediate went on my "absolutely must read", and I shouted out to the whole world on Twitter about it. And I'm so happy to say that, not only does Seven Ways We Lie have a pansexual character, it's also a bloody incredible book!
Seven teenagers, seven secrets. The actress who hates everyone, the slacker who's having trouble at home, the drug dealer who's hiding his pansexuality, the popular girl who has casual sex but keeps guys at a distance, the over achiever who has serious self-esteem issues, the genius who knows something he shouldn't, and the lovely, perfect girl who's suffering inside. When a school scandal rocks Paloma High, these seven teenagers don't realise it sets in motion things that will lead to their secrets not being so secret any more, and they have to rely on each other. But can you trust others with what you've kept hidden for so long?
Oh my god, this book is so good! It's not a spoiler to tell you what the school scandal is, as it's revealed in the very first chapter; there is a student-teacher relationship going on at Paloma High, but the staff do not know who is involved. Rumours fly about the teachers, the students, people making guesses at who it could be. But among all this are seven teens who are having issues of their own. Their paths cross and their stories interconnect. Lucas, the pansexual drug dealer, is the ex-boyfriend of Claire, who is in every club going. Claire is friends with lovely Juniper and Olivia, who gets a lot of abuse for having casual sex. Olivia is Kat's sister, who has been mad at the world for such a long time. Matt is one of Lucas' regular customers, and he's always had a thing for Olivia. Valentine is a super smart loner, who despises most people his age, but has a very strong moral compass. You'll find out how his story crosses with others as you read.
I was a little worried that Seven Ways We Lie was going to focus really heavily on the student-teacher relationship, and it was going to get very gossipy and scandalous, which really isn't my kind of book. But that's not what Seven Ways We Lie is; it's more real, more human. It was more about the seven teens and their lives than it was about spreading rumours and being bitchy - though we do see some bitchiness, because it's a high school, and there's always bitchiness.
All seven get a chance at narrating the story, and their voices are all so wonderfully distinct! They are each fully realised characters with their own story arc, their own problems, and their own opinions on what's happening at the school. Seven Ways We Lie shows that appearances can be deceiving, that we can make assumptions, have impressions of who people are, but we never know what's going on inside their heads, what's behind the smile. That makes it sound sinister, but that's not what I mean. Not everyone is as happy as they seem. No-one can be defined by a single aspect of their personality. Humans are multifaceted and complex, and we never really know who someone is or what they're going through. We're too quick to make judgements - not even bad judgements, necessarily - about people, and see them in a certain light. But how you see someone isn't necessarily who they are. There is more to all of us. It was absolutely fascinating to see how all of the seven saw each other, and yet saw who they were from inside their own heads. No-one, really, got anyone right. Not completely. And as the story goes on, they are surprised by who they all are as they get to know each other more as their stories interconnect.
None of the characters are stereotypical. Lucas, the drug dealer, is a cheery, happy-go-lucky guy who's hard not to love. Juniper is probably Queen Bee, but she's actually a really nice, lovely girl, who sticks up for those who are picked on. Olivia likes casual sex, sure, but she's not shallow or bitchy; she has a big heart who genuinely cares about her friends and family. "Drug dealer", "Queen Bee", "Slut" (as she is called in the book, not my words) - they all evoke certain ideas about people who would be put in these boxes, but with Seven Ways We Lie, we are shown that no-one is a cardboard cut-out.
When it comes to Olivia's story, Seven Ways We Lie is a pretty feminist story that has a lot to say about female sexuality. Olivia likes sex, and doesn't see why she can't enjoy having it with various guys. There's more to her than who she chooses to have sex with, and she's sick with being treated badly for something that is nobody's business. She has a conversation with Matt - who doesn't seem to care either way, it doesn't matter to him - about about the double standard of how women who have had many sexual partners are treated with how men who have had many sexual partners are treated, and it's so wonderful to see! But what I loved the most was seeing Olivia stand up for herself when Dan, a guy she previously had sex with, keeps bugging her to have sex with her again. It was so good to see Redgate tackle the subject of guys randomly sending unsolicited dick pics, even briefly - it's so prevalent right now, and so unbelievably unacceptable, so it was great to see Olivia receive one from Dan, and how she reacts to it. But back to how she stands up for herself, this is how Olivia reacts after she's finally done with the crap from Dan:
'"Besides, if you're going to let everyone and his brother get it, can't blame me for assuming you're down." When I find words, they rush out in a waterfall. "So by sleeping with more than one guy, I've forfeited my right to hook up with who I want? Or are you saying that by having sex with multiple people, I've become, like, emotionally incapable of falling for one person? Either way, are you insane?" "Hey, all I'm saying is, you can't act like a slut and expect people not to treat you like a slut. It's just false advertising." Sweet Jesus. [...] False advertising? I am done. I'm done with the stares and the rumors and the lack of basic human decency, let alone privacy. I'm so done with being defined by this single part of me. "I'm not advertising anything!" I yell, my words ringing off the living room walls. "My body is not yours. I don't owe you. I don't owe boys some fucked-up compensation for my reputation, I don't owe the public an apology for my personal life, I don't owe anyone a goddamn thing, so get out of my life and stay out!"' (p283-284)
Oh my god, isn't she wonderful?! I just love her!
Seven Ways We Lie, as I've touched on, has a pretty diverse cast of characters. Matt is half-Mexican, half-American, Claire's older sister, Grace, is disabled, and Lucas is pansexual. I've implied that this is pretty huge, and it is. I have never seen or heard of a pansexual character in any other book. This is the first, and a first for a lot of other people too, I discovered, when I told everyone and their dog about it on Twitter. Not only is Lucas pansexual, but it's on the page. It's a sexuality that we don't hear about so often, so it's brilliant for pansexual teens to see someone who is like them int he pages of Seven Ways We Lie. Being a sexuality we don't hear so much about, you might be a little confused as to what it means to be pansexual, but it's ok, Lucas gives such a brilliant explanation when he tells his ex, Claire:
'"What did you--pansexual?" "It means I could be attracted to someone of any gender." "So you're bi." "It's not quite the same. I... so, basically, there's not just male and female. Some people identify with other genders. And yep, now you look like I'm telling you that aliens have landed." "What are you talking about, other genders?" "Well, gender's something society made up. I don't mean biological sex--that's a different thing. But gender--so people think women are one way and men are this other way, but if you blend between the two, for example, then neither gender's a good description, so--" "Lucas." "--pansexuals can be attracted to any gender, a boy or a girl or somebody off the binary, which, I mean, you can read about this stuff--" "Lucas." "What? What is it?" "I don't understand anything you're saying," she says. "Would you hold on for a minute? Let's just... I'm not gonna bite, okay?" [...] She fixes me with a skeptical look. "Okay. So. How do you know you're not bi? Have you met anyone who thinks they're not--you know, not a--a girl or a boy?" I shrug. "How do you know you haven't?" "I..." "It's not like they'd be super public about it. Even gayness still has people being all, 'Woah, now, don't get so politcal; this is a lot to deal with.'"' (p239-240)
Please excuse me while I do a little happy dance! Oh, I love Lucas, and I love how he knows who he is with no confusion! This is not a "I'm figuring out my sexuality" story for Lucas. He has known he was pansexual before this book even starts. He knows who he is, he's comfortable with who he is, he just doesn't go to the most accepting school, and so he's been keeping it quiet for fear of losing friends and having them turn against him. Which is obviously awful. But Lucas is completely confident in his sexuality, he's not ashamed of it, it's not a problem for him, it just is. And that makes Seven Ways We Lie such an important, groundbreaking novel.
And we have Valentine, who might just be one of my favourite characters ever! I just love his mind and how he thinks! He is adorable, even if he is a little harsh and anti-social. Valentine has conversations and thoughts about attraction and crushes, and... he just doesn't understand. He's never had a crush. He can tell people are attractive, but he's never been attracted to them. It's not something he's ever experienced, it's not something he really gets. And he's thought about it, what it might feel like, what kissing someone would be like. But it's just never been something he's had any interest in. I was reading, thinking Valentine is asexual - but it's never actually said on the page. I didn't want to tell you guys he's asexual if he isn't, so I asked Redgate on Twitter, and with her permission, I'm linking to her tweeted answers. So Valentine doesn't identify as asexual and aromantic just yet, which is why it isn't on page, but he would in the future.
