I decided earlier on in the year, when The Bookseller first announced that it was creating its own YA Book POriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I decided earlier on in the year, when The Bookseller first announced that it was creating its own YA Book Prize for UK and Irish YA, that I would try to read all the 2015 shortlisted books once they were announced. Finding a Voice by Kim Hood is one of the titles nominated, and I was lucky enough to get hold of a reading copy through work. It's such a beautiful story!
Thirteen-year-old Jo has a tough life. Her mother has a mental illness, and Jo's her main carer. Sometimes there are good days, where her mum just seems eccentric and strange, and sometimes there are bad days, when it's all Jo can do to keep her mum from going right over the edge. Sometimes she can't. School is the only place Jo can escape the stress at home, but she doesn't have any friends because of her "crazy" mum. Then she meets Chris, a boy with Cerebral Palsy in the Special Education Unit after volunteering to help him out at lunch. Chris can't speak and has very little control over his limbs. It seems to Jo that most people fail to see the boy inside the disabled body, but Jo is sure Chris is more aware of what's happening than everyone else seems to think. She's determined to help Chris have a better life, but Chris isn't the only one who could do with some help.
I have to say, if it wasn't for the YA Book Prize, I'm pretty sure Finding a Voice wouldn't have crossed my path. It's been out since August, but I hadn't heard of it once. Which is such a shame, because it's such a beautiful debut novel, and really quite thought-provoking.
In a way, Finding a Voice reminds me of Amy & Matthew by Cammie McGovern. Both stories involve mental illness, and both have a teenager volunteering to help out a fellow disabled student. But that's where the similarities end. This is not a romance, this is very much a book about friendship, and it really is beautiful to witness how important Jo and Chris become to each other. Because of Chris' disability, Jo notices that the people who work with him - his carers, his aides and teachers at the school - either talk to him like he's a baby, or talk about him as if he's not there. At first, Jo isn't sure how much Chris is aware, and that's why she finds it so easy to talk to him. While visiting the Special Education Unit at lunch times to feed Chris, she finds it very easy to open up about how she feels looking after her mum, and very quickly, through his behaviour, she becomes aware that Chris seems to be listening to her intently. The fact that she is actually being listened to encourages Jo to talk more, but also to talk to him as if he's an actual, normal teenager. Jo has found someone to talk to, and Chris now has someone who's treating him like a person.
It's only when during one lunch time that Jo realises that Chris is flailing his legs to kick her on purpose rather than through lack of control this time, that Chris is trying to tell her something - he doesn't like the food. From that point on, Jo focuses a lot of her attention on trying to help Chris communicate. She knows Chris has things to say, he just needs a way to say them. Jo puts in so much work in trying to find ways to help him speak, thinking of ideas, in an attempt to make his life better. No-one else asks what Chris thinks, or wants, or likes, because he can't tell them. All decisions are taken away from him. Jo can't sit back and let this continue when she knows Chris wants to be able to tell people what he wants. It's really just incredible to see her try so hard to make things better for her friend. It's so heart-warming.
And it's even more incredible when you put this into context with her own life. Her mum suffers from a non specific psychiatric illness. At first I thought she had bi-polar; she would have very strange, eccentric days most of the time, or she would have terrible, awful days no child should have to witness. But it seems the doctors haven't been able to nail down a specific mental illness to her mum. Jo has to walk on tiptoes most of the time, trying to keep her mum calm and happy, keep the routine, keep things normal. The slightest thing wrong, and they're both in for days of heartache. Jo's mum's episodes are horrific to read about, and to imagine that Jo has had to deal with this her whole young life is so heartbreaking. And she's so scared to tell anyone how bad it can get some days, because she feels she'll be letting her mum down.
Finding a Voice is such an emotional story, and a really powerful one. It's an incredible debut novel, with such a wonderful ending. I implore you all to give Finding a Voice a read; I guarantee you'll find yourself moved.
Thank you to O'Brien Press via Foyles for the reading copy. ...more
I'm one of those people who likes to read inspirational quotes on Pinterest, it's the kind of thing thatOriginally published on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I'm one of those people who likes to read inspirational quotes on Pinterest, it's the kind of thing that really gets me thinking, and I enjoy how reflective it makes me. Although I wasn't the biggest fan of Wonder, I did love the precept lessons taught by Mr Browne, and the discussions that were had about them. When I discovered that R.J. Palacio had written a book as if written by Mr Browne full of precepts for the whole year, I knew I had to read it. And this book really does give you so much to think about.
The book is set up with an introduction from Mr Browne, before going into the precepts, a whole page for each day in the month. After each month, Mr Browne includes an essay about his thoughts on certain precepts, how he came across them, or correspondence he's had with some of his students - characters from Wonder. These sections update us on some thing that have happened since the end of Wonder, or just give another point of view to the year that Wonder spanned. It's really sweet to get these little glimpses back into the world of Wonder, and see the precepts the characters came up with.
The precepts in this book are just brilliant. There really is something to speak to everyone, I think. What I love is that 74 of the precepts included in the book came from real life youngsters. Palacio asked readers of Wonder to send in their own precepts for the book, and 74 were included. Some are precepts they really like, and some are those they made up themselves. It's really beautiful to see the great things that these young people have thought about and have come up with. It really is wonderful. I could list my favourite precepts, but I'd quote about half the book, probably. instead, here are a few:
Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take our breath away. - Unknown.
The best things in life are not things. - Ginny Moore.
The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together. - Carl Sagan.
Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves. - J.M. Barrie.
Good friends are like stars. You don't always see them, but you know they're always there. - Unknown.
Most sound really nice at first, but then I'd think a little deeper on how they relate to my own life. There were some I agreed with, there were those where my thoughts went a different direction than from the obvious, and there were even those I disagreed with. But there's something to really think about with each one. The book itself made me think so much, that I have decided that next year, should all go well, I will start a 365 Weeks of Wonder blog project, where I make my way through the book discussing each precept in a blog post, with how it made me think and reflect. I've had permission to do this from RHCP, so I'm looking forward to starting it next year.
