Before reading The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas, I had yet to read a book featuring a protagonist on theOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Before reading The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas, I had yet to read a book featuring a protagonist on the autism spectrum before. There are a few out, but not a huge amount, and only one other that I know of that is #OwnVoices, so I was really excited for The State of Grace, as it sounded like a really awesome story, and Grace has Asperger's syndrome. Unfortunately, I don't think this story really was for me.
Let's start with the positives. We all know #OwnVoices stories are written for those who rarely see themselves in the pages of the books they read, of if they are, not necessarily represented all that accurately. So, The State of Grace isn't for me. However, I did learn more about what it's like for people with Asperger's syndrome; how overwhelming a person can be by everything going on around them, how important structure and routine is, how it can sometimes be difficult to understand what other people mean. It was great getting that insight into something I've not completely understood before, and also knowing I can trust the representation. What was also, great, though, is that this isn't a book about having autism, it's just about the life of a girl who has it. Grace's autism does come up a lot, because it plays into how she sees, reacts and acts in the world, but it's not really the focus of the story.
And it's the story itself that I have a problem with. Because what the focus of the story is, I'm not really sure. There's a boy, Gabe, that Grace likes, who likes her back, and they go on a few dates. Grace is bullied a little by the popular girl in her class, and feels like she's weird and strange a lot, and wants to be more "normal". There are some problems at home because her dad, who is a wildlife camera man, is often away a lot, this being one of those times - and this time round, her mum isn't coping so well. Grace's mum is also back in touch with an old uni friend, who has a lot of opinions on how she lives her life, and how much her children should (or rather, shouldn't) depend on her, and puts all sorts of ideas in her head. She's rude, and she's completely ignorant to Grace's needs, and her mum just seems to selfishly go along with it. This part of the story was actually really well done, because I was so mad at Grace's mum. I could understand that life is maybe not so easy, and with Grace's father having the job he has, a lot of the time she is the one who has to look after her children and doesn't have much of a life of her own, but the way Eve was influencing her, it was like she simply didn't care anymore, and would force Grace into doing things that really upset her. It wasn't just selfish, but harmful and inconsiderate, and she had me fuming. But overall, there wasn't one main plot thread, just several smaller ones.
And, if I'm honest, I wasn't really pulled into the story. I wasn't exactly interested it. Grace, her friend Anna, even Gabe and the other boys, all seemed pretty young. Really, there was no difference in maturity between Grace and her friends and her younger sister Leah, who's 13. I know it's only three years age difference, but there's still a difference between how 13-year-olds act, and how 16-year-olds do. And this isn't down to Grace's Asperger's syndrome, because her friends were the same. As well as being little young, I don't feel I got to know many of the characters very well, and they felt under-developed to me. Kind of two-dimensional. The story was just kind of flat, until the pretty big deal that happens near the end, and even that comes completely out of left field. Grace suddenly has an idea, goes for it, and things go pear-shaped in a big way. But before that... I guess it was just a snapshot of Grace's life where nothing all that interesting happens, because we don't see much of very much. The only character I feel like I know is Grace.
And I also found that I didn't relate to her. Not because she's autistic, but because of the life she lives. She is middle class, whereas I'm not. Which is fine, I've read books with characters who are middle class before, and I was still able to find something there to relate to, even if they live a very different life to me. But there was nothing with Grace. She was very young 16-year-old, which was a gap of it's own, but there was also a distancing, in regards to her having a horse she rode every day, and all the training for Tennis her sister had. As I said, this in itself is not a problem, but it's just the way it was told, I guess, that put up a barrier between Grace's Middle Class life, and my own Working Class life.
I'm afraid to say I didn't like this book very much. But I think most of that is down to personal taste rather than anything else. Do read other reviews before deciding whether or not to give this book a go.
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books via NetGalley for the eProof....more
I've had Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom on my TBR pile for quite a while, always seeing it and reaOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I've had Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom on my TBR pile for quite a while, always seeing it and really wanting to read it, but never actually getting round to it. Now I've finally read, I wish I hadn't waited so long! This book is incredible!
Despite what the summary above says, this isn't a romance; sure, a large chunk of the story focuses on Scott and the past, and what Parker is now learning the truth about, but this side of things isn't like you may expect based on other YA romances you may have read, and I loved this book for it! No spoilers, but it's different, and I liked that.
And although there is a focus on Parker and Scott's past, that's not the only focus. Not If I See You First is mostly about Parker growing as a person. She's completely wonderful as a character, because she's so sassy and feisty, and really funny. Her voice is so distinct and brilliant, she felt like a real person. Her father died three months before the book started, and her Aunt Celia and her family now live with her. However, her aunt is not her father, and they're both having to learn to live with each other. There are certain things Celia won't allow her to do, like help with the food, because that would mean using knives, and she doesn't think it's wise for a blind person to use knives. Or they argue about Parker going to buy some trainers, because how is she going to get to the store, and how will she know if she's not over charged, and so on, but Parker has been blind for ten years, and she has mapped out the mall in a number of steps and turns, and she knows how to seek help from staff, and how to make sure she isn't over charged. It's a bit like tug of war trying to live normally like she used to with her father around, but her aunt is still learning what Parker is capable of, and you can understand her not wanting to Parker to be in a dangerous situation, or in a position to be taken advantage of - she just needs to learn to listen more.
And all the while, with Scott now at her school, and her avoiding and blanking him at all costs, and living with her aunt's family, she is still coming to terms with her father's death. There is a question hanging over how he died, and things have surfaced that she didn't know, with no-way of getting an explanation, because her father is dead. She sees not crying over his death as a sign of strength, and rewards herself with gold stars for every day she doesn't. There are also some friend issues, when she realises her best friend, Sarah, hasn't been talking to her about something important, and starts to feel like maybe their friendship isn't as strong as she thought, maybe Sarah doesn't see Parker how she sees Sarah. It's all a lot to deal with all at once, but you'd be surprised how light this book is. Of course it has it's heavy moments, but overall, Not If I See You First is a really enjoyable, fun read, because Parker is so funny and sparky.
What was wonderful about Not If I See You First was seeing how a blind person lives. Parker has been blind since she was seven years old, after her mother crashed the car, killing her and leaving Parker without her sight. Parker is now a junior at high school, she's been blind for ten years now, and she knows how to navigate life as a blind person. She does get help - she has a buddy, Molly, who is another student taking all the same classes as Parker, and helps her when it comes to what the teacher is writing on the board, and with homework after school, and she is taken to and from school - but she doesn't need as much help as everyone else seems to think. She can navigate the school, she can walk down stairs, Parker even runs every morning before school at an enclosed field. She's knows what she's doing. But the way people treat her, sometimes, is so insulting. Talking about her in hearing range, thinking she can't hear because she can't see (because that makes so much sense), for example. Even a conversation that's full of concern for her is out of order, because she can hear you! She just wants to be treated the same as everyone else.
But she is blind, and being blind, there are some things she can't avoid. So she has the Rules for how people should behave in relation to her. Always make your presence known, or it feels like being spied on. But make your presence known before getting too close, or it feels like being sneaked up on. Don't touch her, in any way, without either permission first, or a nudge to warn her a hug, for example, is coming. Can you imagine not knowing you're going to be touched, and then suddenly you are, how freaky that would be? Those of us who can see can step out of the way or hold up a hand to stop unwanted contact. If a blind person doesn't know it's coming, they can't stop it. It's completely disrespectful, and yet something that had never occurred to me before. I learnt a lot reading this book, both in regards to the respectful way to behave around her, and in the help she doesn't need that we who can see might automatically think she does. Not If I See You First is a book that will make you very much aware of your privilege as someone who can see, and it's wonderful.
Not If I See You First is another book that I simply enjoyed reading for the sake of reading, and it's brilliant to get that enjoyment back. I need to mention the incredible cover; you see those dots in the image above? That's actual braille - the title is printed, but it's also in braille, and that's just a wonderful, beautiful touch! A really incredible book, and I am so looking forward to reading everything else Lindstrom writes in the future!
Thank you to HarperCollins Children's Books for the proof....more
Having loved Amy & Matthew, I was really eager to read Cammie McGovern's second novel,Originally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
TW: Sexual assault
Having loved Amy & Matthew, I was really eager to read Cammie McGovern's second novel, A Step Towards Falling, especially when learning it featured people with developmental disabilities. And I'm so glad to say this is such an incredibly moving book.
Belinda is sexually assaulted during a school football game, which both Emily and Lucas witness, but neither tell anyone - they both assume the other has told someone. But Belinda ends up saving herself by screaming loud enough for someone to hear. As punishment for not seeking out help for Belinda, and just letting it happen, both Emily and Lucas must do community service at a programme for people with developmental disabilities, like Belinda, a class called Relationships and Boundaries. Working there, they get to know the students and feel strongly about helping them, about how others - businesses, even their own school - aren't, and fighting for their rights, and even trying to find a well to apologise and help Belinda.
I was a little worried at first. When Emily first gets to the Relationships and Boundaries class, the way she describes the students really wasn't great. While she wasn't being nasty as she was describing them, it was just really uncomfortable to read – she would point out the things she thought were weird; their speech, the clothes they wore, and so on. And I was just wincing as I was reading it, because it was so rude - but it was unintentionally rude, in that she hadn't yet been educated – she didn't realise it was rude. And, you know, people do think these things. But I knew the author has a son with Autism, and that she helped set up a centre for people with disabilities, so obviously these weren't her opinions, and that the book would show Emily's growth. Then we meet Belinda, who also narrates the book, and we get her side of things, too – the reader gets to know Belinda as Emily gets to know the people she works with. It was a great way to show someone growing, but also to potentially challenge the reader's own thoughts.
I also loved getting to know the students along with Emily and Lucas, though I wish we got to see more of those classes. It was almost like we didn't get to see enough of Emily and Lucas learning and having their assumptions change. We do see it in every class we see, but we don't see all the classes, so some of the time, we just get told about it. Emily also seemed much younger to me than 18, and it just seemed some of her discoveries throughout the book - most of which aren't to do with the students, but life in general - were a little ridiculous, in that, how is she only just learning this now? She isn't stupid. Why hasn't she realised these things earlier on? She also acts a little younger than I would have expected, and I found her kind of annoying half the time.
Belinda was the star of the show, though - but not because she has developmental disabilities. She, too, learns and grows as the book goes along. But she is so brave, and clever in a way that has nothing to do with learning and education, but to do with understanding. Having developmental disabilities, she doesn't get everything, and she has ideas that aren't true - that Colin Firth in Pride Prejudice is looking at her when he's looking into the camera, that he's trying to communicate things to her (but even then, in those moments, it's Belinda figuring things out for herself, even if she needs to see a "look" from Colin Firth for things to become apparent to her) - but she understands things through observation. Sometimes, she's just able to see things a little more clearly than others. But she's not perfect, she also makes mistakes and can be rude because of ideas she has about what's right and wrong, but as I said, she also learns over the course of the novel, and she's just brilliant.
