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!
Before I start this review, I feel I should give some context about my love of Louise O'Neill's first book,Originally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Before I start this review, I feel I should give some context about my love of Louise O'Neill's first book, and my anticipation for this one. People who follow me on Twitter and Once Upon a Bookcase will know by now what a huge fan I am of O'Neill's debut novel, Only Ever Yours. It affected me hugely, and I still rave about it to anyone who will listen, almost a year after first reading it. Even now, I'll remember something I read in those pages and something new will occur to me, making me think. Reading Only Ever Yours was a major turning point for me in terms of understanding society's treatment of women, and put me firmly on a feminist path. It blew me away, and I will continue to push it into the hands of everyone I can for being such a important, powerful and brilliant novel.
So you can understand how I have been eagerly waiting for Asking For It, O'Neill's second novel. I have just finished, and there are no words to describe how in awe I am of O'Neill. Asking For It is even more incredible than Only Ever Yours.
When Emma attends a house party, she expects it to be just like any other. She'll drink, she'll dance, she'll have fun, and she will be the most beautiful girl there. Girls will be jealous, and boys won't be able to take their eyes off her - as it is where ever she goes. She can have her pick of any of the boys, and that's just how she likes it. What Emma doesn't expect is to wake up the next morning on her front porch with no recollection of the events of the night before or how she got there. She doesn't expect her best friends to turn their backs on her. She doesn't expect the looks, the whispers, the malicious disgust-filled slurs thrown at her from everyone at school. She doesn't expect the photos, the explicit, degrading photos, that appear on Facebook. And, as she discovers what happened to her, the last thing Emma expects is for complete strangers to lay blame at her feet.
Asking For It is split into two parts; the first, the days leading up and immediately after the rape, and those same days a year later. I did not like Emma, but I could see the reasons for her being as she was. She had been brought up being told she was beautiful. Everyone told her so. Her mother ingrained it into her that being beautiful was important, and so her sense of worth was based on how she looked. Therefore she must be the prettiest at all times, and others must think she's the prettiest - she must be wanted, must be desired. Not only does she feel entitled to the attention she receives, but she needs it - who is she otherwise? I did not like her. But after she's raped - the rape she can't remember - she completely changes, becoming a mere shell of who she used to be. Despite how much I disliked her, it was unbelievably heartbreaking to see this change.
When Emma - and us readers - discover what happened to her, it's horrific. Realising that she was violated, raped, but also that photo after photo after photo was taken of her while it was happening, that these photos were put online, that everyone had seen them, and people were leaving such disgusting comments about her, about her body... being with her for this is so unbelievably hard. My heart bled for her, and I was feeling so much I had to stop reading. It was so painful, it was raw.It hurt so much, I was beyond being able to cry. I just sat there struggling with this unimaginable situation Emma was in, as her whole world crumbled at her feet.
And then things got worse. Not only did this happen to her, not only were those photos taken and seen by everyone, people blamed her. At the time it happened, and a year on. Emma made some bad decisions; she drank excessively and she took drugs. Because of this, and the short and low-cut dress she was wearing, people blamed her for what happened. The overheard conversations, the comments on the photos, the emails she was sent. The people discussing the "Ballinatoom Case" online, on radio, on TV, in newspapers. What did she expect? She was asking for it. The rage I felt! No-one seemed to realise that it doesn't matter what she was wearing, how much she drank, that she took drugs. No-one seemed to realise that she should be able to do these things without fear that she would be attacked and have control of her body taken away from her. The disgusting things people said, the excuses they made for Emma's attackers, the sympathy they had for them. Even the system, which seems to go in favour of the rapist than the victim! I got so angry! Then I got so scared, so, so scared. This is a story, fiction - but it's not. This happens; people are raped, and then they are sometimes blamed. People side with the guilty. Normal, every day people side with the rapists.
Reading about the immediate aftermath of Emma's rape was bad enough, but seeing how she was being treated a year later, the brilliant light O'Neill shines on rape culture, it's terrifying. Because you hear about it, and you know how disgusting it is, but until you see it through the eyes of the victim, I don't think we can really understand. And my heart broke. For Emma, for everyone who has been through this, for everyone who chose to suffer in silence rather than be on the receiving end of all this... . For everyone who has had the control of their body forcibly removed from them, degraded, violated, and told it was their own fault. The anger, the fear, the sadness. It's almost enough to make you lose hope in humanity.