There's one thing about 365 Days of Wonder that, after a while, slightly annoyed me a bit. The precepts focus on "kindness, strength of character, overcoming adversity, or simply doing good in the world," (p3), and, reading it from start to finish in a short period of time, they do begin to get kind of samey. Kindness is the main theme of these precepts, and after a while, different precepts come up repeatedly all seeming to say exactly the same thing about kindness. But then again, this book isn't meant to be read in a short period of time, it's meant to be read every day of the year, one precept at a time. Quite a number of days would go by before coming across a precept that was similar to a previous one if read like that, so I suppose it's not so bad. Of course, for reviewing purposes I read it over a few days, and, as a reflective person, coming over such similar precepts caused me to brush past a few because I've already thought about kindness, and the precepts weren't adding or changing what I had already thought about. It would have been nice if there was a bit more of a change in what the precepts focused on, but kindness is the main focus of Wonder, so it would be for 365 Days of Wonder too.
A really fantastic book, one that would make a great gift! I can see parents sitting down and discussing the precepts with their children each day, getting the child to think, and that can only be a good thing. A beautiful book!
With it's striking cover and intriguing and unique premise, Noggin by John Corey Whaley was not a book I couOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
With it's striking cover and intriguing and unique premise, Noggin by John Corey Whaley was not a book I could pass up. A full cranial transplant? How can that not spike your interest? I was surprised to find that Noggin was a lot more serious and thought-provoking than I was expecting, and wonderful for it.
Travis Coates contracted terminal leukemia, and fully expected to die. That was until he was approached by Dr. Saranson, who informed experimental procedures were being undertaken, and there was a possibility he could save Travis' life. All it would mean is removing and cryogenically freezing Travis' head, and attaching to a healthy donor body. Travis decides to take the chance, even though he doesn't really believe it will work. However, it does. Travis has a nap, and wakes up five years later. But his new life is not what he expected. Everyone is older, and everyone has changed. How is Travis supposed to find his place in this world that has moved on and left him behind?
Because of how absurd and impossible the premise of this book sounds, and the title of Noggin, I expected this to be a comedy. It's not. There are quite a few funny bits, but Noggin is a much more serious book than I was prepared for. This was such a good thing, because it surprised me how much depth there was to this book, and how it really go me thinking. Travis' new life is far from easy. He wasn't expecting the procedure to work, but if he did, he was expecting to wake up 100 years into the future. Not five, where so much is familiar, and yet other things so different. To him, it literally feels like he's only had a short nap, but now his best friend, Kyle, and his girlfriend, Cate, are 21 and in college, his bedroom is completely bare as his parents threw his stuff out, and there's something strange going on with his Dad.
He find it hard to accept that some things have changed so much. Cate, his girlfriend... is no longer his girlfriend. She mourned for him, then she moved on. And now she's engaged to someone else. But to Travis, she was his girlfriend only a few hours ago - a few weeks ago, as the story goes on. This affects him the most, really; the girl he loves is no longer by his side where she should be. And he doesn't know how to deal with that except by trying to get her back. It is hard for him to accept five years have gone by, but what isn't sinking in for him is that those five years did go by for everyone else. For all intents and purposes, to everyone who cares about him, Travis has been dead and gone for five years, and suddenly he's back. And it's difficult for everyone to deal with. They had to spend five years without him. They had to grow up without him. They had to move on, without him. It hurt them, but it happened, and they can't undo the past five years and all the changes they've been through just because he's back now. They love that he's here, but it's still so difficult to get their head around. But of course Travis is young, and can't help focusing on his own problems.
This book was so thought-provoking. Really. I had a conversation about the whole idea of this book with my own best friend, about what life would like - what we would be like - if this happened to me. How much would be different. How I would feel to be stuck here while everyone else moved forward and left me behind. It actually really upset me, the though of what I would miss out on, how this gap might affect my relationships. Really upset me. So in that sense, I really sympathised with Travis, despite the fact he's a real idiot at times. But I also really understood where everyone else was coming from. What if it was the other way round, and my best friend "died", only to come back five years later, and I had to spend the next five years without him. How much would I change? Would he still really know me then? Could our friendship survive such distance, such a shake up? This book is incredible at getting you to think about what something like this could really mean. It's unbelievably moving.
Saying all this, from about half way/two thirds of the way in, things got a little samey. There was no real change in the plot; time went on, Travis was still having trouble accepting, the people around him were still learning to deal with his return. Travis carried on with his obsession of trying to win back Cate, and even got a little ridiculous with it at some points (though, to be fair, he does love her, and I can't really blame him for trying all he can think of). It kind of plateaued here until the end. The only real change is finding out what was going on with his Dad, but I had worked that out really early on, so that was no real surprise. In any other book, this would have been a major problem for me, this plateauing, but I was so fascinated by the emotions and confusion, that I finished Noggin thinking this part was mildly frustrating rather than a huge let down. I still really enjoyed the book on the whole, still something I would really recommend.
There is a lgbtq subplot that fits in really well with the story. Of what can change - or not - for someone in five years. What it would mean to have a secret literally taken to the grave, and how that would affect you as you go forward. What it would then mean when that person is no longer dead. Coming back and finding secrets are no longer secrets, but something altogether different. It's not a major part of the story, but it's a major part of the relationship between Travis and one other person in this book. I found it really interesting, and not just the lgbtq aspect of it, but the secret aspect, the idea of only one person knowing your secret, and dying with it. No-one knows again, yet you have actually shared that secret. What now? I think that particular person's story would be really interesting as a short story or something. The different ways that would go, and how that's figured out internally.