All in all, Seven Ways We Lie is such an incredible novel; it's so layered and beautifully human, and I absolutely loved it! Such a fantastic debut novel, and I won't hesitate to read anything Redgate writes in the future. Please, read this book. It's important.
Thank you to Abrams & Chronicle for the review copy. ...more
WARNING! There will be major spoilers in this review. There is a diverse element to this story that I have nOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
WARNING! There will be major spoilers in this review. There is a diverse element to this story that I have never come across before in YA, nor heard of from others in books I'm yet to read. Because of this, I think it's important to discuss this particular diverse element for the purposes of discussing representation. However, discussing this element will mean spoiling a big part of the book, so if you do not wish to have This Song Is (Not) For You spoiled for you, please be sure not to read the spoilers hidden below.
I originally requested This Song Is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin from NetGalley because I thought Ramona's situation sounded like a really awkward one to be in, and would make a really interesting book. But it went from one I was mildly interested in to one I definitely had to read when it was praised on Twitter for having an asexual main character, and it was such a fascinating read.
Ramona and Sam have been friends for years after bonding over their passion for music. They're inseparable, and both have feelings for each other, but are certain the other is not interested. When they meet Tom at a music college, they know they've found the final piece for their band, and the three soon become very close friends. But it's not long before Ramona starts falling for Tom - while she's still in love with Sam. Tom seems to be interested in her too, and as Ramona knows nothing will happen with Sam, she and Tom start dating. The three spend almost all their spare time together, and seeing Ramona and Tom together is so painful for Sam. But there's something about Tom that neither of them know.
What I found really strange about This Song Is (Not) For You is how much I enjoyed it considering how little I connected with the characters. Each of the three characters narrate alternately, and it's the kind of book you fly through, but the pacing means that months go by in a flash. There's something about these characters that felt different; I can't say we don't really get to know them, because we do, and I don't dislike them, but I didn't warm to any of them, either. I just didn't get emotionally involved in this book. But I still enjoyed it, and was gripped by their story.
I wasn't too interested in the music element of the book; they don't play my kind of music, it's kind of experimental, I guess, and just not something I'm interested in. But even if it was, I still think the relationships between all three characters would have been the major pull for me. This is the first YA novel I've come across where a character is genuinely in love with two people at once, without there being some kind of magical reason as to why. Granted, I didn't feel that love, the development of the relationships was kind of lacking for me, but from the way the story was written it's clear that this is love that Ramona feels for Sam and Tom, and not just a crush or intense infatuation. She's actually in love with them both. Which is a difficult situation to be in; even if she ends up with Tom, she's not with Sam, and she can't just turn off her feelings. And it's even more awkward and kind of tragic when the reader knows that Sam is in love with Ramona, too. As I said, I didn't make the emotional connection that I wanted, but there were moments when Sam talks about his feelings for Ramona and unrequited love (we know it's not, but as far as he's concerned, it is) that were really beautiful, moments I could relate to.
Tom was a fascinating character, and one I loved being inside the head of. I was celebrating whenever he discussed his feelings regarding sex. Tom is asexual. The word is never used in the book, but he discusses a few times his lack of sexual feeling and complete disinterest in sex. His ex-girlfriend broke up with him because she thought he was gay and in denial, because he never showed any interest in going further than kissing, despite his claims that he simply just didn't want to have sex. We have very few asexual characters in YA, and so far, I've only read one other book with an asexual character - Quicksilver by R. J. Anderson. What's wonderful about This Song Is (Not) For You is that it shows an asexual character who falls in love. I'd be interested to know if any of the other ace YA books published show this, but it was great to see Tom wanting and enjoying a romantic relationship, but not wanting a sexual one.
(view spoiler)[ Eventually, Sam opens up to Ramona about his feelings. It occurs to him that he wants to be with Ramona, but that doesn't necessarily mean exclusively. If the only way he can be with Ramona is by sharing her with Tom, he's ok with that, and Ramona considers it. This is before either he or Ramona know about Tom's asexuality. There's more that happens, but in the end, the three decide to have a joint relationship - a polyamorous relationship. Sam loves both of them, Ramona romantically, Tom platonically, and Tom the same, and neither want to hurt the other because of their feelings for Ramona. Ramona can be with both the boys she loves, and have a physical relationship with Sam, and Tom won't be left again because he's not interested in sex. Ramona makes a great comment about how before she knew about Tom's feelings regarding sex, she would have demanded monogamy, but she does want a sexual relationship, so would have left him if the three of them didn't come up with this arrangement.
It was really fascinating to me to see how they worked this out, and how everyone was happy with their relationship. It's not something I've read before, nor something I've really come across outside of the TV programme Caprica, which I'd only seen bits and pieces of because my dad watched it. This Song Is (Not) For You is going to be groundbreaking for YA when it comes to polyamory, and I do hope to read more in the future. I'd be fascinated to see a polyamorous relationship without an asexual character, and to actually see how that relationship works - as This Song Is Not (For) You ends shortly after the three decide on their relationship. (hide spoiler)]
This Song Is (Not) For You is a really fascinating, gripping and eye-opening novel, and despite my lack of emotional connection, one I would highly recommend.
Thank you to Sourcebooks via NetGalley for the eProof.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It wasn't until fairly recently that I discovered Dahlia Adler was an author. Originally, I thought Adler was worked in publishing in some way as an aIt wasn't until fairly recently that I discovered Dahlia Adler was an author. Originally, I thought Adler was worked in publishing in some way as an advocate for diverse YA. But once I discovered she was an author, considering how passionate she is about diverse YA, I was sure her books would be awesome, so when the opportunity came up to review her latest novel, Just Visiting, I jumped at the chance. I'm so glad I did, because it was brilliant!
Reagan and Victoria have been best friends for the past three years. Complete opposites, Reagan is academic and driven while Victoria is interested in parties and boys. The one things that keeps them close is their longing to get out of small town Charytan; for Reagan, to escape the poverty of her trailer park and to get away from a secret past, and for Victoria, to go somewhere where she can do something with her love of fashion design and where no-one bats an eye at the colour of her skin. Together, they plan multiple weekend visits to various colleges to help them decide where they will go, because one thing is for certain: they will be going together. But when Victoria struggles to find exactly what she's after, and Reagan's life is made complicated by meeting the gorgeous Dev, the two friends realise, as much as they love each other, there's a lot about each other they don't know. They have relied on each other for so long, but when the truth comes out, is their friendship sttrong enough to survive the secrets?
Oh, I loved this book so, so much! I'm always amazed when authors manage to give their characters such distinctive voices for a dual narrative, and Adler does a fantastic job with Reagan and Victoria! The two are so, so different, sometimes it's a wonder they're friends at all, but they're both so fiercely loyal to each other, they always have each other's back. That is until they discover there's more to each other than they realised, things they've been holding back. Reagan has a secret past from before Victoria moved to Charytan, involving a relationship with a boy who is now in the army. But Reagan is very tight-lipped about the topic, it's simply not something that's up for discussion. Whatever it is, though, affected her deeply, making the tentative friendship-with-the-possibility-of-more with Dev even more complicated than it already is. Even with the hints that were dropped throughout the novel, I never really guessed what Reagan's back story would be. It was so shocking, and I could completely understand why Reagan has the problems she does. For Victoria, her secrets are intertwined with who she is. Victoria's parents are from Mexico, and she has suffered suspicion and dislike her whole life because of the colour of her skin - at best. Victoria doesn't think about what it's been like at it's worst.
The two girls have such a fear of judgement and blame, even from their best friend, they keep their pasts hidden, for fear of losing the one of the only people who accept them - because they don't know. Just Visiting is probably the first book I've read where the main focus of the story is on a strong female friendship, and it's beautiful and moving, even with it's complications and bumps in the road along the way. It actually made me a little envious; I didn't have any particularly strong female friendships until my late teens, and even that wasn't as strong as my friendship with my best friend now, who's male. Just Visiting makes me feel I missed out on an important part of being a teenage girl, but also really grateful for the friendship I have now. Just Visiting is really a story on the importance of friendship, and how strong and deep that love goes, even when things get rough.