But what this book did point out is how badly people with developmental disabilities are treated. Not just by every day people, but institutions and companies. Belinda loves acting, and every year of high school she auditions for the plays, but knows she will never get a part, because the school can't afford to someone to be with her, an aid. But she auditions anyway. And they keep turning her down - even though she's actually a brilliant actress. This is actually illegal, they're not allowed to deny people with disabilities access to groups and clubs because of their disabilities. I loved seeing Emily fight against this - and how riled up she gets when hearing one of the students keeps getting fired from a jobs at restaurants, and that the restaurants that would work well don't have any vacancies. It's just so unfair.
I want to talk a little about the sexual assault. We don't get to hear much about it from Belinda until the latter part of the book, though it happens before the book starts. It's absolutely heartbreaking - any assault is - but because Belinda doesn't understand at first what's happening, it's so upsetting. Which makes it even worse that Emily and Lucas didn't say anything. Emily froze at first, panicking, not believing what she was seeing, and I'm not going to blame her for that. But once she got over it, her attempt to tell someone fell flat when she saw Lucas' run on the pitch and assumed he told someone. And Lucas' excuse for not saying anything... oh my god. I just can't. I get it, I understand why he thought what he did, but Jesus Christ. I just can't talk about it. Either of them. I'm just so incensed. Neither of them knew for definite that the other had told someone, so I just don't accept that as an excuse. And I don't think their community service was good enough, really.
On the whole, though, I'm so glad to have read this book, even if just to get to meet Belinda. Such an emotional, but also lovely story.
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books for the review copy....more
As someone who is pretty active in the UKYA community, Katherine Webber's debut novel Wing Jones is a book wOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
As someone who is pretty active in the UKYA community, Katherine Webber's debut novel Wing Jones is a book we've been anticipating. Although I don't know Webber personally, she is considered one of our own, which made me a little nervous about starting Wing Jones; what if I didn't like it? And now I've read it, I feel awful at having to say that Wing Jones isn't my cup of tea.
That's not to say that Wing Jones is a bad story, because it's not - there is a lot that is great about this story. I don't have any major criticisms, it's just that I have no interest in athletics or sport of any kind, and running becomes quite a big thing for Wing. It's more than I am the wrong audience for this book than that it's not very good.
But as I said, there's a lot about Wing Jones to praise. Wing has a very close, tight-knit family. She lives with her mum, her two grandmothers, and her older brother, Marcus, who she hero worships. Marcus is a good guy, he's popular and well liked, and protective of his sister, and they both really get on. But then he makes the terrible decision to drive when drunk after a party - there's a car crash, there are fatalities, and Marcus ends up in a coma. Wing's life is turned completely upside down; Marcus makes one atrocious choice, to drive his car despite being pretty drunk, and the consequences are far reaching and effect so many people.
Wing never really fitted in at school, anyway. She is biracial, half-Chinese, and half American-Ghanaian, and where the mix of genes in her brother meant he was very good looking, Wing feels the mix didn't quite work with her. Wing is pretty tall, where her mother is short; she has father's dark skin, but her mother's eyes, she has uncontrollable curly hair that even her Ghanaian grandmother, Granny Dee, doesn't know how to tame. She's used to the looks as people try and work out "what" she is. She's bullied at school, called a freak for how she looks, and has no friends. But she gets treated so much worse after the car crash, when everyone turns on Marcus. Marcus isn't at school, though, he's in hospital with a coma. Wing is at school, so they take their grief, anger and hatred out on her.
Her only solace is discovering running. She's been having trouble sleeping, and one night decides to go out and get some air. She finds herself at the school's race track, and just starts running, and is amazed at how good it feels, how freeing. And not only does it feel good, but she's fast. Her brother was the golden boy, the one who was the star of the school's football team, who had a football scholarship and dreams of becoming pro. He's the athlete, not her. But now she can't stop running. With every step she feels she's keeping Marcus' heart beating, and the faster she runs, the sooner he'll wake up.
There's a time when there's nothing much that happens except Wing going out to run every night. All the while, Marcus isn't waking up, the hospital bills are piling up, and the insurance won't cover everything. Then there's the lawyer Marcus' needs, because once he wakes up - if he wakes up - he will be charged, and the lawyer needs paying. Wing's mother is getting stressed, as are her grandmothers. Loans are taken out, her elderly Chinese grandmother, LaoLao, goes back to work at her daughter's restaurant to help in the kitchens, to try and earn the family more money. There's stress and worry coming from every direction, and running is Wing's only solace, her only escape. I'm not going to go into what happens, because of spoilers, but there is more to this story.
I loved how close the whole family was, and I especially loved LaoLao and Granny Dee. They provide some of the lighter, amusing moments of the book, as the two will not stop bickering - until the accident, when it happens less often. But they argue over the smallest of things, criticising anything. It's like a hobby of theirs, always fighting, always trying to one-up each other. But when it really comes down to it, they are family, and these two older ladies who are always fighting will be there for the other when needed. They're friends who really care for each other, underneath it all. And I loved this multiracial family! All the little details; the food that was cooked, the games that were played, LaoLao's slightly broken English. It was just wonderful!
There was an element to the story that I didn't really get. Wing had a lioness and a dragon that would visit her. They just appear, and are a source of support and encouragement. For a long time, I wondered if it was going to turn out that Wing had a mental illness because she was having hallucinations, or if it was going to be a magical realism element. It turned out to be magical realism. But I just didn't really get it. I understood that they were either representations of the two sides of her heritage, or symbolic of her grandmothers - the lioness for Ghana, the dragon for China - but I didn't really understand the point of them. They weren't a huge element of the story, they weren't about that often, and the story would have worked without them. Ok, they guided Wing to the track in the first place, and they made her run after them, but I think she would have ended up running even if they weren't there. I just didn't understand the point of them, especially when the book was already covering the two sides of her heritage and self-identity and race. They just left me a little confused.
Over all, Wing Jones is pretty good; it's diverse, it's an interesting storyline, and it's great to see a book where a girl gets into sport as there aren't that many - it just wasn't a story for me. Many people have raved about Wing Jones, so give a few other reviews a read. You might find this is right up your street.
After loving Not If I See You First, I couldn't wait to read Eric Lindstrom's next novel, A Tragic Kind of Wonderful. And oh, what a beautiful book it is! I absolutely adored it!
Like with his previous book, Lindstrom covered a lot of different elements with Mel's story. What I've noticed with both his books is that as a genre, they can only really be described as contemporary, because they're not just one thing; neither are romance novels, neither are friendship novels, neither are "issue" novels - they're all of these things. It would be more accurate to describe both as "life novels", because they simply incorporate so many elements of life. Whose life ever really has one main focus at time? I guess the reason books tend to focus on one main element, one conflict, is because a book could get complicated and confusing if a lot was going on. I don't know how he does it, but with Lindstrom's novels, there's nothing complicated about these books except the lives of the characters.
In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, we meet Mel, who is still struggling with her grief over her older brother Nolan's death, who died seven years previously. She has bipolar, but it only made itself known a little over a year ago. Although having bipolar has changed Mel's life, it's not a complete unknown as her brother had it, and her aunt Joan - who she and her mum live with - has it. Mel's parents are divorced, and she doesn't have the best relationship with her dad. She no longer speaks to her old friends after a massive argument before she was diagnosed with bipolar, and her new friends don't know about her mental illness. She works at a retirement home, Silver Sands, and has friends amongst the residents, and it's there that she and David, the grandson of a new resident, catch each other's eye. So, you see, there's a lot going on in Mel's life - and I love how realistic it made the book feel!
I've never really known too much about bipolar disorder. I've read two books previously that featured characters with bipolar; All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, but Finch was undiagnosed, and The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, where Nix's father, Captain Slate, has also has undiagnosed bipolar, but isn't a narrator, so we never get his perspective. And I've seen characters on TV who have bipolar when they're on their meds, where you wouldn't have guessed they had a mental illness at all, and when they're off them, where their mania is shocking - pretty stereotypical representations on the small screen. So I'd not come across a character who has had a diagnosis of bipolar and is being treated for it, that seemed realistic.
Now, I don't have bipolar, nor do I know anyone who has bipolar disorder, so I can't vouch for whether or not this book features good representation of a person with bipolar, but it was pretty obvious that a lot of research and thought was put into Mel's character, her treatment, and her choices. Mel does take medication for her bipolar, but that doesn't mean her bipolar doesn't affect her - like TV would try to lead me to believe. I'm not going to try and explain how bipolar affects the various parts of her, because I simply wouldn't be able to well enough, but A Tragic Kind of Wonderful does a great job of showing us that's it's not simply about being manic or depressed, nor that it's simply about what mood your in. I loved how Mel would make charts to record how she was doing, what her mood was like, how her head and heart were doing, and her overall health, and how for each she related it to animals and would use metaphors to describe how she was doing. I'm sure none of this makes sense to you reading this, but it will when you read the book. There's a whole lot more to bipolar than being up or down, and this was shown well at the beginning of each chapter with Mel's animals and how they were, and how things can go when her bipolar affects her more than usual.
What I also really loved was the conversations between Mel and Joan (or HJ as she liked to be called - Hurricane Joan) about medication. HJ was strictly against medication; she was of the opinion that it dulled her personality, and she was never really herself when she was on it, and she didn't believe Mel should be on medication either. Mel saw things differently; HJ had bipolar, but it didn't affect her as badly as it affected Mel, and when Mel isn't on the medication, she doesn't feel like herself, like she isn't grounded or in full control. It was really interesting to see how one person with bipolar didn't understand how another person with bipolar felt, that it affects people differently. HJ believed that the real you is who you are when you're off the meds, and that meds caged and controlled you, that Mel wasn't allowing herself to be her true self, but for Mel, they gave her stability. It was really interesting to see the two sides of the argument. There was no message here of medication is good, or medication is bad, it was showing us both views. The only shame is that HJ didn't really listen to Mel, and wouldn't accept that this was the right thing for her. But what the reader does see is that taking medication is what's right for Mel, and not taking medication is what's right for HJ. There's no judgement or preaching coming from Lindstrom; he shows the various arguments, but also that some people can be stuck in their beliefs.
There's one thing I absolutely have to mention, because it made me so happy! This is the first book I have read written by a male author that talks about periods in any real way. I've read other books written by men with female protagonists where periods don't come up, and books with male protagonists where they may get a slight mention, if at all, and it's normally with an "ew" attitude. Mel's periods have an affect on her bipolar, so they couldn't be left out, really, because when she was on her period everything went a little haywire for her. But even so, Mel's periods themselves - aside from how they affected her bipolar - were treated like no big deal; something normal that happens, that affected her, but just a part of life that she had to get on with. Not something shameful, or disgusting, or anything negative. There was even a point when Mel thought she might have got blood on her nightie, and oh my god, I may have done a little happy dance, because I've not even read something like that happening in a book written by a female author! This is a book that normalises periods, and I abso-bloody-lutely love Lindstrom for it!