Noggin is a brilliant story, and so thought-provoking. It's about letting go of the past, and moving on with the future - but how it's not always that easy, on either side, when the past comes back. A really powerful story, a fascinating idea, and one that has me interested to read more by Whaley, to see what else he can get me to think about.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster for the review copy. ...more
Originally posted on Pretty Things by Sarra Manning, and although I enjoyed that, I didn't really need another one. However, I fell completely in loveOriginally posted on Pretty Things by Sarra Manning, and although I enjoyed that, I didn't really need another one. However, I fell completely in love with this story, and got so much more from it than I expected. I should have known better, I guess.
Naomi and Ely are best friends. Naomi is also in love with Ely, but Ely is gay. Then Ely kisses - and then steals - Naomi's boyfriend, Bruce. Naomi is beyond hurt. But it's not so much that Ely stole her boyfriend, but rather the fact that because of him stealing her boyfriend, she's finally realised there will never be a Naomi and Ely.
This is a book about friendship. How many YA novels about friendship are there? But of all the one's I've read - and this may be to do with Levithan and his (yes, I will say it again) absolutely beautiful way with words - this is the one that is going to stick out in my mind from this point on as being the one that really gets it. I am an adult that reads YA, and I know from when I was a teenager, you have all these friends and they're amazing, and they mean everything to you at the time, but as you get older, things change, people change, and you may not fall out, but you just don't quite fit anymore. Because of the ages of Naomi and Ely - never strictly said, but around 18/19, believe, as they're at college - this could be considered a new adult novel (though published as YA), yet they're teenagers still, and it has that YA feel. BUT (and this is my point) this is the first friendship I've read in a YA/new adult novel that I feel, at it's heart, is an ageless friendship. A friendship that is, no matter what the friends' ages. I really identified with the importance and depth of their friendship, if not the characters.
It is, of course, also about unrequited love. The general story I didn't relate to, but this element I did. Though I do feel that Naomi was a little naive about it all. I know love makes you hopeful, but she's in a completely hopeless situation, so how she was able to delude herself into thinking there was hope, I don't quite get. She's not a child. It did make me feel sorry for her, though, because when she finally realised, oh my god, so much heartache. I wasn't her biggest fan, I felt she had a bit of an attitude, and she didn't always treat people nicely, but I was intrigued by her and sympathised. It was interesting to see where the story took her.
Bruce was straight until Ely. He has his own little story going on. The focus is mostly on Naomi and Ely, but there are other little stories for the other characters too, and Bruce gets his own. And he's confused and unsure - not about his sexuality, though that has come as quite a bit of a shock - but about Ely. He feels what he feels, but he's not quite sure if he and Ely are right. He feels Ely is out of his league, and they're such different people. Bruce is insecure, and Ely is confident, especially in his sexuality, which just heightens Bruce's insecurity. I did want to give him a hug so many times and tell him to stop thinking, but his worries did make him endearing - which was necessary, because the guy did cheat on his girlfriend, and he wasn't doing so good in my books.
Naomi & Ely is a really melancholic book, but beautiful with it. It makes you hurt, but a good kind of hurt, a hurt that matters, because their friendship matters and it just can't be over! As the book says, 'You can't just erase hope and love and history.' (p219) Right? Seriously. It's brilliant in all it's sadness, and I absolutely loved it. I do so hope Cohn and Levithan write more books together, because their's is a perfect partnership.
Thank you to Electric Monkey for the review copy....more
Having just finished reading a really moving novel, I was eager to read something equally as moving. MatthewOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Having just finished reading a really moving novel, I was eager to read something equally as moving. Matthew Quick has moved me in the past, so I eagerly picked up Boy21 expecting to be blown away. I'm sad to say that I was let down.
Finley is a quiet boy living in a rough town. There are only two important things in his life; playing basket ball, and his girlfriend, Erin. When his coach turns up at his home asking for his help with a new boy at school, Russ, he doesn't know what to think. Especially as, after a trauma, Russ will only go by Boy21, and claims to be from outer space. Why on earth does Coach think he can help? And how is Finley supposed to act around a boy who seems crazy? Despite his odd behaviour, Finley finds he likes Russ, and an unlikely friendship is formed, but one with resentment. Russ is a hugely talented basketball player, and Coach wants him playing again and on the team - and that means taking Finley's spot. But soon Finley learns that some things are more important than basketball, like friendship, the ones you love, and getting over the past.
Based on the blurb alone, I didn't really fancy Boy21. I'm not into basketball, and I didn't know what to think of a guy claiming he's from space. But as it was by Matthew Quick, I decided to give it a go, as I loved Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock so much. However, Boy 21 fell pretty flat to me. Finley and Russ are supposed to be 17/18, their senior year of high school, but they both seem so young to me. And along with that, the whole book feels like it's for readers than the boys themselves.
Boy21 is set in Bellmont, a pretty rough area. Like stays with like, and so although there's no enforced segregation, the black community sticks with the black community, and the smaller Irish community sticks with the Irish community. There are also bad people, on both sides; drug dealers, people who, if they know you and like you, will "sort out" any problem you have with violence, people who it's not wise to talk about. It's a dangerous place, and you can imagine how that could make Boy21 really dark and gritty. But it's only surface stuff, we don't get into it in any deep way. Ok, so the book isn't about those people, but those people do affect the characters of the book, and there are incidents that are talked about, but it feels too soft. These are seriously awful things, but the book never gets into the seriousness of it, just how devastating it is that these things happen. People are worried about, but the actual actions themselves aren't really touched upon in much detail. It's this that gives the book the feel that it's for younger readers, that it doesn't really cover the severity of where they live.