But then you have O'Neill, and people like her, who give you hope by doing what they can to fight against rape culture. I have absolutely no doubt that Asking For It will do just what Only Ever Yours did. People will buy it, read it, talk about it... and it will make people think. It will open people's eyes. They will be as deeply affected as I have been. They will also get angry - because there is no-way anyone can read this and not get angry - and Asking For It will spread like wildfire. Because it's undeniably important and unbelievably powerful. And I believe, while it spreads, Asking For It will change lives.
I read The Baby by Lisa Drakeford thinking that it might work for my upcoming Sex in Teen Lit Month II blog event, seeing as it's about the arrival of a unexpected baby. It doesn't quite work for what I want the month to highlight, but I was surprised with how much I enjoyed it! It's pretty good, and takes a serious look at the changes a baby can bring.
When Nicola gives birth in Olivia's bathroom at her birthday party, it's the beginning of a massive change. A change that doesn't just affect her, but Olivia, Olivia's boyfriend Jonty, their friend Ben, and Olivia's younger sister, Alice. Emotions rocket, relationships are put to the test, and decisions need to be made. Life isn't one big party, especially when there's a baby to think of.
The Baby was a completely different story to the one I was expecting. Considering the way the description goes, I thought the whole story would be set at Olivia's party, but it's actually set over five months. Each character gets a turn to narrate, and they all have their own sub-story, which intersect because of their relationships and baby Eliza.
I was a bit worried when I first started. Olivia's narration is first, and seeing as it's the night of her party, she's drunk, which could be the reason why, but I found her to tell more than show. The party is great, she gets on so well with so-and-so, but we don't really get to see why. I found her narration to be one of the weakest, I felt like she was quite young and selfish, but again, it could have been because she was drunk, because I preferred her a lot more in the other narrations. But her story is also a really important one. Her boyfriend Jonty hurts her. He's jealous and controlling, and he physically hurts her when Olivia doesn't bend to his wishes. It was shocking to read, but the focus shifts once everyone realise Nicola is giving birth in the bathroom.
Then it's Nicola's narration, and it's brilliant. She didn't know she was pregnant, and now she's a new mum. She's struggling to deal with it. She is full of awe and wonder and this beautiful little girl that she's brought into the world, but she's so unsure of what she's doing and being up with her at all hours is really taking it's toll. She has people - health visitors, social workers, midwives, and so forth - ask her all kinds of questions. Is this what she wants? What is she going to do about school? What about benefits? Who's the dad? Question after question, and so much pressure. And she has very few people on her side. It's a fantastic narration, and very realistic. I felt really sorry for Nicola, and just wished more people would help her and give her a chance.
Then we have Alice's narration. Eleven-year-old Alice is "weird", and people avoid her. I can't say for certain, but it seems to me that she might have a form of Autism; she's very intelligent, but doesn't understand social situations and gets things wrong. She doesn't have friends, and her attempts to make them, while saying completely the wrong thing, and the reaction this causes from others is just heartbreaking. She's bullied and laughed at, and she doesn't quite understand why. She just knows she shouldn't mention her imaginary farm animals, because people don't seem to like that. But there is a baby now, a baby that was born in her bathroom, Nicola's baby, and she so loves to visit and help out. I loved Alice's narration, because she is just so wonderful and has a fantastic way of looking at the world, and I just wanted to give her such a big hug. She's a really special girl, and I don't mean that in the derogatory way.
Jonty. As the story went on, the more and more I disliked him. He's not a very nice guy at all, and he treats others so badly, not just Olivia. And then we get his narration, and wow. My feelings towards him shifted. He isn't a great guy, but he has problems of his own, and I started to understand why he is the way he is. It doesn't excuse his behaviour, but I did feel some sympathy for him. And we see a real change during his narration. He does grow up a bit, and realises that he can't go on the way he has been. He sees things differently, and I ended up feeling quite proud of him.