As expected considering how passionate Adler is about diversity in YA, Just Visiting has a range of diverse and minority characters. As I've mentioned, Victoria is of Mexican descent and Reagan comes from an impoverished family, working every hour she can to pay for gas, some bills, and whatever her mum chooses to buy for herself once Reagan has handed over her money. Victoria's mum is deaf; Dev, Reagen's love interest, is Indian; and Dev's friend Jamie is an Asian Jew. Just Visiting's diverse cast feels quite natural, whereas I've read other diverse books where it felt the diverse characters were there to tick off a box and felt quite forced. Saying that, though, each identity is more than incidental and is touched on, if only briefly; Dev discusses how people have difficulty pronouncing his name, Jamie discusses how people expect him to have a surname like 'Chang' rather than 'Goldstein', and there's talk about learning ASL (American Sign Language). Adler goes into more depth on some identities than others, but it still feels really natural, conversations that would generally come up, rather than shoehorned in.
I absolutely adored Just Visiting, and I am so excited to read Adler's other books! Do read Just Visiting, it's amazing!
I bought Modern Monsters by Kelley York a few months back, and actually forgot certain details mentioned in the description; I thought it was about a girl making a false rape claim, when it's not that book at all. Despite not being what I expected, I was still hoping Modern Monsters would be a great book. Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed.
Vic is the nice, quiet guy. The guy with a conscience. When, at a party he didn't want to go to, he sees a highly intoxicated Callie throwing up outside, barely able to hold herself up, he can't just leave her to it. He helps her inside, takes her up to an empty bedroom, helps her into bed and puts a bin by the bed in case she needs to be sick again. Then he leaves. A few days later, Vic is arrested for rape. Callie was attacked at the party after Vic left, but Vic is the last person she remembers seeing - in the bedroom. When news gets out that Vic is the prime suspect, suddenly everyone knows who he is, hurling abuse and threats of violence his way, in and out of school. Vic knows he didn't do it, someone else did, and Callie needs justice just as much as he needs his name cleared. A tentative alliance if formed between him and Callie's best friend Autumn, and together they're determined to find the truth - and for Autumn, that's even if it is Vic. But as clues come to light, the two find that the truth might be even harder to believe.
Most of the books I've read for Sex in Teen Lit Month II covering rape and rape culture have been about disbelieving the victim about her attack and glorifying the accused, so I thought it would be interesting to look at a book where the accused didn't actually rape anyone. What is it like to be accused of rape, but be completely innocent of the crime? Vic is such a great character, because he really is a great guy. He is astounded when he's arrested for Callie's rape, but he doesn't just worry about what this means for him, he worries about Callie; she's been through this terrible ordeal, which is bad enough, but he knows they're going after the wrong guy. It's not just the fact that he might go down for it that upsets him, it's that if he does, Callie could walk right past her actual rapist and not know it, and they get off scot-free. I'd say he's more concerned for Callie and what she's going through than he is for himself, and that really made me warm to him, as is shown here when he undergoes an examination before being questioned by the police:
'Is this where they brought Callie, then? Did they shove her into one of these uncomfortable gowns and subject her to being prodded at. My chest constricts at the thought. How does someone even begin to process being violated and then having to spread her legs to let a doctor poke around?' (p20)
What I found interesting about Modern Monsters, in comparison to the other books on rape I've read for the event, is that most people tend to believe her. There's some victim blaming, but they generally tend to believe that Vic did do it. I suppose the fact that he's quiet and unpopular makes it "easier" to believe he did it than it would for star football players, but other than his best friend Brett, Brett's parents, and his boss Amjad, no-one believes he's innocent. Even his mother thinks he's guilty. It's terrible to see the violence suffered and the worse violence that is threatened. It really gets kind of sinister in places, a group of guys waiting for him outside his workplace, it's quite scary. However, the focus of the story is less on what he suffers, but on finding out the truth with Autumn, and the relationship between them as the story progresses.
And that's where I had to suspend disbelief. I don't understand how a girl who believes a guy raped her best friend could then go and looking for the "truth" with that guy. So we as readers know Vic didn't do it, but at the beginning, Autumn believes he does. If you have that belief, why are you even allowing him to be anywhere near you?! There's a point when Callie starts getting some other memories, nothing clear, but something that makes her think perhaps Vic didn't rape her, but she's not positive of that, and Vic isn't officially cleared from the investigation until the end of the book, so I just don't understand how Autumn would put herself at such risk. Sure, she comes to believe he didn't do it, but that's only through spending time with him and looking for who might have. She still fully believed he did it when they first start looking into things. And I can't understand her thinking. I really can't. But putting that disbelief aside and just forgetting about it, I really enjoyed Autumn and Vic together. Autumn is strong and feisty, such a great friend, and so determined to find out the truth. She's so different from Vic, and her boldness with Vic's shyness was just really sweet. She's also pretty smart in some ways too, but at times I just wish they went to the police. I don't know if the outcome would have turned out the same if it did, but I feel they took some huge risks that were potentially dangerous.
I worked out who Callie's actual rapist was fairly early on - or at least suspected before being positive. And when we get the big reveal is where I have my main problem with this story. I can't talk about it without spoiling the story, so don't click below if you've yet to read this book and don't want it spoiled for you.
(view spoiler)[So we find out the rapist is Brett. Vic has confronted him, and we find out that Patrick, who was in on it has gone to the police. Unable to deal with the fact that his best friend did this, was willing to let him go down for it, and that Brett's lawyer father, who was defending Vic, knew the truth and chose to protect his son, Vic leaves. And later, he finds out that Brett botches a suicide attempt and is left in a coma. WHAT THE HELL?! I was so, SO mad at York for doing this. Sure, Brett had a bright future ahead of him and he worked so hard for it, and he couldn't face that all going wrong for him because of a "drunken mistake", but what?! In real life, conviction rates for rape are SO low, and those who actually come forward and report that they have been raped is actually just a small percentage of those who are actually raped. So York has written this story where the rape has been reported, and the truth has come out... and the rapist STILL gets out of serving time by trying to commit suicide. It just felt so cruel and unfair to me that, with conviction rates so low generally, York wrote her rapist out of serving for his crime. He should have gone down. He would have gone down. And I think it would have been good for people to see that, to read it, even for rape survivors - sometimes they do get justice. Sure, perhaps Modern Monsters does have a potentially realistic ending, but it also had the potential to give readers some hope. And, in my opinion, it dashed that. And I'm so disappointed. (hide spoiler)]
Despite my problems with the end of this book, overall, it's not a bad book. I would have liked to have seen more of how Vic suffered due to other people believing he did it, and maybe Autumn being a little smarter, but it was still mostly an enjoyable read. But the ending just ruined it for me, sadly.
Have you read Modern Monsters? What did you think of the book as a whole, and the ending?["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I think we can all agree that Twitter is a wonderful thing. If it wasn't for a retweet of a retweet of a tweOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I think we can all agree that Twitter is a wonderful thing. If it wasn't for a retweet of a retweet of a tweet about Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, I wouldn't have heard about the book when I did, I wouldn't have gone to NetGalley to request it, I wouldn't have been accepted, and I wouldn't have reviewed Firsts for Sex in Teen Lit Month II. I'm so glad I did see that twice retweeted tweet, because this book is amazing!
Mercedes has come up with an idea to help the female virgins in her school: she will have sex with their virginal boyfriends and show them exactly what to do and how, and what to say, so that when they have sex with their girlfriends, the girls will get the perfect first time. Not only does she show them what to do during the act of having sex, but she helps them plan the perfect night leading up to it. All she asks is that they keep it to themselves, unless there's another virgin who needs her help. The guys are so grateful that someone will show them how, someone who has no expectations of them, they're practically queueing up to learn from her. But the number of virgins is racking up, though, to more than Mercedes expected, and she's starting to have trouble justifying her good-deeds. Who is she doing this for? How is she going to deal with her best friend's boyfriend, Charlie, wanting a go? And why is she so put off by the idea of something more than sex from Zach, her Wednesday hook-up lunch date?