This review is already incredibly long, and I've only discussed the mental illness side of things! But I think it works that I don't say too much about any of the other elements, because it's likely to get spoilery. I loved how this book showed how complicated friendship could be, how you don't necessarily like everyone in your friendship group. In her old group, Mel's group of friends consisted of her, Zumi, Connor and Annie, but she never really liked Annie. Annie wasn't the nicest of people, and she kind of controlled the group, but Zumi was in love with her, which is obvious to all from very early on, and would do whatever she wanted, and Mel thought of Zumi as her best friend, so would also go along with things, but could see how Annie treated all of them. Things come to a head when Mel calls her out on it. And soon after the big argument, Mel falls ill and is out of school for several weeks. She makes friends with Holly and her boyfriend Declan when Holly is assigned to collect work for Mel and give it to her, and those two seem like really great people, though we don't see too much of them. I loved the look at friendship dynamics, though, and how friendships, and even the end of friendships, can be a lot more complicated than you think.
I loved how diverse this book was! Zumi is attracted to women (though she never says how she identifies), and is Japanese-American, Holly is African-American, and David is Chinese-American. Mel's doctor, Dr. Oswald, is African-American. The residents she's friends with at Silver Sands also include people of colour; Ms. Li, David's grandmother, is also Chinese-American, Mr. Terrance Knight is African-American, and Ms. Arguello, a resident who isn't really a friend as she has dementia and forgets Mel everyday, but for whom Mel has a fondness for, is Latina. I loved seeing Mel with the residents at Silver Sands, and the genuine friendships she had with them, despite the age gap. It was lovely to see her love her job, and that she has such strong bonds with the people there. Dr. Jordan, another resident, used to be a psychiatrist, and so Mel talks to him a lot about her bipolar - he says she shouldn't, she should speak to her own doctor, but he can't help helping her when she comes to him for help. It was he who came up with the idea for the charts and the various animals to help her record how she was doing.
I think I should probably wrap this up now, though I've barely scratched the surface! A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is an incredible book and a really interesting one. There's so much that is going on here, so much that affects various relationships, it's unsurprisingly a pretty emotional book. I just loved this book, more so than Not If I See You First, and Lindstrom is now firmly on my auto-buy list. Give A Tragic Kind of Wonderful a read ans see why he should be on yours, too....more
Having loved Riley Redgate's incredible debut, Seven Ways We Lie, last year, I was so eager to read her second novel, Noteworthy. And it was so good!
The story revolves around the a cappella octet, the Sharpshooters, but this story is less about music and more about friendship and identity. For the past two years of school at Kensington-Blaine, Jordan has been wrapped up in her boyfriend, made him her whole world, and so now they've split up, she realises she doesn't actually have any friends at school. She feels like she's not good enough, musically, because she has never made it into the school musical because her voice, for a girl, is too deep. Desperate to do something, to prove to herself, the school, her parents - who don't really want her there, and what's the point of staying if the school never allows her into anything? - that she is worthy, she disguises herself as a boy, names herself Julian Wang, and auditions for the Sharpshooters. Once she gets in, she's able to show she does have talent, that she does have what it takes. But more than that, she finally feels like she fits somewhere. These boys that she thought of as arrogant and up themselves are actually pretty cool, and they become friends, and she suddenly starts to feel like she belongs.
It's the relationships she builds with the guys in Sharpshooters that are one of the main focuses of the story. Laid back and cool Isaac, president of the a cappella group and class clown. Sensible, intense, focused Trav, the musical director. Excitable and awkward Marcus. Erik, who thinks he's cool. Good looking, rich-kid Jon Cox and warm but teasing Mama, best friends, but chalk and cheese, who's playful musical arguments provide some of the humour. And quiet, calm, steady Nihal. Jordan tries hard to keep her distance, make it just about the music, about aiming for winning the a cappella competition, which will mean going on tour with superstar a cappella group Aural Fixation, but the guys draw her in. She thought these guys thought they were above everyone else, but they don't. They're just normal guys, with their own stories and their own problems, and as she gets to know them, Jordan can't help but warm to them all, to care. It makes lying about who she is really difficult.
Which brings us to the second focus of the story; identity. Noteworthy really looks at gender roles and norms. Jordan isn't trans, but as Julian, she's discovering ways of being that felt closed off to her as Jordan; a confidence and self-assured-ness that isn't quite within reach as Jordan, the right to take up space ad not try and make herself smaller, both literally and personally. As Julian, she feels more like her true self than who she is when she's Jordan, like she's been putting on an act her whole life, but as Julian she finally gets to just be. But she also discovers the limits that masculinity puts on guys; how they're supposed to just take things and "man up", an almost aggressive drive that some feel they should have, to do absolutely everything - anything - to make it. Because how are they men if they don't? It's so interesting!
What I also loved about this book is how aware Jordan is of claiming space that isn't hers, using something to her advantage, when for others, this is their every day lives. There's a moment when Jordan is looking up online how to better hide her small bust, and comes across a website with tips and advice for trans men, and she's filled with guilt. She's not trans, she's cross-dressing, she's acting (almost, considering she feels like like herself as Julian), and there's a part of her that feels that what she is doing is wrong, in regards to trans people and what their everyday life. There's another moment where the group thinks she - Julian - is gay, because of something she says when drunk. And she allows them to think so, as it helps with her disguise, and it's easier than explaining, but again, she knows she's not gay, and by lying by omission, she knows what she's doing isn't right. Even though she's just discovering she's bisexual, and could tell the truth about that and not have it ruin her disguise, she allows them to believe she is a gay man, and again, it's space that's not hers. It gets so much harder for her as time goes on, because she likes these guys, they trust her with their secrets, and she's lying to them.
This book is so diverse! Really, I love how diverse it is. Jordan is Chinese-American, and she's just discovering she's bisexual. Nihal is Sikh, Isaac is Japanese-American, one of the secondary characters is gay, and Jordan's dad is disabled. Class is a huge aspect of this story, too; Jordan is at Kensington-Blaine on a scholarship, and there's absolutely no-way she would be able to attend without it. As it is things are seriously tight, due to the expense of flights to and from the school and paying for textbooks, and so on. Jordan's family have always been poor, with her parents working such awkward hours that she barely saw them before she went to Kensington-Blaine, her father working nights, her mother working long hours - longer as Jordan got older. Her parents have skipped meals in the past, to make sure she got to eat. And not long ago, her father fell seriously ill, and his health insurance couldn't cover it, so they're trying to pay that off, as well as just trying to get by. When her mum loses her job, the family has to go on benefits. They are really, really struggling. So it's understandable that her parents are worried about her never getting any parts - what are they paying the money for the flights and textbooks for if Jordan never gets anything from the school?
Even though her family is poor and it's a huge worry, this is Jordan's normal. She doesn't know any different. And it's contrasted so well, when, during Thanksgiving break, the Sharpshooters go to Jon Cox's house. Jon Cox's family are extremely wealthy, and his house is pretty much a mansion. It's so unlike anything Jordan is accustomed to, the wealth that the house so obviously shows the Cox family has is shocking to her. Jon Cox is embarrassed by Jordan's jaw-dropping shock, but she thinks about how this - the big mansion, the shiny sports car, the designer clothes, the money coming out of his ears - is his normal. Jon Cox is aware that others don't have as much as him, though, and he's always offering to pay for things, like meals; he's generous with his wealth, though not in a charity way. And he's a nice guy, you know? The money doesn't make him feel he's above anyone else, it's just something he has. It's just a startling contrast to Jordan, seeing how different their lives are.
Noteworthy is just incredible. It has so much to say on so many different things, while still telling a story that feels true and important. It's such a gorgeous, gorgeous novel! With Noteworthy, Redgate has further secured her place as one of my favourite authors, and she has most definitely become an auto-buy author. Such a wonderful story!
Thank you to Amulet Books via NetGalley for the eProof....more
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has been getting so much hype lately, especially from those in the US. It'sOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has been getting so much hype lately, especially from those in the US. It's such an important book, but I was worried; I've read books that have been hyped before and been let down. But The Hate U Give is worth all the hype it's receiving and then more some. It's absolutely incredible.
A powerful and moving story inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give follows Starr in the aftermath of seeing her best friend, Khalil, shot and killed by a police officer. It's a hugely emotional story, and you'll feel so angry and so upset as Starr struggles with how best to fight for justice, despite her growing fear of the police and her own safety.
Starr lives in a poor, black neighbourhood, Garden Heights, where gangs rule, and goes to a posh private school where most of the students are white. At school, she's automatically cool simply for being black, but she's always watching what she says or how she reacts to what's said or done; use too much slang, she'll be seen as ghetto, react with an attitude, she'll be the sassy black girl, react angrily, she'll be the angry black girl. In Garden Heights, she feels she can be herself, but also that she doesn't fit in; she doesn't know most of the teens because she's never around. She's either at school, or she's working at her dad's store - and is known as "the girl who works at the store."
After witnessing Khalil's murder - because that is exactly what it is - Starr is full of grief, but also traumatised. This isn't the first time she's seen someone fatally shot; when she was ten-years-old, she was there when her friend Natasha was shot and killed in a drive by shooting. What's worse, Khalil was shot by a cop, and she is the only witness. She wants to do all she can to get justice for Khalil, but as a witness, if people know, she'll get attention that could put her in danger. So her family agree that she doesn't tell anyone; no-one at Garden Heights, no-one at school. But when giving a statement to the police about what happened leads to the police deciding not to charge the police officer who killed Khalil, Starr feels like she's failed him, that she hasn't done enough. When she is approached by someone from Just Us for Justice, an organisation that tries to get justice in cases like Khalil's, with encouragement from her daddy, she learns that her voice can be a weapon, and she can speak up against police brutality.
But The Hate U Give isn't just about getting justice for Khalil, although that is the focus of the story. It's also about what it's like to live in Starr's neighbourhood. It's a place of poverty, real poverty. Starr and her family are lucky that her father was left the shop he worked at by his previous employer - the only person who would hire him after he came out of prison. They're doing ok, well enough to send three children to a private school, but it wasn't always like that. And there are people who are still struggling - going without food struggling. Add to that the gangs in the area, who sell drugs to people who have no money to buy them, who recruit children, and your heart just sinks for these people. This is fiction, but I would genuinely feel a little scared whenever King, a gang leader, would show up int he story. He poses such a very real threat to Starr and her family. Life is hard, really hard. Like Starr, when you hear about young guys who join the gangs, you will think, "What are you thinking?!" Like Starr, you'll judge those in a gang. You'll start stereotyping them. But as the story goes along, you'll come to realise these people don't feel they have any choice when their families are starving. These guys aren't necessarily as bad as you think. Some of them are really good guys, guys who just have very few options available to them.