Boy21 is another novel that deals with mental health issues, much like Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock and The Silver Linings Playbook. In this one, it's Russ creating an imaginary life where things aren't so bad, where he still has parents. Before he meets Russ, Coach tells Finley that Russ' parents were murdered not too long ago (not a spoiler, we learn very early on), and calling himself Boy21, saying he's a prototype from outer space to observe Earthling emotions before his parents pick him up in their spaceship is Russ' way of dealing with it. Finley also has his own issues too, a reason for him not talking very much. However, there's less focus on the mental health issues and more on the outward signs of them; Russ' obsession withe being from outer space, Finley's almost muteness. We find out the reasons for it all, but dealing with it feels too easy - just by the two of them becoming friends. It's a different approach to how Quick deals with the topic in Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, which again makes me feel it's for younger readers. It does make me feel a little sad though; Leonard Peacock and Finley are the same age, yet the stories deal with these issues in such different ways, and it feels like the difference is because of the intended audiences of each book.
Boy 21 wasn't really my cup of tea. It wasn't awful, but it was far from wonderful, too. Perhaps a good book to introduce early teens to mental health issues without getting too heavy....more
I think the synopsis above gives a pretty accurate description of the book, and there's not much I could add, so I won't write my own. Dylan has Tourette's Syndrome and seems to have learning difficulties/has special needs too. From my research, I can't find anything that means Tourette's sufferers have learning difficulties as well, but Conaghan did work as a teacher at a special needs school, and that was partly where he was inspired to write When Mr Dog Bites, as well as his own experience with Tourette's.
I don't want to talk much about the story itself, because it's a beautiful one of friendship and family, and just being yourself, and I feel it's one readers should discover themselves - but it is amazing! Instead I'm going to talk about the how the novel presented Tourette's. I learned a huge amount about Tourette's from this novel, despite it not being so focused on the syndrome itself. Dylan would talk about it every now and again, but mostly it was a case of being shown rather than told, which was awesome. Before reading the book, I thought having Tourette's simply meant you shouted out swear words a lot, uncontrollably. But it's more than that, it's involuntary tics and noises too. As said in the synopsis, Dylan growls and howls as well, and that's why he calls his Tourette's Mr Dog. It was eye-opening to see how hard it is to control, and that even trying to force yourself not to tic or swear or growl, the worse it gets when you lose control. I found it very poignant when Dylan is trying to talk to a girl and ask her out, but because he's nervous, his Tourette's kicks in, and he ends up insulting her. It's heart breaking to see him try so hard, yet unable to control what comes out of his mouth.
Saying that, it's not as sweary as the article above makes out. Dylan's Mr Dog only really bites in a major way when he's really stressed or nervous. There will be other things, but it doesn't get as bad. So althoughth, yes, there's swearing, and even words I really don't like, there's no eff-ing and blinding on every single page. You're not overwhelmed by the language. Yes, sure, some of the other characters in the book swear, but most of the swearing in this book comes from Dylan, and I simply cannot see how you can talk negatively about a book for this when real people suffer with this condition. It's realistic, and to say it shouldn't be that "a YA book has to be full of obscenities in order to be bold and challenging" in regards to a book about a boy with Tourette's... well, isn't that like saying we shouldn't have YA books with characters who have Tourette's? I find that really shocking. Everyone should be represented.
As I said, Dylan also has special needs. It's not gone into what special needs he has, but you can tell from his voice and his interests and the way he doesn't completely grasp or understand certain things that he has some learnin difficulties. This makes him endearing - not in the sense that I pity him or anything like that, but in the sense that he has an innocence about him, and so he sees things differently. His view of the world is though-provoking, and real sweet. He goes to a special school, and although there are other students there for their own reasons - like Amir, Dylan's best mate, who has Autism, and Michelle Malloy, the girl Dylan fancies, who has Oppositional Defiant Disorder - the story never really goes into them in much detail. It's not a story about conditions, it's a story about people.
When Mr Dog Bites is truly a fantastic story, and such a beautiful one! I really would recommend this to everyone, I loved it!...more
I bought this book to read as part of the LGBT+ April Read-Along. I had seen it mentioned in a few places as a good LGBTQ YA novel previously, but I didn't know too much about it before people started reviewing it for the month. What I discovered was a seriously beautiful novel.
Ari has his problems. He's a loner and he's depressed, but he doesn't quite know why. He's very introverted and keeps to himself. But then he meets Dante at the swimming pool, who is his complete opposite; open and honest generally quite happy and cheery, and quite the intellectual. Where Ari would rather be alone, Dante will speak to anyone. Where Ari has quite a gloomy outlook on life, Dante is light and hopeful, and sees what others often miss. Both have their own problems, but in each other they find the friend they have always needed, and discover just exactly who they are.
My review is a little late, but I did have this book finished within the limits of the read-along, on 24th April. What I loved most about this book was the unexpected strength of the friendship between these two boys. They really couldn't be any more different, yet they see something in each other, and they just work. I spent most of the book feeling sorry for Ari, because that boy is so troubled. He is so depressed, and has so much darkness in him that partly seems to come from nowhere, yet also feels like it's due to his rather quiet father, and how the whole family refuses to talk about his older brother who is in prison. Ari really struggles with Dante at some point, wishing he would just leave him alone, but not really wanting him to go anywhere. Ari rarely talks out loud about what he's thinking and feeling, so Dante never really knows what's going on in his head, yet is steadfast and true in his loyalty throughout. There's is a friendship that has some serious obstacles, but one that survives them all.
This is an LGBTQ YA novel - which is obvious from all the awards this book has won - but in a way, it's not really the focus. Dante is gay, but we don't discover this until about half way through the book. We only discover it when he announces to Ari that he is in love with him. This puts some strain on their friendship when Ari tells him he doesn't feel the same way, but not as much as you think. It's like an awkward subject, but when they don't talk about it, when Dante doesn't bring it up, all's good and fine. The whole novel is told from Ari's perspective, and aside from the slight awkwardness, the fact that his best friend is in love with him doesn't really faze him - even less does the fact that it's a guy that's attracted to him. Dante is his friend, and despite the wobbles they sometimes have, nothing is going to change that - not Dante's sexuality, not the fact that he is in love with him. And that's the point, the real focus of this story throughout is their beautiful friendship. A friendship that is beautiful because of it's hardships and the ugly moments, and Ari's melancholic view of life that causes him to sometimes shut out Dante and push him away. The friendship is real and raw, and it's strong and it survives. It survives the fights, it survives the awkwardness, it survives Ari's harsh behaviour, it survives Dante's feelings, it even survives distance. And it's all these things together that make their friendship a thing of beauty.