This book! Oh my god, I can't tell you how good this is! When I first read the description of the book, I couldn't really understand how Mercedes could believe what she was doing was a good idea: she's sleeping with other girls' boyfriends! This is not on! But when reading the book, you can really understand her motivation. Her own first time was as awful as it could be, and she just wants to make sure other girls have a better memory than she does. At first, she truly believes that she's doing something good. She feels good about herself afterwards, because she's helping people out; she knows these girls are going to have as good an experience as possible, because of her advice. She likes that she's able to help them. But at the same time, as you're reading you're still thinking, "Ok, Mercedes, I get where you're coming from... but this is not ok. You can't have sex with other people's boyfriends, no matter what your intentions! This is all going to backfire on you!"
The thing is, Mercedes has her issues. There is the experience of her own first time, which we're not told much about for most of the story. There are subtle hints here and there about what happened, but not enough to be sure. I had several theories that I would go back and forth on, one of which was the correct one, but by the time I twigged that was definitely what happened before it's outright said, I had already settled on another theory. Then there's her relationship with her mother, who is constantly chasing youth and the next man. Kim is all about botox, dieting, dressing for men, and she's hardly ever around. I could understand Mercedes dislike of her, but I think there was a lack of communication going on. Kim is clueless, and gives Mercedes all the wrong advice, but I did feel like she actually cared, even if she was misguided about what was right for Mercedes, which in her opinion had to do with guys. When Kim does realise that Mercedes is having different guys over, she almost seems to approve, which is the opposite of what Mercedes wants from her mother. Because of all her issues, Mercedes just wants to control her life.
Which is part of the reason she keeps pushing Zach away. Oh, Zach! He was just the nicest, sweetest guy, and he's so into Mercedes, but she keeps pushing her way. She is only interested in his body, and doesn't like him touching her during the act in any way that is to personal or intimate. She must have control of this area. She cannot be with Zach, or anyone else. She is not going to have some walk out on her again. This way, she calls the shots, she has the power, she is in control. Just the way she likes it.
But when new girl Faye starts school, who is drop dead gorgeous, and so wants to be Mercedes friend, Mercedes has a problem. Because now Zach is looking at Faye the way he used to look at her. And she does not like it one bit. She doesn't want him, but no-one else can have him either. And Faye... she tries so hard to make friends with Mercedes, but she's just not having any of it for a good while. Another person who wants to be let in. She just doesn't have the mental space for either of them. It's almost like she can't afford to care. But things start happening that give Mercedes cause to pause; although Faye enjoys Zach's attention and seems to be interested too, she's also flirting with Mercedes. Or is she? What's with all the touching? And what's with getting so close? And why is Mercedes not sure whether she wants Faye to step back or get closer? This is a really interesting part of the story, because for a lot of it, I had no idea where it was going to go. Is Mercedes bi, maybe? Or perhaps she's just questioning because it's new, and she's never had a girl seem to take interest in her? Will it be Faye? Will it be Zach? Will it be someone else entirely? Will it be no-one? I HAD NO CLUE! And I seriously loved it! It's a real treat when you're reading a book and you really have no real theories of what's lying ahead. It was the same with Mercedes' own experience of losing her virginity, I just wasn't sure what would turn out actually happened. And it was so refreshing to be guessing the whole time! That's the norm for mysteries, not for contemporaries/romances! This story is so unpredictable, it's wonderful!
There's more I could talk about in regards to the plot, but I'm worried about spoiling things, and this review is also quite long, and I really want to talk about the sexual aspect of the story, now. It was never graphic; some things are described, but not in huge detail, and most of the time it felt so clinical. Mercedes sleeping with these virgins was not about her own sexual pleasure. For most of the guys, she didn't get any pleasure from it at all, it was about giving pointers. Zach is the only person to have got her off, as she puts it, which is probably half the reason she keeps having sex with him; this time it's about pleasure and control. But even in the few sex scenes with Zach, it still feels kind of clinical, and I think that's because emotionally, Mercedes is just not there. It feels different from other books with no-strings sex, and I think this is to do with Mercedes issues. It's not just about purely physical pleasure, it's about control, and I think she gets more from the control aspect of sex than she does from Zach making her feel good. When things between them get difficult later, and Zach actually wants to talk to her and have conversations about things, Mercedes response is to try to turn him on and get him to have sex with her. She can't do real talk. Sex is what she understands, sex is where she has the power.
This book also had some really interesting to say about virginity. Mercedes talks about how for girls, it's expected that their first time is meant to be this important thing they give to someone when they feel ready, after conversations with friends and she's finally comfortable to do so, but for guys, they're expected to always be ready, and know what they're doing, and make sure they're gentle and give their girlfriends a magical experience, when that's just not going to happen because they're also scared.
There was one small thing I had an issue with though; Mercedes is with one of the virgins and she's straddling him while topless when she asks what he would say to his girlfriend in this position, and he responds that he would tell her she's beautiful, and ask if he could touch her boobs. Mercedes tells him that he should always tell her she's beautiful, but he should never ask to do something. Instead, he should be bold, because confidence should be faked until he is confident. But this set off alarms for me; of course he should ask! Consent is required! I think it's really crappy advice, and it's better to ask maybe a couple of times - not necessarily if he's allowed, but if she's wants him to. "Is this ok? Are you happy for us to go further?" - asking that would be awesome, and you know, would not only make her feel more at ease with saying "no" if that's the case, but also prevent sexual assault. Just because she said yes at the start, doesn't mean it's yes the whole way through, or that she won't change her mind. "Never ask" is just so wrong. And I seriously cannot believe how Mercedes would think asking permission to go forward, asking if she's comfortable, would be a bad thing. Not only do I think it's wrong, but I don't think it's true to the character, either.
But overall, Firsts is a really awesome book, and a fantastic debut novel! I'm really excited to see what the rest of you think when it's released in January. I'm looking forward to seeing what else Flynn writes in future!
Thank you to St. Martin's Griffin via NetGalley for the eProof....more
I can't remember how I stumbled across What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler, but when I did, I didn't waste any timOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I can't remember how I stumbled across What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler, but when I did, I didn't waste any time pre-ordering the eBook. Not only was it the perfect fit for Sex Crimes in YA within my Sex in Teen Lit Month II event, but it also sounded really fascinating; a novel about rape culture, told from the perspective of someone not directly involved in the rape, but an acquaintance of both the victim and those accused. This book has got to be one of the most incredible books on rape and rape culture I have ever read.
When Kate goes to a house party, she gets very drunk very quickly and has to leave early. Over the next few days she hears rumours about how Stacey, a class mate she'd shared shots with, was completely wasted and all over the guys. Then a photo emerges of her, unconscious, dangled over the shoulder of one of the school's star basketball players, without her top on. The very next day, rape charges are filed against four guys in school. Everyone is livid; how dare she? These guys' futures are on the line! The school's chances at the basketball tournament they're due to play in are low without them! Why'd she get so drunk, wear revealing clothing and chase them if she didn't want it? She's a liar; a slut who regretted it later. Kate can't help but feel ill at ease with the scorn felt for Stacey and the support for the boys accused. She was very drunk that night, would she have deserved it? Kate is desperate to know the truth, because she doesn't know what to think, but "the closer you look, the more you see," and once you've seen, you can't un-see.
This book is amazing! Seriously, I cannot begin to tell you just how incredible this book is. It was so interesting having the story told from Kate's perspective, because she gets to be right amidst rape culture in action, rather than hearing it second hand, like a victim who's avoiding it all might. It's so much more shocking to see Kate in conversations with her class mates, and hear what they're saying. I was so unbelievably angry the whole way through this book, but also thinking, "YES!" the whole time, because Hartzler shows us exactly what people are like. Even more, he holds up a mirror to us, showing us our own behaviour, our own thoughts, how terrible we as people can be.
What We Saw was inspired by the same real case as Louise O'Neill's Asking For It; the Steubenville Case. The general, basic plots are almost identical; a girl goes to a party wearing revealing clothing, gets extremely drunk, and comes on to the guys at the party (though I should state in What We Saw, it's not clear exactly whether Stacey came on to anyone, there are just rumours that she did). The difference is the perspective; the rape victim, Emma, in Asking For It, and an acquaintance of all involved, Kate, in What We Saw – and this difference makes these two stories so incredibly different.