Oh my god, Ben's narration! It was the most disappointing of them all! Ben is gay, and he's really into this guy, Josh, but doesn't know if he's gay. Then a huge bombshell is dropped, one I did not see coming at all, and I was feeling so much anguish and sadness and, oh my god, really?! It was just so surprising and in some ways so awful, and... then it just ends. Ben's story gets wrapped up, I suppose, but the whole story doesn't! Not in my opinion! There is more to that bombshell, more that I need to know. There is so much more fallout from it to come, and I cannot believe it just ends like that. This bombshell would change everything for everyone, but we don't see it, we don't see what comes, and I am stunned. There was huge potential for this story to continue and follow it through, and be SUCH an emotional story. Just thinking about what this means for the other characters really has me getting upset, and to not actually see it... I am so disappointed. It's a really bad ending, in my opinion. There's no real conclusion. Things are left open, but not in a way that makes me feel there will be a follow up novel. It's just left, and it annoys me so much.
But over all, The Baby is really good! I would recommend it for Nicola, Alice and Jonty's narrations and stories because they're just so brilliant! A disappointing ending, but on the whole, an enjoyable read.
About the important subject of female genital mutilation (FGM), What Was Never Said by Emma Craigie is a booOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
About the important subject of female genital mutilation (FGM), What Was Never Said by Emma Craigie is a book I just had to read. A very shocking and eye-opening read.
Zahra moved with her family to England from Somalia when she was five, to escape the civil war. Now 15, she is troubled by memories of life back in Somalia and struggles to move forward from the events she witnessed. Then one day visitors arrive to her home, visitors from Somalia. Zahra recognises these women, and is filled with fear. All she knows is she and her little sister Samsam have to get away, to escape the same fate as her older sister, Rahma.
FGM is something I know very little about, but something I've always been horrified by. I know it can go wrong. I know girls who have this done can experience pain for the rest of their lives, more so when having sex. But I didn't know too much about why certain cultures performed FGM on their girls. What Was Never Said covers all these things through Zarha's experiences. The story focuses on Zahra trying to keep her and her little sister same, away from the cutter.
What Was Never said is quite a short novel, only 200 pages long, so not only did I fly through it, but it's quite a tight, compact story. You learn about what happened in Somalia, what happened to Zahra's older sister, and all that led to the move to England. However, because of how short it is, and the focus on staying same, we don't learn as much about the Muslim culture in general, or about the specific beliefs some Muslims - in the case of this story (though it does point out that this isn't the case for all Muslims) - have about FGM. We learn why they perform FGM, but not the why behind their beliefs so much. Even so, what we are told is unbelievably shocking. This from a flashback to when they were in Somalia:
'Aunty Noor was speaking, "You need to face up to it. Look at her. It won't be long. How are you going to protect her? You need to think of the future." "Anyone can steal from an open purse," said Grandma.' (p96)
And when Zahra explains to a friend, Krysty, her fears about the women who turned up at her house:
'"Women who carry out this practice, of... Well," I pause. I don't know how to sound real. I can't help talking like an information leaflet. "In my culture there is a tradition of, um, performing... of cutting young girls. You know, like circumcision, but for girls. Sometimes it's called FGM." "Oh my God. What are you saying? That you think they had come to cut you and your sister?" "I don't know. I was scared that they would." "Come on. Surely people don't really do that nowadays?" "They do. In lots of countries. Egypt, Africa... It's a very old tradition. People think it's good, keeps women clean and pure. You know." [...] "So, what, it's like women can't enjoy sex or anything?" "It's not just cutting, usually they stitch you up... stitch up the vagina. It's so you can't have sex. Not easily. To keep you pure."' (p79)
It's terrifying to imagine, even more so when you think that this is a very real thing facing, or experienced by, many girls around the world. So when Zahra is faced with this fear, she is so brilliantly brave to get her and her sister out as soon as possible. She doesn't know if she's done the right thing, if maybe she's misunderstood, or what she's going to do now she's out of there. She's scared about what might be waiting at home, but worried about where she's going to go, how she can get out of this rather than just stall it. But she knows she can't let it happen. She won't. She has so much courage, and I am filled with so much admiration and love for this young girl who is trying to keep herself, but mostly her six-year-old sister, Samsam, safe and whole. It's a hard-hitting novel, and really gets you thinking. In her Acknowledgements, Craigie tells us, "According to the World Health Organisation between 100 and 140 million women and girls worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM." And yet this is something we hear so little about. It makes me so angry. Why aren't we hearing more? Why aren't we being told how we can help?
Amazingly, there are a few other issues touched upon in this novel. They don't get developed very much, but there is enough to make us uncomfortable and think about things like cultural stereotypes, pressure to conform to (other) cultural traditions, racism and treatment of black people by police, and child grooming/abuse. As well as treatment of women within culture, it also touches on other aspects of sexism.