This story is also about family, and my god, Starr's family! They are adorable. Not in a cutesy way, but in how fiercely they love each other, in how close they are. Starr's parents are so protective, and rightly so considering what Starr has witnessed, and what she has to do as a witness. Khalil's death angers the whole neighbourhood, and they express their anger through rioting. Garden Heights isn't exactly safe right now, and her parents argue about how best to keep Starr and their whole family safe. And they're angry, they are so angry; that their daughter had to witness something horrific, that she is pressured to give her statement, that her statement ends up meaning nothing, that Starr isn't safe right now. They are a religious family who pray to Black Jesus, and are proud of the black activists who came before them, with pictures up in their house and in their store; Malcolm X, Huey Newton, the Black Panthers. Starr has such a fantastic relationship with her whole family; her parents, her older brother Seven, her younger brother Sekani, and her Uncle Carlos, who is a police officer. Starr fights and has arguments with Seven, but they are also so protective of each other. and it's just wonderful to see the love that this family has for each other. They have such a strong bond, and I think it's rare to see such close families in YA; they don't always get on, they'll have disagreements and fight, but they are still so close. It's just wonderful.
There is so much more I could talk about; Starr's relationship with her school friends who don't understand her life in Garden Heights, the casual racism she experiences, her relationship with her white boyfriend and how she feels about their relationship after all that's happened. But this review is already so long. There are just so many layers to this book. This isn't a story about a boy who was shot by the police, but about the people; the people it affects, the people who live in places like Garden Heights, the people who are always, always, given the short end of the stick because of their skin colour. It's about the people who are always fighting for justice, fighting to be on equal standing, fighting to be seen as the people they are. This book is so powerful. It's more than just a story, it's activism. For those like Starr, it shows them that they are seen and understood, and for the rest of us, it shows us the reality of police brutality, the lies and the cover ups to justify another death of a black man, and it's a call to arms that says this is not ok, this is not acceptable, and we have to stand up, speak and fight too - all of us. Read this book and learn. Read this book and face the truth. Read this book and join those already fighting.
The Hate U Give is so incredibly imporant. Please, just read this book.
I've wanted to read Run by Kody Keplinger for quite a while, ever since hearing it was an #OwnVoices novel wOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I've wanted to read Run by Kody Keplinger for quite a while, ever since hearing it was an #OwnVoices novel with a legally-blind main character. But the recent controversy around a VOYA review, which recommended Run for older readers due to one of the characters being bisexual (more about this in a separate post later), spurred me to buy and read it sooner to show my support for Keplinger. And Run is such an incredible novel!
I'd normally give my own summary of a book, but I'd only be pretty much repeating what the Goodreads summary above says, so I'll leave you with that.
At it's heart, this is a book about strong, close female friendship. Run is narrated by both Agnes and Bo in alternating chapters, with Bo's chapters set in the present as they ride across Kentucky trying to find her dad, and Agnes' chapters covering how she and Bo became friends and their joint history, all the way up to Bo's first chapter when they run. It was genius of Keplinger to show us how their friendship came about alongside their escape across the state, because not only does it give us context to their friendship, it shows us exactly why Agnes would run with Bo.
Bo is such a great character. For as long as Agnes can remember, everyone in her town of Mursey has known the Dickinsons are people to steer clear of. The whole family are criminals, alcoholics or drug addicts, and just no good. Bo has her own reputation as someone who sleeps around, and is constantly sex-shamed. But as Agnes, and we, get to know her, we discover that most of the rumours about her simply aren't true. Bo doesn't have a great home life; her dad walked out on her and her mum when she was younger, and her mum is a drug addict who cares very little for her. If this wasn't bad enough, she also has the surname of Dickinson, and is treated like crap because of it. Colt, her cousin, is the only person - before Agnes - that Bo can count on. She comes across as brash and strong, because she needs to be; the world isn't kind to her, and so she's had to become someone who can fight her own battles, because Colt can't be there all the time, and if she doesn't, she might break. Bo has so much heart, and loves Agnes dearly, but she's also scared underneath it all. Scared of losing people, scared she's not good enough, scared of what the future holds for her.
Agnes is the good girl, sweet and lovely. Or rather, that's all she's been allowed to be, due to her overbearing and overprotective parents. Agnes is legally-blind; she has some sight, but everything is blurred, and she can't see any details. She recognises most people by their voice, because she can't see clearly enough to tell one person apart from another - except for Bo, because of her distinctive red gold hair. At school, she has to have pages from her text book blown up and printed for her in order to read, or she has to use a magnifier, a glass dome that she runs over text, making it appear big enough for her to read. She also uses a cane, and in areas she doesn't know so well, needs to be guided by someone. Agnes has been legally-blind since birth, and doesn't know any different, but she's starting to feel suffocated by her parents. There are so many things her older sister did at her age that she isn't allowed to do. She's not even allowed to get the school bus home from school, even though it stops at the church, and it's a journey she makes every Sunday with her parents, without needing guidance. But no, she can't do that on her own. She's not allowed to parties on her own, and her friend Christy doesn't like taking her because she would have to guide her all night and that's not much fun. She's never had a date, never even kissed a boy, because she's practically not allowed out to socialise.
When she and Bo become friends, the suffocation starts to feel even worse as Bo can pretty much do as she pleases, and the few things Agnes' parents allow her to do with Bo - her first party, an hour at a restaurant - just make her want more. She feels trapped and has no idea what the future holds for her. Will her parents allow her to go to college, even? Is she going to be stuck in this house with them for the rest of her life? It's Bo that stops her from completely losing it, because, finally, in Bo she has someone who just sees her as another person. Bo knows about her sight, knows she needs a little help, but still treats her exactly the same as anyone else. There are no kid gloves with Bo. Agnes' disability isn't a burden to her, and sure, some things have to be thought out a little more because of Agnes' limitations, but in general, Bo just sees a girl, her friend, someone she really cares about, who really cares about her - and doesn't just see her surname and the rumours. They see each other.
I really felt for Agnes, because her life isn't easy. Not because of her disability, but because of how she's treated. Despite her treatment being the bigger problem, there is so much detail about Agnes' disability; this isn't a small part of her life, it affects everything she does, but that's ok. You never once feel like you should pity the "poor, legally-blind girl" for her disability, because, apart from her overprotective parents, Agnes can still live a life much like ours. We feel bad for her because of how everyone treats her, but not because of her disability. And as her time with Bo shows, she is still capable of most things and having a fantastic time. Keplinger is legally-blind herself, and I really appreciated how she brought Agnes and her disability to life in this #OwnVoices novel. Before reading Run, I didn't know what legally-blind meant, and now I feel I not only have a good understanding of the disability, but the knowledge that a legally-blind person isn't incapable. I also want to say how I love the fact that there is a cane on the cover - I could be wrong, but this feels like a huge deal to me.
There's one other thing I want to touch on; Bo is bisexual. That's it. There's a bisexual character in Run, but as this book isn't a romance, it doesn't play a huge part to the overall story. It's significant when it comes to Bo and Agnes' friendship, because Agnes is the only person Bo has told. Bo tells Agnes during Agnes' narration, and though it's a big moment for Bo, wondering how this will be received, it's also a big deal for Agnes; Bo tells her fairly early on in their friendship, and it's a sign of trust - no-one has trusted her with anything as big or as important before. It's a huge deal for their friendship, because it's the thing that cements it. Agnes realises that their friendship means just as much to Bo, and that Bo really sees her; she's not someone to look after, she's someone to talk to, confide in, have fun with - a friend. Bo's sexuality comes up a few more times, but it's only ever in conversation, because this isn't a book about sexuality and Bo finding someone, just as it isn't a book about Agnes being legally-blind (although, of course, Agnes' disability comes up a lot more often because it affects her every day life), it's a book about friendship.
Run was such an incredible novel! I loved that the primary focus was on the strong bond between these two girls, and how they're friendship comes to mean the world to each of them. They really love each other and it shows. It's beautiful how the each need the other, and how, in turn, they step up to be their for their friend. It's such a wonderful novel! I highly recommend it....more
As you'll know from the Sex in Teen Lit month long events I've previously held, I'm passionate about YA novels that deal with sex and how they portray it. So when I heard about Cherry by Lindsay Rosin, I was so excited to read it! And although I had a great time reading it, I'm left with slightly mixed feelings.
Layla, Alex, Zoe and Emma are best friends in their senior year of school. Once they graduate, they'll all be going their separate ways. All but Alex are virgins, so when Layla decides she's finally ready to have sex with her boyfriend, and both Zoe and Emma want to have sex, she comes up with the sex pact. They will all attempt to lose their virginity AND - as Alex is no longer a virgin - have good, enjoyable sex by graduation. This isn't so bad for Layla, who already has a boyfriend, but the other three are single. Zoe is pretty shy and blushes at the mere mention of sex, Emma is stressing out so much about the prospect of graduating, and Alex is hiding something. But they're all determined to go through with the sex pact, as it's the last thing they'll be able to do as a group. But not everything always goes to plan.
As I said, I'm really a big fan of books that have sex at the heart, especially if they're going to be realistic and not make out that sex is something completely beautiful and magical every single time. Cherry was that kind of book, and, on the whole, was extremely sex positive. These girls really talk to each other about sex; they ask questions, they talk about their experiences, they talk about penises, they discuss dick picks and porn, they have proper real life conversations without any judgement. No-one is bashing anyone for not knowing something. They talk about the subject with curiosity and interest. They even have frank conversations, more than once, about themselves masturbating. There are even several scenes of the a couple of the girls masturbating (separately and not at the same time, of course, this is not that kind of book). It also takes a look at double standards; Alex enjoys kissing guys, and she's kissed a lot of them, and because everyone knows she's had sex, too, she has a reputation and gets crap for it, and yet her neighbour, Oliver, is exactly the same as her, and yet he's a "stud". It really is quite sex positive, saying girls are allowed to kiss whoever they want, girls can be sexual beings who want and and enjoy good sex. There is emphasis on having good sex, not just losing their virginity; the girls should have an orgasm - or "firework" - at some point, the idea being that girls can and should enjoy sex.
And when it comes to the sex itself, it's wonderful! There is mess. There is sex that is ok but not brilliant, sex without "fireworks" most of the time, first time sex that is uncomfortable, sex that is over sooner than they'd think. It's just real. But it's not overly graphic or gratuitous either; we don't get a blow-by-blow (hehe, pun intended) description of all that happens, but we're given enough to know what's happening. This isn't a book that's aiming to be a turn on; the girls may be 18 and soon to head off to college, but this isn't a new adult novel. But it is still a little sexy, but I think that mostly comes from how the girls are feeling about the sex their having, rather than because of how the sex is described. Really, it's just brilliant how Cherry handles it all.