Another major theme of the story is family. Each boy has a family that really cares, but there are such problems there even. Ari's father fought in the Vietnam war, and was affected so badly, he's not much of a talker. He doesn't talk much about what he thinks, and even less about how he feels. Ari was born after the war, and so he has never really had the chance to get to know who his father is. There is this great gulf between them, and he just doesn't understand the man at all, because he simply won't open up. And then there's the refusal to talk about Ari's older brother who's in prison. Ari has very few, vague memories of his brother, as he was quite young when he went to prison, but he doesn't really know anything about him either, nor why he's in prison. The family refuse to speak about it. To Ari, it feels like there's something majorly missing from his life without this knowledge of his brother, and it badly affects him. Despite this, the love his mother and father have for him is deep, and they show it in their own ways, even if it isn't in the way Ari wants. With Dante, his parents are young and cool, open and friendly, and they are all so close. Yet he's so worried about coming out to them, that his sexuality will hurt them and disappoint them. It terrifies him. It's really heartbreaking. And yet the love from both families, this strong portrayal of them is just completely wonderful.
I had a little trouble with the ending, though. Although it didn't come completely from left field, it was pretty close. The hints about what was to come were very, very subtle, to the point where, although I thought about the possible endings, this is one I discarded as not going to happen. I wasn't expecting it at all. For those who have read the book, you should hopefully understand what I mean when I say I didn't feel it. It seemed rushed and revealed to everyone in the blink of an eye. And not really right. To me at least. I'm sure that's the direction the story was always going to head in, but it didn't feel right to the characters I had come to know. At least not like that. Perhaps several more chapters would have made that ending work for me. I don't know.
But still, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is such a beautiful, incredible story. I absolutely loved it , and loved how heartwarming it was. Seriously, their friendship is just gorgeous! Quite possibly one of the best LGBTQ YA novels I've ever read. So, so glad I took part in the Read-Along....more
People have raved about Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher throughout the whole time I've been blogging, butOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
People have raved about Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher throughout the whole time I've been blogging, but I had never read it. I always thought it sounded awesome, but for one reason or another, I didn't buy it until recently. And now I so wish I had read it sooner.
Clay comes home from school to find a package for him on his doorstep. It's full of casette tapes, but no message. When he starts listening to them, he discovers they're from Hannah Baker - who committed suicide two weeks ago. The tapes chronicle the thirteen reasons - the thirteen people - that caused her to take her own life. Clay is one of them. And now Hannah is going to tell him exactly how he affected her life.
This book is extremely powerful, and incredibly moving. It's told in a dual narrative, what Hannah has recorded interspersed with Clay's thoughts and actions as he listens. It's not alternate chapters, it's all together, Hannah in italics, Clay not. We listen along with him, we get some further context of what Hannah is saying from Clay's own memories. It's really hard to listen, because you know it's already happened, and yet as you read, you hope someone will help her. If Clay knew, he would have - this you know for certain because of the person he is, despite the mistakes he's made. It's just so incredibly sad that Hannah wasn't as honest until she had decided to end it.
This story revolves around bullying, but not as you expect. It's not in your face bullying. Some people may not even consider it bullying, because if you do... then perhaps you've been a bully yourself at some point, and who wants to be confronted with that? It's the small comments, the small actions, due to things you've heard or seen. You might make one comment. But if everyone is making a comment, and it's been happening for years? It can affect you. Rumours are a terrible, terrible thing. Especially when people act on those rumours. This whole story is a snowball affect of small actions leading on to much bigger things. Things that get worse. Things that become difficult to deal with, to live with. Things that you just don't want to have to think about anymore, causing feelings you don't want to feel. It was terrible reading this book, because at times, I knew exactly how Hannah felt. Small comments, small actions might not seem like much, but when it feels like everyone has turned against you... it's hard to deal with. It can feel like too much. And Hannah felt there was only one way to escape it.
As I said, it snowballs, and things get worse, much worse. The things she unwittingly involves herself in, the things she sees, the consequences of things she knows... there are some terrible, terrible occurrences in this book, and with everything else Hannah has going on in her life, I can understand how it all got on top of her, how it all felt like too much, and that she just couldn't deal any more. And Clay! Sweet Clay, having to listen to it all, finally understanding, but being unable to do anything, having no way to help, because it's happened already. There is nothing he can do but listen.
This book will change you, even if it's just a little. You will look at yourself and the way you treat others. You will question your behaviour. Because who is a saint, right? Who has never repeated what they heard? Who has never thought of - treated - someone differently because of what they heard? Who's life have you made that much harder by doing what, at the time, seemed like nothing? It's scary. Incredibly powerful, extremely thought-provoking, beautifully moving. I am in so much awe....more
I was so intrigued by The Summer I Wasn't Me when I first heard about it, the second book I'd heard of aboutOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I was so intrigued by The Summer I Wasn't Me when I first heard about it, the second book I'd heard of about a place that "turns" you straight. As gripped as I was, I liked it, but I didn't love it.
After the death of her father, Lexi's mother fell apart, and is struggling to get past her grief. When she discovers that Lexi is a lesbian, she can't handle it. With her mum being all she has left, she agrees to go to the New Horizons "degayifying" summer camp, full of hope that the camp will make her straight, make her someone her mum will love and be proud of. But at New Horizons, Lexi meets Carolyn, and is immediately attracted to her. Lexi tries so hard to believe what New Horizons teaches and make it work for her, but her feelings for Carolyn steadily grow. Should she go after what she wants, or try to save her relationship with her mum?