'"Why do you want it all in the living-room? Isn't it easier if everyone helps themselves in here?" Noor untied her apron. "If we have it in the living-room the men can easily help themselves in seconds." "Oh sorry of course. We've got to make sure the men are happy. Can't have them making any effort to feed themselves." [sic]' (p28)
What Was Never Said is a brilliant book. Without being too graphic or heavy-handed, it doesn't shy away from the truth, but forces you to sit up and listen. FGM is still being forced on girls, a fact that's almost too horrific to comprehend - but there is help out there. This doesn't have to happen. A really amazing story, and one that should be read and discussed.
Thank you to Short Books for the review copy....more
I loved the sound of Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff the first time I read the blurb, but I've finOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I loved the sound of Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff the first time I read the blurb, but I've finished it feeling disappointed.
Hayden has taken his life. There's no explanation why, just a USB stick he left with a note for his best mate Sam to listen and he'll understand. Except Sam has listened to the playlist over and over, and he's as clueless as he was the first time he listened to it. All he knows is that the last time he saw Hayden, they argued, and he's burdened with his guilt and anger. When Hayden's bullies are slowly taken down one by one, Sam starts to worry that perhaps he's doing it without realising, and with other strange goings on, like getting messages from Hayden's avatar on Gchat, Sam starts to worry about his mind. But he needs to know what led to Hayden taking his own life, and he's determined to find out.
I had several problems with Playlist for the Dead. Firstly, there's the fact that we don't really get to know much about Hayden. He's Sam's best friends, he's a geek, he likes to play Mage Warfare, but he doesn't like socialising with other people. That's all I know about him as a person. He was bullied, one of the bullies being his older brother, and his parents didn't really care about him. Despite what Sam says about these things, and what he saw, I never felt like I knew where Hayden's head was. There were flashbacks of conversations Sam and Hayden had, but there was nothing major about how he felt. As the story goes on, we find out about the events that led up to Hayden taking his life, and there were some awful things happening, but I didn't understand why he took his life. Not that it didn't make sense, but that there should have been more about how he was feeling, because I simply didn't get it. Perhaps Sam was the wrong narrator, because he didn't seem to know anything about what was happening with Hayden, so it makes it difficult. And the playlist... I really didn't get that at all. No idea what Hayden was thinking when he left it for Sam, no idea how it was supposed to help.
Then there's the fact that it was really slow. It took ages for the book to really get going, and when it did, trying to figure things out but getting nowhere until the end. I was so frustrated with the pace, I kept putting it down. I just wasn't really interested. And I simply didn't like Sam. I didn't warm to him, he annoyed me more often than not, and he was ridiculously obtuse. How he only started figuring certain things out towards the end that were obvious from the middle of the book, I don't know. There would be a whole realisation moment for him, and a face-palm moment for me.
And when we have all the details, I was left feeling... that's it? But as I said above, I think that's more to do with not know what was going through Hayden's head. It doesn't necessarily take much to push someone over the edge. I really think we needed to see that. And, despite his crappy life, there was no sign that he was depressed. It's important to me that we see that. We should see that. Depression shouldn't be hidden, and if he was depressed, then he hid it pretty damn well. That doesn't sit comfortably with me. Not even his best friend seeing something wasn't right - even I, as the reader, could see that something wasn't right. It bothers me, it really does, because it's scary. People with depression shouldn't hide it, they should seek help, and there's nothing covering that in this book. And if he didn't have depression, then I'm at a complete loss as to what I think about this book, I really am. Because then I don't get it at all.
Really not my cup of tea, unfortunately. This book just wasn't for me....more
When I heard about One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart, I was originally put off by the fact that Nadia is a thOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
When I heard about One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart, I was originally put off by the fact that Nadia is a thief. Stealing is not something I have any time for. But the words "rare neurological disorder" piqued my interest, and I just had to read it - and it's absolutely beautiful!
Nadia is having a difficult time. She's finding herself changing, and she doesn't know why. She's having difficulty speaking. She's stealing, and she can't help it. The compulsion to steal is not something she can control. She's become obsessed with birds and nests. There's a boy who's caught her eye, but nobody else has seen him. Her thoughts jump about, and she feels she's slowly disappearing. In Florence, she loses herself. But will she be able to find herself again?