Except... well, the pact itself. I found that a little problematic. All girls must have sex by the day they graduate. Ok, they don't have to. No-one forced them to be part of the pact, and there's no issue, mostly, with you deciding to back out. But there are some issues. Emma is stressed enough about almost everything in her life, and Layla asking for progress reports each week isn't helpful. And because of this, I do have slightly mixed feelings about Emma's first time. If there was no pact, would it have happened? I can't say either way for sure. It's a possibility. But if it would have happened, it wouldn't have happened then. The whole idea of the pact and whether having sex before a certain date is a good idea is addressed, but I would have liked a little more on that, because to me, it just feels... a little like peer pressure. They all want to have sex - great. So why can't they just have sex when it happens, rather than have a day they must have lost their virginity by? It just felt a little contrived. I think without the pact, some of them would have had sex how they did anyway, but for others? Maybe not. I just wasn't comfortable with the idea, and how their "progress" was important.
And also, a number of times is ableist language used through the novel. I counted, and "lame" appears ten times, and "lameness" once. Now I know how harmful such language can be, I can't help but notice it, and it makes me uncomfortable. There are so many other words you could use instead. It just doesn't sit right with me.
Saying that, Cherry is pretty diverse in some respects. Alex is a woman of colour. Emma has a Japanese-American mum and an Irish-American father, and her being a quarter Japanese shows in the shape of her eyes, and she mentions how it leads to questions about where she's from. Emma also discovers throughout the course of Cherry that she isn't straight. Or, at least, that she's attracted to a girl involved in Year Book with her, Savannah. She has been attracted to guys in the past, but there's no indication as to whether she's a lesbian or bisexual, as there's only ever really one conversation about her sexuality, and it's about how she doesn't like labels. Her story isn't so much about her sexuality, in regards to how she sees herself, as it is about dealing with being attracted to a girl and their relationship. There are some scenes of Emma having sex with Savannah, and there is a conversation about what actually counts as sex between two girls, and I think it's all done really beautifully.
I did really enjoy Cherry over all! It was very funny, but also very frank, and had such wonderful things to say about friendship, and there are a number of individual romance stories to get invested in. There are a couple of awful love interests, but also some really lovely ones. You go through a whole range of emotions while reading this book, and it's such a good fun read... apart from my issues with the pact itself, and the ableist language. I'd really love to hear what anyone else thought of the book, because I really am of two minds.
Thank you to Hot Key Books for the review copy....more
It's no secret that I love Holly Bourne's The Spinster Club Trilogy, and I have been so excited to read the third and final book, What's a Girl Gotta Do? Being Lottie's story, the member of the Spinster Club with the most knowledge of feminist ideas, I was sure this was going to be incredible. But it's not incredible. No, it surpasses incredible. It's bloody epic!
When Lottie has a terrible day - sexually harassed by two men on her way to school, has a guy in her Philosophy study group take a point she made and pass it off as his own, and discovers a girl in FemSoc may have been sexually assaulted by her ex boyfriend - she decides she's had enough. Enough with sexism. With the help of Amber and Evie, the rest of FemSoc, and Will, a guy in Evie's Film Studies class who's pretty nifty with a camera, Lottie decides to start the #Vagilante campaign, where she will call out every instance of sexism she sees, no matter how big or small for a whole month. No billboard, pharmacy or person is safe. Will videos everything and uploads it all to a vlog, and the views keep mounting. When Will arranges for Lottie to be interviewed for the local newspaper, her story gets picked up by major news corporations, and everyone wants a piece of her. But all the attention she's getting has brought out the trolls. Will Lottie be able to continue with her campaign, or will she buckle under the pressure?
Oh my god, I cannot even begin to tell you how amazing this book is! What's a Girl Gotta Do? takes everything that's been discussed in the previous books, and actually puts it into action. Lottie is so incredibly passionate about fighting sexism, and her fire and strength is a wonder to behold. She believes that to really tackle sexism, you also have to fight against the small instances as well as the big ones. She talks about the idea that the more serious acts of sexism - like sexual assault and domestic violence - are held up by the smaller ones - the sexist advertisements, the pink box of of pills for period pain, which is bog-standard ibuprofen but more expensive, how women must state their marital status by their title; "Miss" or "Mrs". If you don't fight against the smaller acts of sexism, if you let them go, how can you hope to truly remove the sexist ideas that lead to abuse against women? It all has to go.
This on it's own is, of course, brilliant, but it's seeing how big Lottie's campaign gets that I really loved. When people who are campaigning against something go viral, they draw the attention of the media, and things snowball. Suddenly their campaign is reaching more people - those who agree, those who have had their eyes opened, and those who want to do all they can to shut you up. Lottie's little personal project becomes something so much bigger once people start taking notice, and it's wonderful to see how she deals with it all. The struggles she faces, the self-doubt, the exhaustion. You feel for Lottie, but you're also made aware of what all those campaigners you see in the news have to deal with. You root for Lottie, and as you do so, you root for every other person out there campaigning against sexism.
There was one thing - a small, tiny thing - that disappointed me about What's a Girl Gotta Do? Lottie's mum is a bit of a hippy, and when Will comes to Lottie's house, she cleanses his aura, and they joke about it:
'"I'm not sure what good it will do you," I said. "Some auras just can't get clean..." He laughed at that - a short burst of it, like he hadn't meant it. "I have an incurable aura?" I giggled too. "A herpes aura." "That's disgusting." "You're telling me."' (p168)*
No-one wants herpes or any kind of STI, but some people have them, and they have to live with them. Some, like herpes, are incurable. We seriously need to stop shaming people people for the diseases/infections they have. They're still people. They're not disgusting. STI+ people shouldn't have to be on the receiving end of jokes and judgement over something that is really not anyone's business (unless you're a sexual partner), which is exactly what, in this example, someone with herpes will find when reading What's a Girl Gotta Do? It is a small thing in the great scheme of the whole of the book, but in a book that's about fighting against the prejudice and discrimination a group of people face, my heart sank to see another group of people being discriminated against.
But back to the awesomeness of this book. As someone who reads feminist non-fiction, not all of the ideas brought up in What's a Girl Gotta Do? or the other books in the series are new to me. But Bourne introduces these ideas to teenagers, new or soon-to-be feminist who haven't read feminist non-fic, and breaks them down and explains them in such a way that there's no confusion. This doesn't mean she dumbs things down for her teenage audience, but explains things more simply than the dense non-fic does. She's even flicked a switch for me a couple of times, where I finally understand ideas I've read about before.
I honestly believe that The Spinster Club Trilogy are real game changers; where other YA novels have tackled feminist topics, The Spinster Club books talk about feminism itself, what it is, and why we need it. Where the other books enrage readers, The Spinster Club Trilogy shows readers exactly what they can do with that rage to enact change.
This is a powerful and incredibly inspiring finale to the trilogy that will spark many a flame in it's readers, making them want to get out and fight the patriarchy too! There was an incredible and stirring author's note at the end of the book from Bourne that is pretty much a call to action; it was so impassioned it really got to me, and actually brought tears to my eyes. I'm so sad that this is the end of the Spinster Club. I just want more! So I am so, so, so excited to read the novella being published in November, ...And a Happy New Year? But what I'm going to do after that book, I don't know. I guess I'll have to start my own Spinster Club.
*I have a proof, but I checked this quote and page number in a finished copy.
I really enjoyed This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp, so when I heard about No Heroes by Anna Seidl, a book that looks at the aftermath of a school shooting rather than focusing on the shooting itself, I was really intrigued. Unfortunately, I wasn't a fan of this book.
It's a perfectly normal day at school - until Miriam and her class mates hear gunshots. Loner Mathias Straudt is shooting at teachers and pupils. Hiding in a cubicle of a toilet with her best friend, Miriam hears a boy outside the cubicles - a boy they tried to get to come with them, but was frozen in fear - shot and killed. Her boyfriend Toby is also killed. In the days, weeks and months that follow, Miriam and her friends try to come to terms with what happened, and why, whilst overwhelmed with grief, fear and guilt. What if Mathias' rampage was their fault?
This is a German novel that has been translated into English, and unfortunately, the translation is a little clunky and awkward. I believe I've only read one other translated novel, Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff, and perhaps I was spoilt by how good a translation it was. Maresi could have been written in English, the translation was so good. I kind of expected the same level of knowledge of the English language with No Heroes, too, but it wasn't brilliant. It's not so much that it didn't make sense, it made perfect sense, but it was the choice of synonyms that made it so clunky, or words used in slightly the wrong context. It just didn't flow as well as it could, and it kept nudging me out of the story.
The story itself was quite a let down. There wasn't much of a plot, it was more a novel of Miriam's internal thoughts and feelings. Not a huge deal happened other than her coming to terms with the shooting and the grief over the death of her boyfriend. It was also very repetitive. Miriam kept coming back to the same thoughts, the same fears, the same worries time and again. I can understand this is probably quite realistic, but it doesn't make for an interesting novel. It was constantly, "Oh, I miss Toby! I need him! I can't go on without Toby! How can anyone go on? What's the point? There is no point. We're all going to die, so why bother trying? Nothing is the same, nothing matters any more." These are Miriam's thoughts almost constantly throughout the novel, until she starts to make a breakthrough, but even then she's still repeats some of the things she thought previously.
And, I don't know if it was the story or the translation, but I didn't feel anything from it. I didn't really feel anything from Miriam; it's all internal really, so we get what she's thinking, but apart from hiding away in her room under the duvet, we don't really see her expressing her emotion in any real way. It's all about what's in her head, and I simply couldn't emotionally connect with her.
All of this coupled with very little plot, with very little going on at all... I just really didn't get on with it at all. No Heroes wasn't for me, unfortunately.
Thank you to Little Island Books via Foyles for the reading copy....more
I picked up You Know Me Well by Nina Lacour & David Levithan expecting a light, happy read. What I got wOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I picked up You Know Me Well by Nina Lacour & David Levithan expecting a light, happy read. What I got was a very quick read that left me feeling lukewarm.
Mark and Kate sit next to each other in Calculus, but have never spoke. However, a chance encounter between the two at the beginning of Pride week sees them becoming close friends. A bond is formed as they help each other through their problems. Mark is in love with his best friend, Ryan, who has no idea. Kate has loved Violet from afar for years, but when the time comes to meet her, she panics. The two find solace in each other's friendship as they struggle with their problems, but the courage to take the steps forward that they need with the support and encouragement from each other. This Pride week will be unlike any other.
You Know Me Well was heavier than I expected. I think the theme of friendship and that light coloured cover led me to believe this would be the light book I needed, but it wasn't. There was nothing too awful about the problems the characters have, it's just the frame of mind I'm in at the moment, I need books that aren't going to bring me down - and unfortunately, this book did a little. It was nice, though, to be reading an LGBTQ+ YA where the issues have nothing to do with the characters' sexuality. The problems revolve around love, relationships, change and the future. Both are dealing with fear in one way or another, but they're each able to help the other.
But You Know Me Well is a very short novel, and I think it was perhaps too quick, because I wasn't very emotionally involved with the characters. That may sound odd considering it was too heavy for me, but I just didn't feel I really got to know the characters that well, I didn't really care about them. The story moved too quickly, not giving me a chance to warm to the characters.