What's wonderful with Kate being the narrator is it's easy to imagine being her; just a teenage student who went to a party held by school mates, a student who hears rumours about what happened later that night when back at school. It's an easy situation to imagine, most of us have probably been there. But by having this story narrated by Kate and not the victim Stacey, Hartzler has you asking questions of yourself about what you'd think or what you would do in her position. Who would you believe? Would you question? Would you worry about your own safety that night? Would you ask "what ifs" about if you hadn't been taken home when you were, if you stayed being as drunk as you were, could it have been you instead? Would you go with the crowd, the school, the community in supporting the town's star basketball players that are finally going to take your team far, because it's easier, or would you ask questions? Even though it has nothing to do with you? Even though you weren't there? Even though it doesn't affect you? Or does it? Can you live with not being sure? Live with possibly being around rapists? What would you do in Kate's position? It's so affective going along with Kate and asking yourself the questions she asks herself, watching her go back and forth, but always really uncomfortable about the whole situation, and feeling that something isn't right, but she doesn't know, she wasn't there! It's just amazing!
I read this on my Kindle, and thinking of this review, I bookmarked pages I wanted to quote. Looking back now, I have thirty-eight bookmarks. Thirty-eight. That's how awesome this book is, I want to just quote the whole bloody thing to you! You must go read it, you must! But I will share with you just a few quotes to show just how brilliant it is. Kate is out shopping for a dress for the Spring Fling with her three friends Rachel, Christy and Lindsey.
'"Whose side are you on?" Christy asks. "I mean, Dooney and Deacon are morons, sure. But they’re our morons. They’re not animals." "I know, I know," Rachel says. "It's just... why are we automatically assuming the guys are the ones telling the truth?" Christy’s eyes go wide. "Excuse me? Did you see the skirt Stacey was wearing at that party? I have washcloths made of more fabric." [...] "Wait," Lindsey says. "Just because she's wearing skimpy clothes means what she's lying about those guys forcing themselves on her?" "Whoa, whoa, whoa," says Christy. "It's Stacey's word against theirs. She's accusing them." Christy settles on a pair of platform shoes and turns to address me and Lindsey. "Look, this is not rocket science. It's common sense. If you don't want to work a guy into a lather, keep your cooch covered up." [...] "I just don't believe Dooney and Deacon would have sex with a girl who told them no," Christy says. "They could be with any girl they want. They're not that stupid." "What if she didn’t tell them no because she couldn't?" Lindsey asks quietly. "What if she was too drunk to say anything?" Christy shrugs. "And whose fault is that?"' (38-39%)
What We Saw is also an extremely feminist novel too, in other areas away from the rape, which just had me cheering. The following is an exchange between Kate and Lindsey after Kate discovers her brother Will has been rating girls photos on Facebook.
'"Will acted like I was a huge wet blanket because I didn't want him ranking girls in his class. It was like I was this big..." I search for the right word. "Bitch?" Lindsey asks. It stings even coming from her mouth. "Yeah," I say. "I just want him to be a good guy, you know?" [...] "What bothered me most was how Will didn't get it. He didn't understand why I was upset that he was telling these girls they don't measure up. He acts like he has some natural right to tell them they should look a certain way. Why? Because he's a dude?" “"It's not just your brother." Lindsey stand up and stretches her arms above her head. "Seen Hardee's commercial lately? The whole planet is wired that way." We walk to our cars, and when I tell Lindsey I'll see her on Monday, she hugs me. She's not much of a hugger. I smile. "What was that for?" "For being somebody who cares about this stuff," she says. "Not many people around her do."' (63%)
And What We Saw also had me questions my thoughts on Grease, after Kate goes to see the school's production.
'Which is why I say the music is a problem: It's so good that you forget the plot. You forget that "Summer Lovin'" is the story of how hot and heavy Sandy and Danny got before school started. You forget that after exaggerating to the T-Birds how far they went "under the dock," Danny basically blows Sandy off. You forget that later, he tries to get her to have sex in his car when she doesn't want to. You forget that at the end of the show, Sandy gives in. Sure, Danny makes that half-assed attempt to join the track team, but you can tell he doesn't really mean it. Nobody at Rydell High expects him to change. For that matter, no one in the audience expects him to either. It's a funny part that we all laugh at. How ridiculous! Boys don't change for girls. We all expect Sandy to do the changing. And after she flees the drive-in movie when Danny pressures her to go farther than she wants to? Twenty minutes later, she shows up at the Burger Palace in skintight pants and a low-cut shirt. Her hair is huge, and she's wearing tons of makeup. She becomes exactly the person Danny Zuko wants her to be. She makes herself into the version of the girls that he's decided are attractive. She doesn't ask him why he has the power to decide what she should look like. She doesn't say, "Okay. Yes, I'll go have sex with you now." She doesn't have to. [...] By curtain call, this music has made you forget the whole point of the plot—the takeaway of this entire story—which is that Sandy decides that what Danny wants is more important than what she wants.' (68-69%)
I think that might be enough, but you get the picture, right? This book is amazing!
This might just be the best YA novel I've read on rape and rape culture, because you're confronted with it almost non-stop, with very little let-up. There's no hiding from it, Hartzler make you face the world we live in, some of the darkest parts of the humanity, and forces you to look at yourself – can you see yourself in these disgusting people? I cannot recommend this book enough. Everyone needs to read What We Saw, and ask themselves these tough questions....more
Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard is a novel I was really excited to read when I first heard of it. AOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard is a novel I was really excited to read when I first heard of it. A story of strong female friendship, but also of self-destructive behaviour! But unfortunately, I was a little disappointed.
Caddy and Rosie have been best friends since they were young children, and going to different secondary schools hasn't changed their friendship. But when Suzanne moves to the area and becomes friends with Rosie, Caddy starts to get jealous. Suzanne is beautiful and exciting, a better match for interesting Rosie than she is, and Caddy resents their friendship, and how suddenly it's now Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne rather than just the two of them. When Suzanne reveals the reason she moved is because she was being physically abused by her step dad, Caddy softens towards her; she's had a tough time and is trying to make friends and move forward, not steal friends. Once Caddy starts to get to know Suzanne better, she realises how fun Suzanne is. Soon the two are spending time away from Rosie, sneaking out and taking risks. But Suzanne is still struggling to deal with what happened to her, and Caddy's attempts to help seem to lead the two into more trouble. But how can Caddy turn her back on Suzanne when she's the only one who seems to be on her side?
Beautiful Broken Things is the story of the strong bonds of friendship, but also of how abuse physical leaves more damage than just broken bones and bruises. Although Suzanne is now away from her abusive step dad, she's still suffering with the mental effects of the abuse. The feeling that she wasn't good enough, how it went on for years and no-one really helped her - not her mother, and her older brother did what he could, but he was only young himself, and wonders why her step dad, the only dad she's ever known, didn't love her. There's so much pain and sadness in her, she acts out in an attempt to escape it, to distract her from what she feels, to feel something other than all this pain. Although Caddy knows about Suzanne's problems, she doesn't really know how to help her. She's young herself, and thinks being on Suzanne's side and supporting her is what Suzanne needs, not realising she's only enabling her, helping her along her path of self-destruction.
I feel the description for Beautiful Broken Things is a little misleading. It makes out that together Caddy and Suzanne get up to more dangerous, "exciting" things than they do. There are two instances, which I won't spoil, that are pretty shocking, but otherwise, nothing out of the ordinary. Sure, I don't want teenagers sneaking out their house to walk the streets in the early hours of the morning, but unfortunately, it's not unheard of, teenagers put themselves through these risks all the time. There's a lot less of Caddy being brave and Suzanne being reckless actually on the page that you'd expect. There are more conversations through which you see Suzanne's attitude that you see how Suzanne's experiences have affected her, more than actual page time to getting up to "trouble". It's more about the friendship.
The subject matter is hard and difficult to read about, and it left me with a heavy heart. However, I wasn't as emotionally invested in the story as I would have liked, and the reason for this is Caddy. Caddy narrates the story, but I couldn't care less about her; I didn't like her, I didn't dislike her, I wasn't interested in her or her narration. I would have much preferred the book to be narrated by Rosie or Suzanne herself, but if it was, it would be a completely different story; the events might be the same, but we would see it from a different point of view. Caddy and Suzanne's friendship ends up stronger than Rosie and Suzanne's, there are things Rosie doesn't know, events she's absent from, and how she reacts to Suzanne's behaviour is completely different. As I said at the beginning, this is as much a story about friendship as it is about recovering from abuse, so we need Caddy's narration for how deep their friendship goes as it develops and for how hard she tries to help Suzanne, despite helping in the wrong way. Her narration is needed for this particular story. Unfortunately, she's just not a character that brought out any real emotion in me.