One Thing Stolen is a really interesting story. When Nadia is narrating, it's almost lyrical. Such beautiful prose is used as she shares with the reader her thoughts, as we see her jump from focusing on now to memories. There are no speech marks when people talk. It's a little jarring to realise someone is talking to her, and she's not actually thinking at that point, but it's a great way to show the confusion Nadia feels. She is obsessed with birds and nests, and has a compulsion to steal, using the things she's stolen to create beautiful, intricate nests. She has trouble communicating; she understands everything everyone says, and her thoughts are complete, but she is unable to get the words out of her mouth properly. And she constantly feels like she's disappearing. She seems to talk to the reader; see this, remember this, I'm here, I'm real - this is real, isn't it? She's just not sure. And it doesn't help when she meets Benedetto, yet no-one else has seen him. Surely he was there, right? Did she make him up? She can't be sure, but he seemed so real. She's so scared of this person she's becoming - or, as she feels, unbecoming. She feels she's losing a bit of herself every day, and doesn't know how to hold the pieces of herself together.
The narration changes once Nadia starts getting help, and the story is now told from the point of view of her best friend, Maggie, who has come to Florence to help her. Here, the writing becomes what you expect from your general YA novel; we get speech marks back, we get a typical teenage voice. The contrast is brilliant; showing how Nadia's mind is works against a teenager who has no mental health problems. I'm not going to go in to what's wrong with Nadia, because we don't find out for quite a while, and I think you should get to know Nadia, her mind, her story before labels are put on her. She's unique, and your heart breaks for her as she tries to work out what's real, and as you see her try to work at improving. It's a really beautiful story.
Florence. Oooh, Florence! The descriptions are lush and beautiful, and I felt like I was there - I could see it all (and now somewhere I want to visit). There is quite a lot of mention of the flood of 1966, which Nadia's father is there to write about. It's the reason they're all there, and so it's discussed a lot. Although the flood was devastating and horrific, I found myself simply not interested in it. I just didn't care in comparison to what was happening with Nadia, with her trying to get help, trying to work out if Benedetto was real. I kept thinking, "Why are you talking to her about the flood? Why aren't you discussing what's going on with her? How is talking about this flood going to help her?" I just didn't get it. In the Acknowledgements, the author talks about her interest in the flood, which makes all the references to it make sense, but I just didn't think it was as important as Nadia's story. It frustrated, but I guess that's what partly inspired the story. If there was no flood, they wouldn't be there, and the story would be different.
One Thing Stolen is a really beautiful and poignant book, with a great look at a rare neurological disorder. I loved it.
Thank you to Chronicle Books for the review copy. ...more
When I was offered a copy of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Owens, I was told that the book had beeOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
When I was offered a copy of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Owens, I was told that the book had been adapted for the big screen and would be shown later this year. Seeing as it had rave reviews for being very funny, and I love reading books before seeing the movie, I jumped at the chance. And those rave reviews? Well this is about to become one of them.
Greg is in his senior year of high school, and has perfected the art of invisibility; be on friendly acquainted terms with every group clique without being a part of any clique - and don't let any clique see you with another. This means Greg has no real friends, but he doesn't have any enemies either. Oh, well, there's Earl, but Greg would tell you he's more of a co-worker than a friend. They make movies together, remakes of cult classics. That is Greg's life; avoid everyone at school, make movies with Earl. But when his mother tells him that someone at school, Rachel, has Leukaemia, and that he has to go and hang out with her to make her feel better, his life gets turned around. Suddenly he has a friend, and his invisibility is gone. He's faced with the awfulness of cancer, and the responsibility of making this sick girl laugh. When it's suggested he and Earl make a movie for her, things get even worse.
I cannot tell you just how hilariously funny this book is. It is unbelievably funny, especially considering the dying-girl-with-cancer. This is not a sad, poignant, heart warming John Green novel. This is down to Greg - Greg who has this really unique voice, who has a talent for comedy. Everything he says, or narrates, had me smiling away, despite the serious subject matter. Put him and Earl together, and oh my god, I was laughing out loud. Earl talks in grammatically incorrect sentences, with a lot of profanity, and can be a little lewd. He comes across as being quite stupid, but he isn't, as we discover towards the end of the book. He was probably my favourite character. Rachel I wasn't that bothered by, to be honest. She was ok, but nothing spectacular. She wasn't very memorable for me, but Greg screwed up quite a bit around her, so there were more laughs for me.