The story itself would be pretty awesome, if it wasn't for Lexi seeming much younger than 17. The way she acts and thinks seem more like a 13/14-year-old, in my opinion, and it just didn't feel true to her, with other aspects of who she was. Her relationship with Carolyn wasn't very believable to me, either. I just didn't feel it. "Love" is a really big word to use, and it just wasn't there for me. I don't mean there needs to be an epic love story, but it felt like a crush. More infatuation than love. There was a lot of eye-rolling on my part. This aside, The Summer I Wasn't Me was a really great story!
Lexi really doesn't want to lose her mother. She desperately wants to make it work at New Horizons, because her mother is all she has left. She wants, needs her mother to go back to who she used to be before her father died, and believes if she doesn't really give this a good shot, there's no way her mum will be able to handle it. Despite initial disagreements and doubts with some of the things she's told and sees at New Horizons, she decides to give everything a go. It worked for Mr Martin, and some of those counselors right? Kaylee, the young, cool counselor who was "cured" of her SSA isn't a stepford-wife, is she? She's straight, and normal, and still perfectly herself. That's what Lexi wants, and what she strives so hard for, for her mother. But her feelings for Carolyn complicate it all.
New Horizons is so screwed up. It's a highly religious camp that believes that people choose to be gay, that homosexuality is a symptom of having been corrupted by someone or something, a "Father Wound", and that teaching the campers what their appropriate gender roles should be, along with various other activities, will give them the tools to fight their SSA - Same Sex Attraction - every day. And it works. Because Mr Martin, the founder, was cured himself. As are some of the counselors. Oh my god, this place! I was prepared to be angry, but not to the level in which I was. Appropriate gender roles, my backside! The idea that being stereotypically male or female has any impact on sexuality is absolutely ridiculous! Making the boys play sports, and not allowing the girls to do anything but watch. Teaching the girls how to do laundry and knit, and how to raise children! Made me so, so angry! And the fact that people fully believe this is right, this is going to "fix" these teens, that the counselors genuinely feel they are actually helping dumbfounds me. And things only get worse. Much, much worse. It's so highly disturbing and twisted. Absolutely disgusting!
The Summer I Wasn't Me, despite my issues with Lexi, is a gripping read. I had to know what vile methods of "degayifying", as Lexi calls it, would be dished out next, what ridiculous brainwashing crap was going to be fed to the campers. It's such a great novel at showing just how wrong and ridiculous this kind of thing is, especially as a fair number of the main characters actually want this to work for them. Thank god for Matthew, a friend Lexi makes, who is absolutely comfortable with his sexuality and thinks the whole thing is as twisted and wrong as I do.
It's a seriously important novel, and one I would recommend reading for having your eyes opened to this kind of thing. It's much more brutal than anything that happens in The Miseducation of Cameron Post by E. M. Danforth. A really good story!
Thank you to Soucebooks Fire via NetGalley for the eProof....more
When I first heard about Sex and Violence by Carrie Mesrobian - an eBook only novel here in the UK - I was rOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
When I first heard about Sex and Violence by Carrie Mesrobian - an eBook only novel here in the UK - I was really intrigued, but a little worried it would be quite heavy. And although a serious book, it's nothing like I thought it would be. Sex and Violence is awesome!
Evan Carter is good with the girls. He knows who to go after, and who will give it up, and gets into a lot of girls' underwear. But when he goes after Colette, everything goes wrong. He gets beaten to within an inch of his life by Colette's ex-boyfriend, and the ex of a girl who's interested in him. Mental scars as well as physical ones are left behind, and Evan is a changed boy. His views on girls and sex goes from one extreme to the other - something to be avoided at all costs. When his father moves him to the family cabin in Pearl Lake, the close knit group of seniors who holiday at the lake take him in. As the summer goes by, he has to deal with his now changed ideas towards sex, and his fear.
Despite it's rather unfortunate title, Sex and Violence isn't about sex and violence, but Evan, his mental state and his view on the two. Nor is Sex and Violence graphic, in either area. What happened to him and Colette is absolutely disgusting, and Evan has a lot of demons to battle, but it's a lot more of an internal story. Mesrobian does it really well; Through Evan's narration, you know that what took place is was horrific, too horrific to spend too much time thinking about, without making it seem like she's not writing about it because it's too much. It's Evan that doesn't want to go there in reliving and describing. You get the jist and the after-affects, but he's not in any place to really talk about it.
Because of how badly he is affected, Evan really struggles for a good while to form real relationships with his new "friends" at Pearl Lake. There are a whole group of people who've known each other their whole life, and they welcome Evan into their fold with open arms. They're such a great group of people, some making only brief appearances, yet each character is so well developed, they all make a big impression. It's a great cast of characters, and it's great to watch Evan's relationship of each, and see his changing opinion as time goes by. He's the new guy, and sometimes keeps to himself, and despite not knowing what his issues were, everyone was generally really nice to him in their own way. It's great to see a huge group of just normal teenagers just being nice.
Sex and Violence is a really moving, and I think, powerful novel. I'm sure Colette would have her own story to tell, but to have Evan's story is really different, but important, as he's not just dealing with what has happened to him, but with what happened to Colette too, and his guilt over it. Such a great story, a brilliant debut, and a read I highly recommend! Definitely look forward to what Mesrobian writes next!
Thank you to Michael O'Mara Books for the eProof....more
This review needs very little introduction. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick is one of the mostOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
This review needs very little introduction. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick is one of the most incredible books I have ever read, and became an instant favourite from about a quarter of the way in.
It's Leonard's 18th birthday, and he's decided to end his life. Ignored and invisible, but also caring around so much pain, he decides it's time to go. But before he does, he wants to say goodbye and thank you to the four people who have made a difference to his life. Then he will take his own, after killing his former best friend. Will anyone pick up on what he's planning?