Beautiful Broken Things is hugely important, a book that will open conversation that's needed, and one I'm sure is going to be a novel that many will love. A really interesting novel that will open eyes and get people talking.
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books for the proof....more
I really liked the sound of All of the Above by James Dawson when I first heard about it, but I was also a lOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I really liked the sound of All of the Above by James Dawson when I first heard about it, but I was also a little wary. I really didn't like Hollow Pike, Dawson's debut novel, and wasn't a fan of his writing style, so I was worried I might not like this one two. Fortunately, I enjoyed All of the Above more than thought, but I was still left a little disappointed.
Toria moves to Brompton-on-Sea with her family when her dad gets a new job. Worried about making new friends and fitting in at her new school, Toria felt awkward, but she shouldn't have. She is quickly embraced by a group of "alternative" kids, and finally finds her place among them. But finding a place is the least of all Toria's problems as she deals with what life throws at her in her first year at Brompton.
There is a lot going on in All of the Above, so to say it's a story about any one thing would be wrong. It's about everything; moving to a new town, making new friends, romance, mental health issues, sexuality, protesting, exam pressure, family problems, and so on. Rather than feeling like it's too much, it's not as overwhelming as you'd think. All of the Above feels like a very realistic snapshot into a year in Toria's life. No-one ever has just one thing going on, there are all sorts to deal with, and that's how this book is presented.
'Now, I appreciate you might be thinking that this is all a bit issues galore and mega emo. Well, sorry, but that was what happened. It would be neater, wouldn't it, if this was a story about self-harm or sexuality or eating disorders or drunk mums or ridiculously hot bass players, but it's a story about all of them. Yeah it's a mess. And it's about to get messier if you'll bear with me. That's the way it is sometimes - nothing's ever neat and tidy.' (p107)
If I had to narrow it down, I would say it's a story of friendship and finding your place. You'll notice I didn't say sexuality. And that's where this book disappointed me, because I was expecting a story about a girl questioning her sexuality, or discovering she's bisexual, or the fluidity of sexuality, one of these things in one way or another. And it is, but it's a subplot. It's one subplot among many subplots. There's no main focus. So, although there are hints, a few small bits and pieces along the way, Toria's questioning of and thinking about her sexuality doesn't really come into the foreground until maybe the last quarter of the book. And I was sold on this book being about sexuality. The fact that it's not the main focus of the book isn't a bad thing, it's just that the description from Goodreads above, the blurb on the book, even the title, they all make it out to be that kind of novel, and it isn't. All of the Above isn't the book I was expecting.
Saying that, this is a hugely diverse and intersectional novel. Toria is biracial - half English, half Indian, and questions her sexuality. Nico is of Italian descent. Of the new friends Toria makes, Daisy is asexual and has mental health issues, Beasley is gay, Zoë is a black lesbian, Alice is Asian, and Polly has a fluid sexuality and mental health issues. Huge props to Dawson for this; it's just so brilliant that there is such a diverse cast of characters! I'd like to talk about Polly and her sexuality here, because I think she's a character we don't see very often. Polly has had romantic and sexual relationships with boys and she's had romantic and sexual relationships with girls, but Polly does not identify as bisexual, and I think it's important to point this out. Do not put a label on her, she doesn't want them. That's not how she identifies. I could be wrong myself in saying she has a fluid sexuality, because that's not something she states herself. She just likes people.
'"You're bisexual?" [Polly] scowled in distaste. "Bitch, please. Labels are for **** you buy in shops."' (p117)
'"[...]Have you always fancied girls?" I asked, sipping on my now tepid coffee. "I didn't know you weren't supposed to. I never had brothers so I was like nine before I realised boys and girls were even different." "Wow." "No, I think it's a good thing. I don't think we are different. I don't see penises or vaginas, I see hot people or not hot people. It's pretty ******* easy if you ask me." [...] "I don't know why people find it so hard to believe. I find different things sexy. Like with Nico, for example, it was his dimples, his teeth, his arms. With you it was your lips." [...] "But do you see what I mean? I don't think I could ever say 'Oh I fancy this about girls' or I fancy this about boys' because boys don't all look the same and neither do girls.And they're very different in bed. Different but good." (p152-153)
All asterisks are in the actual novel. I think it's awesome to have this fluidity of sexuality represented, because not everyone does identity as bisexual or pansexual or any of the other labels. Straight cis-gendered people need to see that everyone can or wants to be pigeon holed.
As awesome as it is to see Polly discussing her sexuality, I felt a little let down by Daisy. Daisy's asexuality is brought up once:
'"What about you? I asked. "Who are you into?" It occurred to me that Daisy hadn't once mentioned a guy - or a girl - in that way. "Who's on the Daisy Weekes crush list?" Daisy looked me dead in the eye and said, "No one. I am asexual." "What?" She said it in the same way I say, "I'm a Capricorn." She held by gaze. "Are you for real?" I'm not a Tumblr virgin, I know all about asexuality, but I couldn't work out if she was kidding or not. Daisy being Daisy, she simply smiled. "Yes. I don't want to have sex with anyone just now, thank you very much." And that was that.' (p55)
And that really is that. It's not mentioned again. There are so few YA novels with asexual characters, I would have liked perhaps a little more of Daisy talking about it. Toria might "know all about asexuality", but readers of this book might not. I think it could slightly lead to misunderstanding, which I think would mean asexual people are mis-represented; not wanting to have sex "just now" could confuse people about what it means to be asexual. From what I've read and understand - and I could be wrong in my understanding so don't take what I say as gospel - there's no "right" way to be asexual; some asexuals may never have sex at all, whereas some might. There's a lot more to it than that, but I don't trust my memory or understanding enough to go into it further. This would have been a prime opportunity to help readers understand a little more what it means to be asexual, and represent asexual characters better... it's not what I would have hoped. I hate to say it, but, although there's more to her, it's almost like Daisy is the token asexual character when it comes to sexuality. I don't think that's so great.
There's also another girl in the group, Freya, who's story I had a problem with. I don't like how it was left. I don't want to spoil the story, but there's one conversation between Toria and Freya about this specific topic, and that's it, it's just left. I felt there should have been more about her as a character, and have more people involved in that conversation. To be just left like that seemed unfair, to everyone involved, and to Freya's character.
I have to say, there was an emotional disconnect for me throughout the book. I didn't much care about any of the characters or what happened to them. There was a moment of sadness for me, but only a moment. I just wasn't emotionally engaged with these characters. So that, the representation of Daisy's asexuality and the issue with Freya, along with this book not being about what I expected, left me disappointed. But in all, it's an ok, realistic story. I think there are a lot of people who would enjoy it.
Thank you to Hot Key Books for the review copy. ...more
I've heard a number of people raving about Dumplin' by Julie Murphy since last year. Cait of Paper Fury's review stood out for me. If Cait liked this book, I knew I would. And I was so super excited when I heard it was being published here in the UK! Dumplin' is amazing!
Willowdean is a fat girl. She knows it, and she owns it. That is until Bo, the guy she works with at a fast food joint, kisses her. Will really likes Bo, and kissing him is incredible... but she can't help feeling anxious about what he thinks when his hands are on her hips or her back fat. Their summer fling is electric, but causes Will to think negatively about herself. As the summer draws to a close, Will discovers Bo has been hiding things from her, and that along with her negative body image and being his secret lead her to end things. She's hurt by him keeping things from her, and just doesn't see how they could work, how he could really want her. On top of this, she's still grieving for her aunt Lucy, who died the previous year. Lucy was like a second mum to Will, and also a larger lady. When Will finds an old, unused registration form for the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, Will realises, for as wonderful as she was, that Lucy's weight stopped her from doing the things she wanted. In honour of her aunt, and in order to help her get her body confidence back, Will signs up for the pageant, to show that big can also be beautiful. The pressure mounts when she realises exactly what she's let herself in for, but knows she can't back out because Millie, Amanda and Hannah, three other girls who also get bullied for how they look, have followed her lead and registered. Together, these girls are going to show Clover City you don't have to be slim, blonde and beautiful to also be worthy.