That saying, there was such a huge cast of characters, and all but three, I believe, are part of the LGBTQ+ community. With the mention of The Angel Project, a charity that helps LGBTQ+ youth, the story touches on the homo- and transphobia LGBTQ+ people experience, and how it can lead to them being homeless. I loved the poetry slam and the experiences the various characters shared. And I loved the huge community and celebratory feel to the book as it takes place during Pride week, all these people celebrating who they are was just wonderful.
I'll end with a beautiful quote that I think sums up the whole celebratory feel, but also the theme of the story. 'Hiding and denying and being afraid is no way to treat love. Love demands bravery. No matter the occasion, love expects us to rise[.]' (p243)
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books for the review copy....more
I have wanted to read The Memory Book by Lara Avery ever since I first heard about it, sometime last year. HOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I have wanted to read The Memory Book by Lara Avery ever since I first heard about it, sometime last year. How intriguing to read about someone who would lose their memory? Someone young even? I was gripped by this novel, but I finished with mixed feelings.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, I did. I just don't think the way the story was told worked well for me. The book is Sammie's document where she writes about all that has happened as her life changes after being diagnosed with Niemann-Pick Type C, like a diary, rather than us reading things as they happen. For me, this caused a distance when it came to getting to know and caring for other characters. Because she's writing the book, there's a lot more internal monologue than actual action (by which I don't mean fight scenes, just things happening, rather than just Sammie's thoughts).
However, The Memory Book is still an interesting story. Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC) is a disease down to mutated genes, and it affects more than just memory. It can affect movement, speech, movement of eyes, can cause tremors, seizures, dementia, hearing loss, hallucinations, and so much more - and it's terminal. But all Sammie really cares about is her memory. She actually talks about how it can do what it wants to her body, as long as she has her memory. Sammie has dreams - no, more than that, Sammie has plans. She's going to ace her exams, and be Valedictorian. She, and her friend and debate team mate, Maddie, will win the Nationals, which will get her into NYU, and become a human rights lawyer. All of this, all of it, requires her memory. She needs to remember the answers in exam questions, she needs to remember what to say during her debates, she needs to remember her speech for graduation. She needs her memory. And, because she's a rare case in that she's been affected by NPC at an older age (most children start showing the affects of NPC under the age of ten), she's convinced herself that she'll live longer than other suffers, that it won't affect her as badly, and she can still do everything she wants. She's in massive denial for such a long time, and is so stubborn and determined to do all she wants to. It was completely understandable - how do you come to terms with having a disease that is going take away your control of your body and eventually kill you? - but it was also so frustrating. NPC will kill her, and her family just want her to slow down, accept that she won't have the life she wanted, but enjoy whatever time she has now, rather than push, push, push herself.
But when things do start to go wrong, it gets heartbreaking. Again, it's mainly the affects on Sammie memory that she writes about. When she forgets where she's going, how to get there, or where she is. When she forget her youngest sister. They're episodes, ones she can recover from and remember again, but in the moment - as at these times, Sammie is writing as they happen rather than after - they are so upsetting, both for Sammie and the reader. As sometimes goes hand in hand with episodes of memory loss, she also experiences what is medically described as mild retardation - basically, she reverts to a child, a child who is scared and confused and doesn't know what's happening. This is shown through how she writes; the run on sentences, the lack of punctuation and capitals, the actual thoughts she has that she writes being the thoughts of a child. It's just so terrible.
'No Matter what plans I make, no matter how much I help my parents,, I feel like my body is failing me, and I don't know how to stop it.' (35%)
Running alongside her trying to cope with NPC is a romance. A love triangle even. There's Stuart, an Indian American she has had a crush on forever who is back in town during Summer break at NYU, and then there's her old school friend Cooper who is suddenly showing an interest. I didn't really care about her relationships with either of them, but that's because of how the story was written, as I said at the beginning. There's more internal monologue and telling us about her time with each guy, rather than seeing it happen, and that distance meant I didn't really feel like I got to know either of them. To me, it felt unnecessary to the story; not to Sammie, because of course she's going to be interested in guys and that's not going to stop because she has NPC, but to the story that Avery was trying to tell, it just felt extra, something added - because of how the story was told, there wasn't enough for me to feel that the romance was pivotal to Sammie's story.
The ending kind of came out of the blue, also because of how the story is told. Sammie wasn't writing about every bad day or bad moment, so what seems kind of gradual to the reader isn't so gradual for her. So we're seeing only every now and then a episode of some kind, but then all of a sudden, boom, things are really, really bad. It happened so quickly, and then it ended. And again, because of how it was written, I was as affected emotionally as I would have expected - and wanted - to be. There wasn't really enough time to be. I would much prefer this was being told in first person narration rather than being the actual book she was writing, I feel I would have got a lot more out of it and enjoyed it more if it was.
Even so, The Memory Book is really gripping, and gave such an insight into a disease I had never heard of before.
Thank you to Quercus Children's Books via NetGalley for the eProof....more
Having loved the Burn for Burn trilogy Siobhan Vivian co-authored with Jenny Han, I was really excited to read Vivian's novel The List when I heard it was being published in the UK. Covering the topics of beauty and body image, The List sounded right up my street, and it was such a wonderful, thought-provoking novel.
Every September at Mount Washing, a list is released that will affect the lives of eight female students. The list announces the prettiest and ugliest girl in each grade, and how they are seen by their fellow students and themselves is altered. This year, the prettiest girls are Abby, Lauren, Bridget and Margo, and the ugliest girls are Danielle, Candace, Sarah and Jennifer. New found confidence, insecurity, taunts and mocking, sympathy, a new perspective, the suspicion of others, family issues and rebellion are experienced by the eight girls in the week leading up to the Homecoming Dance. Surprises - some good and some bad - come their way, as the girls discover that the list can only hurt.
This is such a brilliant book! The title of ugliest and prettiest affects each girl in such different ways, both in how they see themselves, and how others treat them. Abby, a popular and pleasant freshman, is flattered to be named the prettiest freshman, and likes how the boys in the grade above now know who she is, but she wishes she got on better with her super smart, geeky older sister. Danielle is announced ugliest freshman, the list insinuating that she looks like a boy. She's upset by being on the list, and by boys in the grade above hurling abuse at her, but at least her boyfriend doesn't care - right? Lauren has just moved to Mount Washington, and is going to public school for the first time since being home schooled. Being named prettiest sophomore, she's suddenly making friends with girls who weren't interested before. Candace, however, was named the ugliest sophomore, the list commenting on how mean she can be, and her friends ditch her for Lauren now the truth is out. Bridget is the prettiest junior, the list acknowledging the weight she lost over Summer. But she's starting to put it back on, and she feels she's unworthy of the title, the list exacerbating her insecurities and her issues with food, leading to her starving herself - again. Bolshie and angry Sarah, the ugliest junior, is sick of the school's obsession with all things shallow, like the list and being crowned Homecoming Queen. They think she's ugly? She'll show them ugly! As prettiest senior, people are starting to be suspicious that Margo wrote the list. Although she tries to pretend it doesn't matter, she wants to be seen as perfect, maybe then Matthew will notice her. Jennifer is the ugliest senior, making it four years on the trot she's been on the ugly list. But some think things have gone too far, and she's shocked to find the popular girls extending a hand of friendship.
I don't want to say too much more about the story as we follow each girl over the course of six days, and so events happen quite quickly. What I really loved about The List is how it doesn't focus very much on how these girls actually look. We know Lauren has waist-length blonde hair, that Sarah's hair is dark, and Jennifer is overweight, but otherwise, there's very little description, if any, on how the girls look. The List isn't about how the girls look, but how they are seen - by themselves and others. It's with this lack of physical description that Vivian plays with society's idea of beauty: we are told what's beautiful and what's unattractive, and we believe and act on what we're told. The List is a reflection of society; it takes place in a high school setting with teenagers, but the list could be magazines and the media, and the school students all of us, judging people - famous or otherwise - and ourselves on what we're told is and isn't attractive about the female form. The subject is dealt with deftly but subtly within the narrative, with us readers getting emotionally involved in the individual stories. We can see ourselves in the eight girls, as they struggle with their self-esteem and insecurities, and with how their peers now treat them, whether throwing slurs their way, or suddenly wanting to be their friends.
The List is a fantastic feminist novel, and one that made me think so much, it led to me I writing about how beauty simply doesn't matter. It's such an incredible book, and one I'll definitely be recommending to every teen girl I meet!
Thank you to Mira Ink for the review copy. ...more
Reading the description above, When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid sounded like a fun, glitOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Reading the description above, When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid sounded like a fun, glitzy read with a gay protagonist, and I was so excited to read it! But now I have, and I have absolutely no idea whether this book is good or not.
Normally, include a summary of the book in my reviews, but I have no idea how to summarise this novel. I just don't know what to say. So I'll just get straight in to what I thought: I didn't like this book at all. I didn't like the characters, I found the story hugely disturbing, and, to me, it just felt like Jude was a walking stereotype.
Jude is gay and out to the world. He doesn't conform to gender roles; he loves to wear make-up and women's shoes, and wears his hair long. He's very feminine and flamboyant, and because of this, he is bullied in such a huge way. He doesn't just get name calling, he has the crap beaten out of him, to the point that he ends up in hospital. To deal with the bullying, Jude pretends he is a movie star; the haters are the paparazzi or his fans, and they always want more of him because he's so fabulous. His life is a movie, and he plays his part. He gets so lost in his imagination, that sometimes, I'm unsure if the events he describes are real or in his head. Most of the time it's pretty easy to guess, but sometimes not so much. He also puts himself in the position to be bullied; he will say outrageous things to the guys who bully him, just to get their attention. Why? Because at least then he's getting attention, and he feels hate is as close to love as he's going to get. Or, they love him so much, they can't stay away, and so they hurt him. Crazy stalkers. Jude was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, but I'm sure he has some serious mental illness that he retreats into his imagination like he does. It's kind of heartbreaking.
But at the same time, I've never come across a character who is more self-obsessed. All Jude really cares about is himself, and getting attention. He goads his bullies by sexually harrassing them, and, although he's not asking to be beaten up, he is after a reaction. He can't bare to go under the radar. He craves attention. He also feels like a very exaggerated stereotypical gay man; a caricature with all stereotypes thrown in to one. I know there are feminine/camp/flamboyant gay men, but with Jude, these traits are taken to the extreme. I didn't find his character believable in the least. This could be that I've never met anyone like him, but I'm not so sure. I had no trouble believing Tiny Cooper from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan, or the crossdressing Infinite Darlene from Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan - both camp and flamboyant characters. As I said, Jude felt like a caricature.