Greg is the one writing this book. Although Andrews is the author, the plot is that Greg is writing this book, for unknown (until later) reasons. The book even starts off with an Author's Note from Greg saying how bad this book is going to be, because he's a filmmaker, not a writer. Greg is quite the amateur at writing books. The story jumps back and forth when Greg realises he needs context and back story for something he's talking about; his history with girls, his relationship with Earl, or maybe a pause just so he can explain something for a chapter, so when he goes back to the story, his actions make sense. It's quite a strange style, but I quickly got used to it, and added to the humour. When a chapter started along the lines of, "I guess I should probably tell you about...", I knew I was in for more laughs. But at the same time, I was wondering for quite a while if there was any real plot to this book. It was like Greg just felt like writing about what happened during his senior year. I could see where things were going with Rachel, and that affected Greg's life, but the reason for the story, why Greg was writing it, I just couldn't see. Until the end.
The ending of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is surprisingly beautiful - especially when it comes to Earl, who is a lot deeper and smarter than he seems. You get used to all the laughs and awkwardness, but when Earl lays in to Greg for complaining about something, and tells him he needs to be a better friend to Rachel, who is dying, or when he talks seriously about the future... it's amazing. There is more to this boy than meets the eye - as Greg said throughout the whole book, Earl is smart. I ended up loving Earl even more when we saw this new side to him. I'd love if we got a book about him, and got to know him better. He's just awesome.
Before I finish, I just want to add something about the diversity of this book. All the main characters are diverse; Greg and Rachel are Jewish, and Earl is black. None of these things impact the book in any real way; there are mentions, but they're just tidbits in a bigger story. I just really liked how they were diverse characters, but it wasn't about that. This made me happy
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a brilliant, ridiculously funny story, and this review has come nowhere near to doing it justice. You'll just have to read it for yourself - and I highly recommend that you do.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin UK for the review copy....more
I'd not read anything by Tamara Ireland Stone before reading Every Last Word, so I didn't know what to expecOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I'd not read anything by Tamara Ireland Stone before reading Every Last Word, so I didn't know what to expect. Every Last Word is a fantastic story, with a beautiful romance, of a girl dealing with her OCD and learning to accept herself.
Sam and her friends have been popular for as long as she can remember. However, as time has gone on, being popular has come be difficult, with all the expectations. Look good all the time, say the right thing, keep your place at the top of the social ladder at all costs, or lose everything. This is even harder for Sam who suffers with Purely-Obsessional OCD, so being and perfect is on her mind all the time. Then she meets Caroline, with whom the expectations just fall away. With Caroline, she can just be herself without fear of judgement. When Caroline brings her along to Poet's Corner, a secret group of students who write and read out poetry, Sam finds a place she feels she belongs, and she slowly starts to feel better, more normal. But then Sam makes a discovery that turns everything she knows on it's head, and Sam ends up fearing her mind even more.
Every Last Word is brilliant! Sam is such an amazing character, and through her, I got to see a side of OCD I haven't before. She has Purely-Obsessional OCD, which means, for her, it's mostly internal, having obsessed thoughts that she can't let go of; a spiral of thoughts that she can't control and can't stop, which can cause her to have anxiety attacks as she's so scared she might act on her thoughts, or they simply just freak her out. Some of her thoughts aren't that unfamiliar - I'm sure everyone has had the fear of not fitting in, or what their friends might think of them - but where we might push the thoughts aside and try to think of something else, Sam can't do that. They go on and on and on, and they're all-consuming. It scares her, and she hates it; hates the way she thinks, how theirs a glitch in her brain, how she's not "normal".
She has an absolutely wonderful relationship with the psychologist, Sue, who is just brilliant, and really helps Sam get on top of her mental illness. She really tries to get Sam to change the way she sees her OCD, so instead of seeing it as something to despise, it's something that's special, because she sees things differently to others. These moments come a little later on in the book, but I just loved them, because throughout this novel, with Sam's opinion of her OCD, I was reminded of the first half of this post on Hello Giggles, An Open Letter to My Anxiety-Riddled Brain - although Sam suffers with anxiety as well, her negativity on her mental illness is more towards her OCD, but there is a similarity in her feeling towards her mind and her brain. But with Sue's efforts to change how Sam sees it, I was reminded of the second half. The post is amazing for understanding what people who suffer with anxiety go through, and helped me to understand where Sam was coming from better. As someone who doesn't have OCD, Every Last Word seems to be an amazing book for promoting understanding.