Oh my god, I cannot even begin to express how much I love this book! Dumplin' is not just a book that deals with body image, but also society's idealistic view of what a woman should look like. It's incredibly feminist, and I just loved every second of it!
Willowdean starts off by calling herself fat. It's not a way of putting herself down, it's what she is. "Fat" is a descriptor, not an insult. She's a larger lady, and she owns it. She's happy with her body, and doesn't really care what anybody thinks. Except, well, maybe her thighs, which she isn't the biggest fan of, and is sure no-one else wants to see, so will rush from a swimming pool to her towel to cover herself up. Otherwise, she's completely a-ok with her body. Until Bo makes it clear that he fancies her. He's such a great guy, mostly. But Will cannot help the direction her thoughts go in when his hands are on her body. Instead of just falling into her kisses with Bo, she's super conscious of where his hands are; she freezes, she sucks her stomach in, and is constantly worrying about what he might think. So when things go south for them, she really starts to question her feelings about her body.
Her mother doesn't help. Former winner of the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet, she now runs the pageant. She has strong opinions on what a lady should look like and how a lady should behave. Every year for the pageant, she will slip into the dress she wore when she won the crown - so every year leading up to it, she goes on some crazy fad diet. And if she's on this diet, so is Will, because she's not doing anything else. And she's sure Will would be much happier if she would only lose some weight. Throughout the book, she always has something to say about how Will looks, especially when she registers for the pageant. She gets a dress for Will, and adjusts it to fit her, but when it's a little too snug for liking, she says she only adjusted it so much because she thought Will would take the pageant seriously, and lose some weight. The whole way through the book you get the distinct feeling that her mum doesn't think Will is beautiful, and is in actual fact ashamed of her size. And it's so upsetting to read.
But despite some of her negative thoughts, Will is not going to change. Not for a boy, not for her mum, and not for some beauty pageant. There isn't anything in the rules that says you have to look a certain way, and she's entering as is. Inspired by her strength and bravery, Millie, a girl at Will's school who is also fat, signs up for the pageant. She has always, always wanted to take part in the pageant, but never felt like she could. But if Will can do it, so can she. And she's convinced her best friend Amanda, who has one leg shorter than the other and has to wear corrective shoes, and Hannah, a surly girl because of all the crap she gets for having big, crooked teeth, to sign up with her. These girls are brilliant. Millie is the sweetest, nicest girl you will ever come across. She's so cheerful and positive, and she takes the pageant seriously; she sets up planning meetings for the four girls to get together and work out what they're going to do to get through the pageant, watching over video from old pageants and taking notes. Amanda is hilarious. When people are bullied, from my experience, they tend to be kind of quiet and shy, even a little mousy (mostly talking about myself here), but, although Amanda doesn't draw attention to herself, she has this dry wit, and comes out with the most hilarious things. She always refers to Bo as "peachbutt", which made me grin every time! Hannah responds to her bullying, through anger. She's not the nicest of people, and she says mean things at time, but it's her armour against and the result of people comparing her to a horse. Together, these girls make an unlikely quartet, and although at first Will hangs out with them through a feeling of obligation, she grows to like these girls, and I think they're amazing. I love that they're standing together and saying, "We may not be traditionally beautiful, but we're just as deserving of being here and being seen."
As well as Bo, Lucy, the pageant, and the girls to contend with, Will is having to deal with changes in her friendship with her best mate Ellen. As they get older, their lives are going in different directions; El is overtaking Will when it comes to boys, and she's becoming interested in things Will couldn't care less about. When things start happening with Bo, Will keeps them to herself, wanting to have something that's just hers, but also not wanted to feel like an innocent when she gets excited about kissing Bo, when El is in a sexual relationship. Will struggles more and more with their friendship as the story goes on, and things come to ahead when she realises El has also registered for the pageant. Will signs up to make a point, but El could probably win, and, she believes, will overshadow everything she's trying to do. It's really interesting to see a book deal with a friendship that has lasted for years, but that is starting to change, and having to deal with what that change means for them. I think it's something everyone who has had a long, important friendship in their teens can relate to. It was really beautifully done!
Dumplin' isn't a romance, or a friendship novel, or a story of a beauty pageant, or a book about self-esteem, body image, and loving who you are - it's all of these things in equal measure. It's so wonderful, and so uplifting. Despite Will being fat and I being thin, the things she talks about had me thinking about how I view myself, and I finished this book with even more love for my body than I did before. Dumplin' is an incredibly empowering novel, and one that will stick with me for a very long time.
Thank you to Harper 360 for the review copy....more
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
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!
I was really looking forward to reading Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway. It sounded so good, and I loved BOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I was really looking forward to reading Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway. It sounded so good, and I loved Benway's other contemporary romance, Audrey, Wait! But I'm sad to say I was pretty disappointed with this one.
Born on the same day, living next door to each other, Emmy and Oliver were always going to be friends, for always. But when Oliver's dad kidnaps, it changes everything for everyone. For ten long years there is no word as to where Oliver is, how he is, if he'll ever be coming back. His disappearance affected everyone; Emmy and her group of friends, Drew and Caro who just want their friend back, Oliver's mother Maureen, who has been unable to stop searching, and Emmy's own parents, who have become extremely overprotective as a result. But when Oliver does finally return, everyone is so glad, but doesn't realise just how difficult getting back to "normal" things are going to be. Oliver is ten years older now, he's not the same boy, and he's deeply affected by what happened to him, and no-one is who he remembers. People grew up and changed in his absence, and he doesn't feel like he fits in. Emmy tries to befriend him again, and bring some normal to his life, but falling for your long lost best friend when he's just returned home could complicate things.
I had such high hopes for this book! But unfortunately, it just didn't really do it for me. I found Caro and Drew - Caro who has five older brothers and sisters and parents who don't seem to care, and Drew who's gay, whose parents say they accept and love him as he is, but he doesn't really feel it - much more interesting characters than I did Emmy and Oliver. There's no real reason for it, I just didn't get emotionally involved in their story. Which is mad, because Oliver was abducted! By his dad! And now his back and nothing is the same and he's not coping well! I was interested in the moments when Oliver was honest about how he felt about the whole situation, but it just wasn't as huge as I was expecting it to be. I just didn't care that much, to be honest.
And the romance... I don't think I really felt it either. But that could just be because the story didn't affect me emotionally at all. Within the story there were both major highs and major lows, but my emotional state while reading stayed a pretty constantly neutral, neither sad, excited, happy, not even bored. Just nothing. And so the romance fell kind of flat for me. I didn't really believe it. I just wasn't moved by the romance, the abduction, the story as a whole.
I really don't have much else to say. It wasn't a bad story. I didn't hate it. It was amusing in places, both Emmy and her parents come out with funny lines at moments. But I wasn't really bothered at any point. I'm sure a lot of other people would love it, but it just didn't work for me, sadly.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children's Book via NetGalley for the eProof....more
When it was announced that All the Rage by Courtney Summers is going to be released in the UK in January 201Originally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
When it was announced that All the Rage by Courtney Summers is going to be released in the UK in January 2016, I was so glad to hear it! More books seem to be coming out that are tackling this important subject of rape and rape culture, and the conversation they're creating is brilliant. Macmillan Children's Books have allowed me to review All the Rage two months early to include it in the Sex Crimes Week of Sex in Teen Lit Month II, and it's such a fantastic story!
I'm not using the summary on Goodreads, because it contains minor spoilers, but also because, for the most part, it doesn't really tackle the main plot of the story. So this time round, I'm including just my own summary.
Last year, Romy was raped by Kellan Turner, son of important influential people; the Sheriff of the town and the founder of a successful national auto supply chain. No-one believes her. Even her best friend Penny turned her back on her. She was drunk, she was wearing provocative clothing, she fancied Kellan, she wanted it, and there's no way the son of the sheriff would even dream of raping someone. She's an attention seeker. She's lying. Only she's not, and no-one cares.
When Romy wakes up the morning after a party on the the side of a highway, she has no idea how she got there. Nor does she understand why her shirt is open, her bra undone, and the words "rape me" are written on her stomach in lipstick. She can't remember anything from the party, but she knows she would never have drunk alcohol. So why is she there? What's worse, Penny has also disappeared, and has yet to be found. What happened to Penny? Are the two linked? It's hard to face each day when there's no news, especially when the people who hate you, hate you even more for being the one who was found.