I was also really disturbed by this story. Normally in YA, a book will be written in such a way that the less-than-smart decisions or actions taken by the characters is written in a way that we, as readers, know these characters are making huge mistakes (thought without feeling like you're being preached to). This is now how Reid had written this novel. Jude and his best friend Angela take drugs all the time. Whether it's weed, Angela's mother's prescription pills, acid, they'll take anything. Always. But at no point is this written like this is scary dangerous and illegal. It's just a thing they do, like reading a book, eating some food, taking drugs. Also, Angela is very promiscuous, which I do not have a problem with in and of itself, but she doesn't use protection. She has had multiple abortions in her young life, and thinks nothing of it. It's abortion as contraception, and again, not one character bats an eyelid, or thinks this might be wrong. Jude takes the mick out of her for sleeping around, and for getting pregnant sometimes, but he doesn't actually think she's doing anything unwise. These two just have so very little self-respect and are so highly self-destructive, and completely blasé about it all, I was reading the whole thing in complete shock and dismay. I should add that these teens are in middle school, and are around 14-years-old, max. I can't be the only person who finds this incredibly disturbing, right? I was sickened by the things that happen in this book. But I've no idea if this is realistic or not. Things certainly weren't this extreme when I was 14. Because of how there's no consequences to their actions, nor any feeling through the writing that what they're doing is screwed up makes me feel that perhaps it was written for shock value. But I simply can't say this is unrealistic, because I don't know.
Other issues that are barely touched on in this novel are present-but-absent parents, domestic violence, self-harm, drug addiction (not Jude's or Angela's), and a kind of inverted Oedipus complex (Jude masturbates occasionally to the thought of his absentee father). Again, there's not really any feel that something is up with these things, or even Jude's movie star delusions. To me, it just feels a little irresponsible of the author. There are some serious issues in this book, but they're brushed over without being written about in any detail, and written in a way that makes it feel like it's all perfectly normal. That just doesn't sit right with me. Nor do the insults and blasé comments about rape, nor calling people "retard"/"retarded". Also there's a really awful comment from Jude where he compares himself to JonBenét Ramsey; I didn't know who she was when I read it so I just brushed over it, but it was brought to my attention by Jim earlier today, and after looking her up and discovering she was a six-year-old beauty queen who was murdered, I was disgusted by Jude. I don't know if it's Jude or if it's the author, but one of them really has no boundaries.
I didn't like this book. I didn't enjoy one second of it. But do you have to enjoy a book for it to be good? I did read the whole thing, after all. I really couldn't say if this book was good or not. However, would I read it again? No. Would I recommend it? No. Do I feel there are any redeeming factors of this book? No. How many stars did I decide to give it? One. You'll just have to decide for yourself if you want to read this book to work out if it's good or not.
When I first heard about Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate, I thought it sounded pretty good, but the thingOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
When I first heard about Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate, I thought it sounded pretty good, but the thing that made this a must read for me was the word "pansexual". Regular readers of my blog will know that I'm passionate about diversity, so on reading that this book had a pansexual character - the first I'd ever heard of in any book - it immediate went on my "absolutely must read", and I shouted out to the whole world on Twitter about it. And I'm so happy to say that, not only does Seven Ways We Lie have a pansexual character, it's also a bloody incredible book!
Seven teenagers, seven secrets. The actress who hates everyone, the slacker who's having trouble at home, the drug dealer who's hiding his pansexuality, the popular girl who has casual sex but keeps guys at a distance, the over achiever who has serious self-esteem issues, the genius who knows something he shouldn't, and the lovely, perfect girl who's suffering inside. When a school scandal rocks Paloma High, these seven teenagers don't realise it sets in motion things that will lead to their secrets not being so secret any more, and they have to rely on each other. But can you trust others with what you've kept hidden for so long?
Oh my god, this book is so good! It's not a spoiler to tell you what the school scandal is, as it's revealed in the very first chapter; there is a student-teacher relationship going on at Paloma High, but the staff do not know who is involved. Rumours fly about the teachers, the students, people making guesses at who it could be. But among all this are seven teens who are having issues of their own. Their paths cross and their stories interconnect. Lucas, the pansexual drug dealer, is the ex-boyfriend of Claire, who is in every club going. Claire is friends with lovely Juniper and Olivia, who gets a lot of abuse for having casual sex. Olivia is Kat's sister, who has been mad at the world for such a long time. Matt is one of Lucas' regular customers, and he's always had a thing for Olivia. Valentine is a super smart loner, who despises most people his age, but has a very strong moral compass. You'll find out how his story crosses with others as you read.
I was a little worried that Seven Ways We Lie was going to focus really heavily on the student-teacher relationship, and it was going to get very gossipy and scandalous, which really isn't my kind of book. But that's not what Seven Ways We Lie is; it's more real, more human. It was more about the seven teens and their lives than it was about spreading rumours and being bitchy - though we do see some bitchiness, because it's a high school, and there's always bitchiness.
All seven get a chance at narrating the story, and their voices are all so wonderfully distinct! They are each fully realised characters with their own story arc, their own problems, and their own opinions on what's happening at the school. Seven Ways We Lie shows that appearances can be deceiving, that we can make assumptions, have impressions of who people are, but we never know what's going on inside their heads, what's behind the smile. That makes it sound sinister, but that's not what I mean. Not everyone is as happy as they seem. No-one can be defined by a single aspect of their personality. Humans are multifaceted and complex, and we never really know who someone is or what they're going through. We're too quick to make judgements - not even bad judgements, necessarily - about people, and see them in a certain light. But how you see someone isn't necessarily who they are. There is more to all of us. It was absolutely fascinating to see how all of the seven saw each other, and yet saw who they were from inside their own heads. No-one, really, got anyone right. Not completely. And as the story goes on, they are surprised by who they all are as they get to know each other more as their stories interconnect.
None of the characters are stereotypical. Lucas, the drug dealer, is a cheery, happy-go-lucky guy who's hard not to love. Juniper is probably Queen Bee, but she's actually a really nice, lovely girl, who sticks up for those who are picked on. Olivia likes casual sex, sure, but she's not shallow or bitchy; she has a big heart who genuinely cares about her friends and family. "Drug dealer", "Queen Bee", "Slut" (as she is called in the book, not my words) - they all evoke certain ideas about people who would be put in these boxes, but with Seven Ways We Lie, we are shown that no-one is a cardboard cut-out.
When it comes to Olivia's story, Seven Ways We Lie is a pretty feminist story that has a lot to say about female sexuality. Olivia likes sex, and doesn't see why she can't enjoy having it with various guys. There's more to her than who she chooses to have sex with, and she's sick with being treated badly for something that is nobody's business. She has a conversation with Matt - who doesn't seem to care either way, it doesn't matter to him - about about the double standard of how women who have had many sexual partners are treated with how men who have had many sexual partners are treated, and it's so wonderful to see! But what I loved the most was seeing Olivia stand up for herself when Dan, a guy she previously had sex with, keeps bugging her to have sex with her again. It was so good to see Redgate tackle the subject of guys randomly sending unsolicited dick pics, even briefly - it's so prevalent right now, and so unbelievably unacceptable, so it was great to see Olivia receive one from Dan, and how she reacts to it. But back to how she stands up for herself, this is how Olivia reacts after she's finally done with the crap from Dan:
'"Besides, if you're going to let everyone and his brother get it, can't blame me for assuming you're down." When I find words, they rush out in a waterfall. "So by sleeping with more than one guy, I've forfeited my right to hook up with who I want? Or are you saying that by having sex with multiple people, I've become, like, emotionally incapable of falling for one person? Either way, are you insane?" "Hey, all I'm saying is, you can't act like a slut and expect people not to treat you like a slut. It's just false advertising." Sweet Jesus. [...] False advertising? I am done. I'm done with the stares and the rumors and the lack of basic human decency, let alone privacy. I'm so done with being defined by this single part of me. "I'm not advertising anything!" I yell, my words ringing off the living room walls. "My body is not yours. I don't owe you. I don't owe boys some fucked-up compensation for my reputation, I don't owe the public an apology for my personal life, I don't owe anyone a goddamn thing, so get out of my life and stay out!"' (p283-284)
Oh my god, isn't she wonderful?! I just love her!
Seven Ways We Lie, as I've touched on, has a pretty diverse cast of characters. Matt is half-Mexican, half-American, Claire's older sister, Grace, is disabled, and Lucas is pansexual. I've implied that this is pretty huge, and it is. I have never seen or heard of a pansexual character in any other book. This is the first, and a first for a lot of other people too, I discovered, when I told everyone and their dog about it on Twitter. Not only is Lucas pansexual, but it's on the page. It's a sexuality that we don't hear about so often, so it's brilliant for pansexual teens to see someone who is like them int he pages of Seven Ways We Lie. Being a sexuality we don't hear so much about, you might be a little confused as to what it means to be pansexual, but it's ok, Lucas gives such a brilliant explanation when he tells his ex, Claire:
'"What did you--pansexual?" "It means I could be attracted to someone of any gender." "So you're bi." "It's not quite the same. I... so, basically, there's not just male and female. Some people identify with other genders. And yep, now you look like I'm telling you that aliens have landed." "What are you talking about, other genders?" "Well, gender's something society made up. I don't mean biological sex--that's a different thing. But gender--so people think women are one way and men are this other way, but if you blend between the two, for example, then neither gender's a good description, so--" "Lucas." "--pansexuals can be attracted to any gender, a boy or a girl or somebody off the binary, which, I mean, you can read about this stuff--" "Lucas." "What? What is it?" "I don't understand anything you're saying," she says. "Would you hold on for a minute? Let's just... I'm not gonna bite, okay?" [...] She fixes me with a skeptical look. "Okay. So. How do you know you're not bi? Have you met anyone who thinks they're not--you know, not a--a girl or a boy?" I shrug. "How do you know you haven't?" "I..." "It's not like they'd be super public about it. Even gayness still has people being all, 'Woah, now, don't get so politcal; this is a lot to deal with.'"' (p239-240)
Please excuse me while I do a little happy dance! Oh, I love Lucas, and I love how he knows who he is with no confusion! This is not a "I'm figuring out my sexuality" story for Lucas. He has known he was pansexual before this book even starts. He knows who he is, he's comfortable with who he is, he just doesn't go to the most accepting school, and so he's been keeping it quiet for fear of losing friends and having them turn against him. Which is obviously awful. But Lucas is completely confident in his sexuality, he's not ashamed of it, it's not a problem for him, it just is. And that makes Seven Ways We Lie such an important, groundbreaking novel.
And we have Valentine, who might just be one of my favourite characters ever! I just love his mind and how he thinks! He is adorable, even if he is a little harsh and anti-social. Valentine has conversations and thoughts about attraction and crushes, and... he just doesn't understand. He's never had a crush. He can tell people are attractive, but he's never been attracted to them. It's not something he's ever experienced, it's not something he really gets. And he's thought about it, what it might feel like, what kissing someone would be like. But it's just never been something he's had any interest in. I was reading, thinking Valentine is asexual - but it's never actually said on the page. I didn't want to tell you guys he's asexual if he isn't, so I asked Redgate on Twitter, and with her permission, I'm linking to her tweeted answers. So Valentine doesn't identify as asexual and aromantic just yet, which is why it isn't on page, but he would in the future.