This is such an unbelievably wonderful novel. Although you know from the very beginning that Leonard is going to kill himself and Asher Beal, Leonard has this almost comic voice that, although you know he means it, it doesn't seem quite serious. His attitude is almost blasé when it comes to what he's going to do, but there is more feeling to him when it comes to the various people who he needs to thank, and to how other people react - or don't - to him as the day goes on. So for the first quarter of the book, I'm smiling at the quips Leonard makes, completely engrossed in what Leonard has to say, but not really affected by the fact that he's going to do something so awful by the time the day is out.
Then we meet Herr Silverman, Leonard's Holocaust teacher. Herr Silverman has got to be one of the most amazing secondary characters I have ever read. I even wan him as a teacher, his class sounds so fascinating, as it sounds more like it uses the topic of the Holocaust to discuss human humanity, and it's all just so interesting! And he's a man who cares. He is the one who really made me stop and think. Who made what Leonard will be doing at some point later in the book really hit home. Leonard is going to kill himself.
From that point on, the story changes for me. Leonard continues to go about his day, he's still making his funny quips, but now it seems more like a mask, hiding what's really underneath. From this point on, I could not put the book down. As the book goes on, more cracks start to show. Although he's still funny, I'm really, really worried about Leonard now, because oh my god, someone has to help him! Someone has to see, surely! But the day, the story, marches on, leading up to that pivotal moment, and I was sitting on the edge of my seat, wanting to dive into the book and just hug Leonard and tell him I see him. We come to discover the reason for his pain. He's been through so much. And oh my god, I'm crying as I write this review. I can't articulate just what this book made me feel, how it's affected me. I ended up hurting right along with Leonard. It's so terribly sad.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is unbelievable. One of those books that will stick with me for a long time afterwards. I implore you to read this novel, let Leonard tell you his story. It's one you need to hear.
Thank you to Headline and Bookbridgr for the review copy....more
As they knew about my interest in LGBTQ YA/gender in YA, my colleagues in the Children's Dept at work broughOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
As they knew about my interest in LGBTQ YA/gender in YA, my colleagues in the Children's Dept at work brought Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman to my attention. So eager was I to read it, I couldn't wait until closer to the release date to read it, and picked it up a week after receiving it. So glad I did, such an awesome story!
Alex has spent his whole life feeling that he should be a girl. After an incident at his old school, she stops taking the pills she's taken as long as she can remember, and enrolls at a new school as the girl she was always meant to be. What Alex doesn't know is that she was born intersex, and her parents react badly to her declaration and new identity. Alex's mother has firm ideas on who Alex should be, and Alex is most definitely a boy. The doctors said so. Why is he ruining things? Why won't he just see sense? She's his mother after all, she knows what's best for him. And that's to take his medication, be a boy, and stop pushing against the boundaries.
Alex As Well is a very quick read, at only 216 pages, and you find yourself flying through it as you become engrossed in Alex's story. Alex has never been told that she's intersex. She knows she has a penis that isn't quite right and no testicles, but her mother always told her everyone's different. Because of this, she sees herself as transgender. When she decides to be female and enrol at a new school, she asks solicitor Crockett to get a new birth certificate for her that says she's female. As Alex chooses to identify as female, other things change too, like she becomes the person, as well as the gender, she was supposed to be. New image, she becomes a vegetarian, and she becomes bold and daring. It's great watching her transformation and seeing her be herself finally, and really enjoying it. Alex has her fears about being found out, but she enjoys the opportunities and fun that come with being this new "me". Because of her enjoyment of her new self and her fun with friends, Alex As Well is in some ways lighter than other intersex novels I've read. When we're not hearing about her mother, it can be quite an amusing and funny story, especially some of the conversations Alex has with her male side in her head.
However, Alex does have Heather for a mother, and so life isn't just confusing, it's also hard. Throughout the book, the odd chapters are from Heather's point of view, as she blogs on a website - motherhoodshared.com - about where things are with her relationship with Alex. What's so frustrating is you can kind of understand the source of her actions and reactions, but you simply cannot stand the way she goes about things. As the book goes on, you learn to understand that there is a reason for all of this, but in my opinion, it doesn't make the way Heather treats Alex ok. It's just awful, and so terribly sad. She sees Alex as rebelling and being a teenager, and it's something they could discuss if he would just behave, but she simply won't listen or look at things from Alex's point of view. It's heartbreaking, and you can understand the decisions Alex makes because of it. You can't help feeling so sorry for her!
Alex As Well also looks at sexuality. When she was going along with being male, Alex was into girls. So "he" was straight". Now she is a girl, this hasn't changed. So this means... she's a lesbian, right? It's not something she really thought of when deciding on her gender identity, but now she's a girl and is thinking about it, there's some confusion. She now has guys fancying her, but she's still looking at girls. It's awesome to see Alex figure things out and be honest with herself and others. Alex is strong, bold and brave, and considering all she goes through, she is so inspiring! I really loved her!
Alex As Well is an awesome - and welcome - addition to LGBTQ YA featuring intersex characters. Considering its light side along with the harsher elements, I'd say this is the perfect book for teens to start with when learning about or trying to understand intersex people. It's a great introduction to the topic, without shoving too much doom and gloom in your face. An amazing story, and I'd really recommend it!
Thank you to The Curious Fox for the review copy!...more
There was no way I wasn't going to read this book. This book seemed bold to me, with the fantastically in-yoOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
There was no way I wasn't going to read this book. This book seemed bold to me, with the fantastically in-your-face cover and title, and the subject of AIDs, more giving a voice to those gay people who had died from AIDs when they were so discriminated against when they were here. That coupled with it being a Levithan novel, I was absolutely going to read this book. And it wasn't bad!