All the Rage is such a brilliant story, but it's a hard one. It's emotionally draining, in the best way. Romy has spent so long having to deal with the crap she's getting from people. She was the one who was violated, yet she's the one who's the pariah. It's disgusting and so upsetting, and completely awful to read.
Kellan is the older brother of Penny's boyfriend, Alek. He's also the sheriff's son - who made it quite clear that Romy'll be torn to pieces if she reports her lies about his son. Her best friend turned on her, and with Penny and Alek being popular, and with Kellan being loved by all, so did everyone else, the whole community. No-one believes her, especially as she fancied Kellan, and actually thought she wanted to sleep with him before she was attacked - an email about which Penny gave to Sheriff Turner - and she now has jokes made about her rape at school.
The only good thing in her life is Leon, a guy who starts work at the diner she works at. He's from the neighbouring town, and so he doesn't know what happened to Romy, and as he doesn't know, he doesn't have an opinion on it. And he likes Romy; he sees her and he likes her, when most people can't stand her. Romy likes how Leon sees her, and wants to be that girl.
Because she doesn't like who she is now - a girl who was raped. Doesn't want to be this "dead girl". And as Leon doesn't know she's been raped, she gets to be the old her, a girl who is "alive". She tries so hard to keep her past from him, telling so many lies to keep it a secret, desperately trying to hold on to who he sees, how he makes her feel, because she can feel the "dead girl" starting to take over. She's really not coping with what happened to her, or how she's being treated, so seeing her try so hard to cling to who Leon sees is so heartbreaking. It's eating her up, and she just wants something good.
Romy also has issues with her body because of what was done to her, to it. There are so many upsetting moments where she talks about her body, how wishes she didn't have one, about who she is. It's like she can't find her identity any more, her sense of self. It's like she is, to herself, the Raped Girl, and can't seem to define herself outside of that. She is obsessed with having perfectly painted red nails and lips; it's how she presents herself to the world, her armour - she cannot be seen chipped or smudged. I never really understood that completely, but it's something she fixates on; she's not ready until they're perfect, and she can't function until they're ready. She almost has panic attacks at the thought that she smudged her lipstick, or she might chip her nail varnish. I think it's part of her trying to find her own self. She wants to be the girl with perfect red nails and red lipstick. Without it, she's just the girl who was raped.
The disappearance of Penny is huge to the town, but also to Romy personally. What happened to her? What happened that night? Why hasn't she been found? She's desperate for good news, but also doesn't want it to come too soon, because while everyone's talking about Penny, they're not talking about her. But because Romy went missing the same night and was found, there's talk of the wrong girl being found, of how the police looking for her might have found Penny if they weren't. It's terrible to hear, such derision, how little people care about Romt, but also for Romy to think about. Would Penny have been found if she hadn't wound up, however she did, on that highway? But she also thinks how if the tables were turned, the town wouldn't care; if Penny was found but she wasn't, no-one would be interested in finding her. There wouldn't be heartbreak at the school, the community wouldn't pull together to search for her. She simply doesn't matter.
I need to talk about the relationship between Romy and her mum and her mum's boyfriend, Todd. The relationship isn't perfect - they don't talk like they should, her mum and Todd don't really know the best way to help her, and mistakes are made - but they don't doubt her. They aren't ashamed of her. They love her, and are there for her. Sure, I could talk about how they should have done this and they should have done that, but her mum was so lost with how to help her, her drunk of a father disappeared on them, and they tried their best. When thinking about how Emma's parents reacted in Louise O'Neill's Asking For It, Romy's mum and Todd are such better parents, even if they get things wrong. They're behind her and support her. I just wish they had someone to help them help Romy.
All the Rage is an incredible novel, and the ending is so... painful. When everything comes together, and we have our answers, it's unbelievable. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. But also a measure of hope. All the Rage is a tragic novel in so many different ways, but it's a perfect story for all it shows us. And I'm so thankful we're getting, slowly but surely, more novels talking about this.
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books via NetGalley for the e-Proof....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 heard about Made You Up by Francesca Zappia from Cait of Paper Fury, who raved about it on her blog and InOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I heard about Made You Up by Francesca Zappia from Cait of Paper Fury, who raved about it on her blog and Instagram. As I trust Cait's judgement and love books on mental health, I quickly bought myself a copy when I saw it in store. I am so, so glad I did, because this book is amazing!
Alex is starting her senior year at a new school, after getting into trouble for graffitiing the gym at her last school due to her paranoid schizophrenia. She's desperate to keep her mental illness underwraps at East Shoal, not wanting people to look at her how they did at her last school, but it's a little difficult when she must constantly be on alert for communists and making sure no-one has bugged or poisoned her food. Because of the graffiti, Alex has to do community service at a new school, and has to join a group of seniors who prepare the gym for any big games. There she meets Miles, who seems strangely familiar, but who the whole school seems scared of. Miles isn't the nicest guy, but there's something about him, and Alex enjoys antagonising him as much as he likes antagonising her. But is Miles someone Alex should really fear? And why is popular Celia suddenly having secret conversations with her bullying mum in the gym, with her mum berating her for not being good enough? What are the plans they talk about? What are they plotting?
Made You Up is the first book I've read with paranoid schizophrenic narrator, and it was fascinating to learn about her illness. In popular culture, people with paranoid schizophrenia are portrayed as being "crazy" and dangerous; talking to themselves while laughing hysterically, and prone to violence. But this isn't who Alex is at all. She can't control her illness - the delusions or her paranoia - but if you get past that, she's just like any other teenage girl. She just happens to be a teenager who has some trouble working out what's reality and what's delusion. To combat this, she brings a camera with her everywhere, taking photos of things she's not sure of; if what she sees isn't in the photo, she knows it's a delusion, and to ignore it. It's her paranoia that causes her the most trouble. She has a huge fear of communists and nazis, and whereever she goes, she has to do parameter checks; make sure she's aware of her surroundings, be certain no-one has a weapon and will jump out and attack her, and she constantly checks her food for tracers or poisons - even food her mum makes her. She doesn't want to be doing this, but she can't let go of the fear that communists are going to hurt her. But otherwise, she's a girl who does her homework, is desperate to get into college, and just wants to make friends and live a normal life.
At times, it's really quite heartbreaking and shocking just how real Alex's delusions are. She has trouble working out what's real and what isn't, and there are a few unexpected twists along the way; things Alex brush off as delusions, and things it would never occur to her to doubt are real. These revelations are seriously hardhitting, and unbelievably sad. It's so hard to see Alex realise that she really can't trust herself at all; how is she supposed to know?
But there is Miles, the enigma that Alex can't seem to stay away from. Those eyes! Those eyes that look so similar to those of a boy she met as a seven year old, who she was so sure was a delusion. Is Miles Blue Eyes, or did she really make Blue Eyes up? And why is she so drawn to him, otherwise? The romance is slow and uncertain at first, but it's so sweet, and really, really wonderful. I love Miles. He has his own problems, and he does bad things for the right reasons, and he's dodgy but so good! He's not your typical "bad boy", he's not danegrous. He's just a guy doing what he can, in a world that confuses him. I adored Miles.
What's interesting about Made You Up is that it's not just a contemporary story about someone with paranoid schizophrenia with a romance, but it's also a mystery. Principle McCoy has a strange, unhealthy obsession and attachment with the gym's scoreboard. Why? Something weird is happening with Celia; Alex overhears conversations between Celia and her mother, and McCoy and Celia's mother. As far as her mother's concerned, Celia must be the most popular person to have ever lived, and she has McCoy trying to help her daughter. But there's really something fishy going on; Celia's mother is determined to see her plans come to fruition, and adament that Celia do as she's told. But what are her plans? What are the three of them plotting together? And what does it have to do with Miles? It was really interesting, because, is there really something strange happening with those three, or is Alex's mind creating delusions? With Alex's paranoid schizophrenia, you're never quite sure if what you're reading is true.
Made You Up is absolutely incredible, and a stunning debut from Zappia. I am so excited to read what she writes in future. And look at that cover! God, it's gorgeous!...more