As well as being a brilliant book on OCD, it's also a really great story. Sam's friends are simply awful, so I was so happy when she met Caroline, who is so laid back and care-free. She has had her own issues in the past, and so is able to help Sam with her own, without judgement - the first person Sam has ever told about her illness outside her family. To be understood, able to trust, and just be is so freeing to Sam, she and Caroline form a close friendship very quickly. And when she's introduced to Poet's Corner, Sam finds an outlet for her thoughts through writing, and more people who just accept her for her. She doesn't confide in them about her illness, but they don't pile expectations on her to be perfect, and she feels at home amongst them, which she has only felt before during the summer holidays, when she's competing in swimming competitions. And there's also AJ, and the sweet, sweet romance that develops between them. I loved the Poet's Corner, seeing these people reading out very different poems and the sense of belonging they all felt there. I loved it so much, I've been inspired to start writing my own crappy poetry again!
There was a part of the book I did, for a while, feel kind of annoyed about. As I was reading, I was thinking, "I must talk about this in my review." I felt let down by a certain aspect of the story. But then we had the twist. There is a big, major twist that I did not see coming at all, and completely explained and made sense of the aspect I had a problem with. The twist is just brilliant, it completely wowed me! At times in the story, it felt that Sam's mental illness wasn't as focal as Sam's time with those in Poet's Corner and Caroline. But then you get the twist, and realise it flows throughout. It's just so, so clever, and I felt all kinds of things; shock, sadness, sympathy. I know I've said it already, but it's just brilliant!
Every Last Word is an incredible story, one I highly recommend! I am now so eager to read the rest of Stone's novels; she's not an author to miss.
Thank you to Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley for the eProof....more
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz is a novel about Etta - a black bisexual girl with an eating disOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz is a novel about Etta - a black bisexual girl with an eating disorder. So intersectionality, I just had to read it! And it was an even better read than I hoped it would be.
Etta recently split up with her boyfriend, but despite that, the Disco Dykes, the group she was formerly apart of, still don't want to know her, and treat her appallingly for stooping so low as to go out with a guy. She's also recovering from an eating disorder - though not one she can be medically diagnosed for, even though she used to starve herself and throw up whatever she did it, because her weight isn't low enough. And because of her curves, she was told by her ballet coach she wasn't quite right for ballet, despite being an incredible dancer. Etta isn't gay enough, not sick enough, not skinny or white enough for anything it seems. But when she's encouraged to try out for Brentwood, a theatre school in New York that could be Etta's ticket out of Nebraska, she meets Bianca, a girl who is also in her recovery group. Bianca is everything Etta isn't, but the two bond over trying to get into Brentwood and over the shared experience of eating disorders. Bianca is the one person accepting Etta as she is, but Bianca is so very sick; can she really lean on someone who can only just hold herself up?
Not Otherwise Specified is an incredible book about body image, sexuality, bullying, going for your dreams, and, most of all, friendship. The relationship between Etta and Bianca is beautiful! Despite the age difference - Bianca is 14 and Etta is 17 - the two get really close. Theirs is a really close friendship, not a romantic relationship, and Bianca brings Etta into the fold with her brother James and their friend Mason. Finally people Etta can just be herself around - whether it's talking about health or getting nervous over auditions.
Etta has a fair number of issues, but there are two things about her that inspired me so much! As mentioned, because of her weight, she's not giving a specific eating disorder, but also because of her weight, there were those, including her mother, who didn't think she had a problem. Doesn't matter that she was starving herself or binging and throwing it back up, because she wasn't skin and bone, some people failed to noticed. The reason she's in recovery? Because she herself decided to get help. Other people may not have seen it, but Etta knew she had a problem, and she got herself the help she needed. That's just amazing. It's hard and it's difficult, and she still struggles with food or with what people say about her eating or her weight, but she decided to try and get better, and I can't help but be in awe of her.