Two Boys Kissing is narrated by a Greek chorus, the voices those gay men who had died. It's very different approach that took a while of getting used to. It made it feel like, as I was reading this book, observing these teens through the words, I wasn't alone; I was watching with the dead. It was great to read a book set in present day, but with the Greek chorus, learn about the lives of those who have lived before. It gave the book a poignant feel throughout; they are no longer here, and can only remember what it was like to experience what the various teens experience, or they never experienced them at all, because it simply wouldn't have been accepted - i.e. gay prom. It was so thought provoking, making you realise how different it is now, how far things have progressed. It was a really interesting way of delivering a book, especially as there aren't any chapters too.
There are various teens throughout the novel who have their own stories. There's Harry and Craig who are attempting to break the record, but there's also Tariq, their friend, who they are breaking the record for. By breaking the record, they're trying to promote gay rights, as Tariq had been the victim of a homophobic attack. There's Peter and Neil, a couple who are questioning their relationship, one of which has unsupportive parents. There's transgendered Avery and his blossoming romance with Ryan. Finally, there's Cooper, a seriously depressed guy who throws himself into the online world, though cynically. Each character's story is interesting, and seeing the opinions of the Greek Chorus is fascinating. However, unfortunately, because of the style, I found it difficult to get emotionally involved in the characters. Although I was interested in them all, I didn't care too deeply.
Two Boys Kissing isn't my favourite Levithan novel, but it's a good one, an important one. It's one I would highly recommend for it all it gets you to think about, as well as for an entertaining read!...more
After the recommendation from Ilikey Merey, and a conversation with a work colleague about it, Skim found itOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
After the recommendation from Ilikey Merey, and a conversation with a work colleague about it, Skim found its way into my hands thanks to aforementioned work colleague specifically for LGBTQ YA Month (thanks, Lily!). Again, not generally being a fan of graphic novels, I was a little wary, but found I really enjoyed it.
A boy from Skim's school, John commits suicide, and the school suddenly becomes obsessed with grief. Skim is witness to the "coolness" that comes with dragging out John's death - memorials, the "Girls Celebrate Life" group that's set up, the constant smothering of the one person who is actually grieving, John's ex-girlfriend Katie. Skim sees it all, but doesn't join in. She has enough going on in her own life - like falling in love with Ms. Archer, her English and Art teacher, and the recent awkwardness between her and her best friend Lisa.
This isn't a book about suicide, being a teen witch, discovering your sexuality, or friend problems. It's about life, the life of Skim, and these happen to be the things that are going on in her life at the moment. There isn't really a main focus for the story, but Skim's growing attraction to her teacher is the focus for her. Ms. Archer is cool; she listens to her, and they end up having conversations outside of class, smoking together, discussing the books being studied. Ms. Archer doesn't treat her like a child or a student, but a person who's opinions are valid. Skim is flattered by the attention, and she finds herself falling in love with her teacher. It's never discussed though; she doesn't tell Lisa, she doesn't tell anyone. Skim deals with it all on her own. It felt to me much less about Ms. Archer, and more about Skim's self-discovery and falling in love for the first time. It was sweet in the only way confusion about love can be.
The story as a whole is great. I can't really talk that much more about it without spoiling it, but I can say that it's a story I would have automatically picked up to read without hesitation if it was a YA novel rather than a graphic novel. If I had to criticise, I'd say that I'd have preferred there be more description when it came to feelings, and I'd like to know more about what happened at certain times; what led up to it, the aftermath, rather than just an image. I know a picture can say a thousand words, but perhaps a thousand isn't enough for me sometimes. An awesome graphic novel, and a great story!...more
My contact at Barrington Stoke heard about LGBTQ YA Month and emailed me specifically to recommend Falling bOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
My contact at Barrington Stoke heard about LGBTQ YA Month and emailed me specifically to recommend Falling by Cat Clarke. I jumped at the chance to review Falling as I am such a big fan of Clarke, I was sure I would love it. Unfortunately, I thought it was just ok.
To distract herself from the guilt of cheating on her boyfriend the night before, Anna decides to help her newly-out best friend Tilly by matchmaking her with the only other lesbian at school. And everything changes.
Sadly, I didn't like any of the characters in this book, and I didn't find it one where that doesn't matter. Considering at least Anna is 16, if not all the characters, I found them to seem much younger. I could understand Anna's annoyance at how her boyfriend Cam acts, because nothing bothers him. And I feel he should have reacted differently. Even with the situation as it was, I felt there should have been more from him. And earlier, from Tilly. She wasn't happy, but she let things happen anyway, without even really putting up a fight. Anna was the worst, being so pushy but thinking she can get away with it in a way that made me want to shake her and shout, "How old are you?! Grow up!"
Despite Tilly being gay, when it comes to focusing on her character specifically, not much of a big deal is made about it. She's just a girl her best mate decides to set up with someone she thinks she fancies. The focus regarding the LGBTQ elements is on what Anna thinks about homosexuality, and how she looks having a gay best friend. There's more to it, but I can't talk about it without spoiling the story. This was very realistic, and found it to be a pretty believable situation. I did end feeling begrudgingly sorry for Tilly and Anna, and I think it worked well.
However, I knew from the very beginning how the book would end. I didn't know how that ending would come about specifically, I just knew it would. Clarke writes a certain kind of novel, and to have Falling fit that style, it seemed glaringly obvious to me what the ending would be. And it really bothered me. It wasn't a surprise, I wasn't shocked, and I closed the book feeling really annoyed.
I have read books before where I predicted the outcome yet still loved them, so I don't know why Falling bothered me so much. Maybe it was this particular story, or because it was a short story, or maybe I just wasn't in the right mood for this book. Either way, I didn't really enjoy it, which is such a shame, because I'm a huge fan of Clarke's. I guess this time, Falling isn't for me. Please do read more reviews of Falling before deciding whether or not to read Falling, don't decide on my review alone.
Thank you to Barrington Stoke for the review copy....more