Also, when her lesbian friends dumped her when she got a boyfriend, she knew the problem was theirs. Even though she missed them, even though she still wanted to hang out with them, she knew she had done nothing wrong, and voiced that. She has always been bisexual, she never hid that and pretended to just be lesbian, the girls knew that. And that was ok, until she actually starts dating a boy. The way they behave is atrocious, the bullying - the violence and the names and the taunts, it's disgusting. But Etta knows who she is, and won't apologise for being bisexual. It's not about being a part-time lesbian and straight when it suits her. The girl likes both guys and girls, at the same time. Bisexuality exists, and she owns it! And I love her for it, even if she doesn't completely pull them up on their crap, and still, some of the time, wants to get back into that crowd. But it's like the girls really don't get it:
'"This is hard enough as it is, and then you have to go and completely piss on everything we stand for. Did you miss the part where the heteros make our life shit? And now here you are slutting around with the first guy who's nice to you, and what do you think that does besides make us all look like we're just doing the lesbian thing for attention?"' (p9)
I really think Etta's relationship with Rachel - who was her best friend before she got a boyfriend - is really screwed up. Those two do not have boundaries, which can be fine, but theirs is a relationship that needs them, because things get way to blurry. Rachel has this idea of who Etta is and who she should be, and if Etta does something that doesn't quite fit Rachel's image, Rachel will talk her back into her image, and Etta will follow almost without thinking. Who cares if ballet is her passion? Rachel thinks it's not right for her, is causing her too much pain, so she should stop. Rachel actually gets hurt by Etta getting a boyfriend. No worries when it's a girlfriend she has, but a boyfriend, and Rachel acts like Etta has done something terrible to her personally. Because Etta isn't who she thought she was - go figure. And Etta actually feels bad about that, that she hurt her best friend, because she's her whole world, even if she doesn't regret what she did. Their relationship is really toxic, in my opinion. But this isn't a criticism of the book, sometimes people do have toxic friends, and this was shown brilliantly. Rachel isn't necessarily mean, exactly, she does care about Etta, she just wants to control her, and it's really awful to read about.
Something I absolutely loved about this book was the look into sexuality and religion. Bianca is religious. She goes to Church, but her faith is less about organised religion and more about her relationship with god. Her faith tells her homosexuality is bad. And yet Etta, and other people in this book, aren't bad. She really struggles with this, and I love how Etta - who is an atheist as well as bisexual, comes to her defence. (Some names are removed below to avoid spoilers.)
'She's not in this to hate gay people. She doesn't hate gay people. She's just a girl who really loves her God and doesn't want to do anything to pull herself away from that... probably just as much as she doesn't want to be pulled away from [redacted]. And yeah, we can ask her to deal with [redacted] being gay, we can ask her to accept it, but I don't think we can just say that something she believes, something that she fundamentally wants to not hurt anyone, is something she can, or should, just get over.' (p126)
'"Hey. I'm the queer one here and I'm saying leave her alone. She's... fourteen. She doesn't hate anyone. She isn't running around telling people they're going to Hell. She's struggling because her damn God told her something she's questioning and that's really scary for her and she's fourteen. Leave her alone."' (p128)
Isn't that awesome?! This is the first time I've read a book where the actual queer character is defending someone's beliefs. Granted, Bianca isn't telling anyone that who they are is wrong, she is really struggling with what she believes, but Etta isn't saying her beliefs are screwed up either. Whatever your personal beliefs on what religion says about homosexuality, you've got to admit Etta is pretty awesome here? She loves her friend, and so understands her struggle, and doesn't want her to be so upset by it, or get so much grief. It's wonderful.
This review is already a lot longer than I planned, and I haven't even touched on the body image/eating disorders side of things yet. I'm not going to go on, but this is dealt with beautifully; Etta's issues, Bianca's, how Etta feels about Bianca's issues - how she worries about her being so sick, yet also struggles with feeling like she's a failure in comparison... it's heartbreaking to read, but feels so real and honest to me.
And despite the seriousness of the mental illnesses of eating disorders, it's wonderful to read a book that deals with this - and all the other serious elements too, like the bullying - in a way that doesn't make the book feel too heavy, too depressing. I absolutely loved Etta's voice, she's a fantastic character who I'd love to hang out with, and even with everything going on, she keeps things fun, mostly. And you've just got to love all the theatre school auditions/ballet practising. It's just good!
Not Otherwise Specified is a truly beautiful, amazing book, and I would force this book into your hands now if I could. This is my first Moskowitz book, but I'll definitely be picking up her others. Please, read this book....more