All in all, Seven Ways We Lie is such an incredible novel; it's so layered and beautifully human, and I absolutely loved it! Such a fantastic debut novel, and I won't hesitate to read anything Redgate writes in the future. Please, read this book. It's important.
Thank you to Abrams & Chronicle for the review copy. ...more
WARNING! There will be major spoilers in this review. There is a diverse element to this story that I have nOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
WARNING! There will be major spoilers in this review. There is a diverse element to this story that I have never come across before in YA, nor heard of from others in books I'm yet to read. Because of this, I think it's important to discuss this particular diverse element for the purposes of discussing representation. However, discussing this element will mean spoiling a big part of the book, so if you do not wish to have This Song Is (Not) For You spoiled for you, please be sure not to read the spoilers hidden below.
I originally requested This Song Is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin from NetGalley because I thought Ramona's situation sounded like a really awkward one to be in, and would make a really interesting book. But it went from one I was mildly interested in to one I definitely had to read when it was praised on Twitter for having an asexual main character, and it was such a fascinating read.
Ramona and Sam have been friends for years after bonding over their passion for music. They're inseparable, and both have feelings for each other, but are certain the other is not interested. When they meet Tom at a music college, they know they've found the final piece for their band, and the three soon become very close friends. But it's not long before Ramona starts falling for Tom - while she's still in love with Sam. Tom seems to be interested in her too, and as Ramona knows nothing will happen with Sam, she and Tom start dating. The three spend almost all their spare time together, and seeing Ramona and Tom together is so painful for Sam. But there's something about Tom that neither of them know.
What I found really strange about This Song Is (Not) For You is how much I enjoyed it considering how little I connected with the characters. Each of the three characters narrate alternately, and it's the kind of book you fly through, but the pacing means that months go by in a flash. There's something about these characters that felt different; I can't say we don't really get to know them, because we do, and I don't dislike them, but I didn't warm to any of them, either. I just didn't get emotionally involved in this book. But I still enjoyed it, and was gripped by their story.
I wasn't too interested in the music element of the book; they don't play my kind of music, it's kind of experimental, I guess, and just not something I'm interested in. But even if it was, I still think the relationships between all three characters would have been the major pull for me. This is the first YA novel I've come across where a character is genuinely in love with two people at once, without there being some kind of magical reason as to why. Granted, I didn't feel that love, the development of the relationships was kind of lacking for me, but from the way the story was written it's clear that this is love that Ramona feels for Sam and Tom, and not just a crush or intense infatuation. She's actually in love with them both. Which is a difficult situation to be in; even if she ends up with Tom, she's not with Sam, and she can't just turn off her feelings. And it's even more awkward and kind of tragic when the reader knows that Sam is in love with Ramona, too. As I said, I didn't make the emotional connection that I wanted, but there were moments when Sam talks about his feelings for Ramona and unrequited love (we know it's not, but as far as he's concerned, it is) that were really beautiful, moments I could relate to.
Tom was a fascinating character, and one I loved being inside the head of. I was celebrating whenever he discussed his feelings regarding sex. Tom is asexual. The word is never used in the book, but he discusses a few times his lack of sexual feeling and complete disinterest in sex. His ex-girlfriend broke up with him because she thought he was gay and in denial, because he never showed any interest in going further than kissing, despite his claims that he simply just didn't want to have sex. We have very few asexual characters in YA, and so far, I've only read one other book with an asexual character - Quicksilver by R. J. Anderson. What's wonderful about This Song Is (Not) For You is that it shows an asexual character who falls in love. I'd be interested to know if any of the other ace YA books published show this, but it was great to see Tom wanting and enjoying a romantic relationship, but not wanting a sexual one.
(view spoiler)[ Eventually, Sam opens up to Ramona about his feelings. It occurs to him that he wants to be with Ramona, but that doesn't necessarily mean exclusively. If the only way he can be with Ramona is by sharing her with Tom, he's ok with that, and Ramona considers it. This is before either he or Ramona know about Tom's asexuality. There's more that happens, but in the end, the three decide to have a joint relationship - a polyamorous relationship. Sam loves both of them, Ramona romantically, Tom platonically, and Tom the same, and neither want to hurt the other because of their feelings for Ramona. Ramona can be with both the boys she loves, and have a physical relationship with Sam, and Tom won't be left again because he's not interested in sex. Ramona makes a great comment about how before she knew about Tom's feelings regarding sex, she would have demanded monogamy, but she does want a sexual relationship, so would have left him if the three of them didn't come up with this arrangement.
It was really fascinating to me to see how they worked this out, and how everyone was happy with their relationship. It's not something I've read before, nor something I've really come across outside of the TV programme Caprica, which I'd only seen bits and pieces of because my dad watched it. This Song Is (Not) For You is going to be groundbreaking for YA when it comes to polyamory, and I do hope to read more in the future. I'd be fascinated to see a polyamorous relationship without an asexual character, and to actually see how that relationship works - as This Song Is Not (For) You ends shortly after the three decide on their relationship. (hide spoiler)]
This Song Is (Not) For You is a really fascinating, gripping and eye-opening novel, and despite my lack of emotional connection, one I would highly recommend.
Thank you to Sourcebooks via NetGalley for the eProof....more
I really enjoyed Noggin by John Corey Whaley, so when I heard he had written Highly Illogical Behaviour, about a boy with agoraphobia and the girl who wanted to cure him so she could write about it in her college admittance essay, I was so eager to read it! And even more so when I heard it was an #OwnVoices novel. But I finished it with mixed feelings.
Three years ago, Solomon Reed had a panic attack at school that he couldn't control, leading to him stripping down to his boxers and climbing into the school fountain. Since then, Solomon's anxiety has led to him becoming agoraphobic; all the things that cause him to panic are outside, so why leave? He's getting by much better now, and sure, it's quiet, he's alone a lot of the time, and it gets a bit samey, but this is how he has to live to survive. Lisa Praytor was at school the day Solomon climbed into the fountain, and she's not been able to stop thinking about him since. What could cause a boy to do that? Where is he now? When she rediscovers Solomon by chance, she learns of his anxiety and agoraphobia. She knows Solomon is just what she needs; she wants to be a psychologist, and for her college scholarship admittance essay , she has to write about her experience with mental illness, and she knows Solomon is her ticket out of town. And he needs her as much as she needs him, because she can help him. She'll cure him, he'll be better, and she'll write an incredible essay and leave. Win-win for everyone. Anxiety isn't something that can easily be fixed, but the friendship that grows between Solomon, Lisa, and Lisa's boyfriend, Clark, change Solomon. But can a friendship based on lies last?
I want to start off with the positives. As someone who suffers with anxiety, I can say the way Solomon talked about his anxiety and the descriptions of his panic attacks were simply spot on - not in the sense that the panic attacks described are how I experience panic attacks, though there are some similarities, but more that Whaley knew what he was talking about. He got it; he gets anxiety and how debilitating it can be, how it can affect you, and how you can react to it. The desire to do what you can to make sure you have fewer panic attacks. I recently finished a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and because of this new knowledge and understanding of anxiety, I was able to recognise certain behaviours, the actions Solomon takes - not leaving the house being the biggest - in order to not have so many panic attacks. It made me so sad, and I wanted to give Solomon the biggest hug, because he obviously hadn't been given the help he needed. This side of things was just perfect, and is another case of why #OwnVoices novels are so important; this book could help readers understand anxiety better, and help those who experience it feel less alone. In that respect, this book is incredible.
However, I didn't overly enjoy the story. The premise is incredible, but I just wasn't as gripped by the story as I wanted to be. It's a very short book, and not a huge amount happens, in the great scheme of things. This isn't down to the fact that Solomon is agoraphobic; Under Rose Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall is another YA novel with an agoraphobic protagonist, but a lot still happens in the story. It's not the setting or the limitations caused by Solomon's agoraphobia that prevented this story from being a gripping one, I think it might have been the length. Weeks go by in a matter of pages, so we don't get to see a lot of the interaction between Solomon, Lisa and Clark. Mostly, they're chatting, playing games, or watching TV, and... well, it's just not that interesting.
Things got a little more interesting when Lisa starts questioning her relationship with Clark, and his very close friendship with Solomon. Solomon is gay, and it doesn't take long for him to realise he has feelings for Clark, and Lisa can see that. Even before they started hanging out with Solomon, Lisa had her best friend tell her at every opportunity that she thinks Clark is gay, and seeing his friendship with Solomon, she finds herself worrying it might be true. This is a small part of the overall novel, but at least it was something.
I think the other major problem I had with this novel is that I didn't like Lisa. I know I'm not supposed to, but I was unable to warm to her at all. She is selfish and self-centred, and completely clueless. She truly believes she can "fix" Solomon, that she, a seventeen-year-old, will be able to do what professionals have yet to and make Solomon better. And she uses Solomon for her own gain, he is her guinea pig in an experiment. I can understand that in the scope of the novel, her purpose is to show how some people truly don't understand mental illness, that they don't realise you can't just wave a magic wand and "fix" or "cure" them, but that's not why I dislike her. I could forgive her for not getting it. What I can't forgive her for is how she used Solomon, someone who was suffering, for her own selfish gain. Her audacity is unbelievable, and completely reprehensible. And as this novel is dual narrated by her and Solomon, I was seething through half the story, every time she narrated. I couldn't stand her. She and Clark may have ended up helping Solomon in small ways, but that was down to their friendship, not to Lisa's attempts at "curing" him. And that friendship was a lie, anyway. Yes, she helped him, but there's potential for so much damage too, and I simply cannot believe her arrogance and carelessness. I don't think I have ever disliked a narrator quite so much.
But perhaps I'm meant to. She was written this way after all, perhaps that was Whaley's plan. If that's the case, the book has done what it set out to. But Lisa is meant to come across as redemable in the end, and I'm just not buying it. She is absolutely loathsome, and I cannot stand her.
So Highly Illogical Behaviour is a novel that has me torn. It deals with anxiety and agoraphobia brilliantly, but the story itself was a let down, with a narrator I completely abhore. I really don't know if I'd recommend this novel or not. For the brilliant depiction of anxiety, and a narrator that will have your blood boiling - if that is what she's supposed to do - then yeah, give it a read. But it's also a story that I didn't find very gripping. It's a mixed bag, I guess.
Thank you to Faber Children's Books for the proof....more
I absolutely loved Adam Silvera's first book, More Happy Than Not, so I was really looking forward to his nextOriginally posted on Once Upon Bookcase.
I absolutely loved Adam Silvera's first book, More Happy Than Not, so I was really looking forward to his next novel, History Is All You Left Me. And it was such a beautiful story!
I was a little disappointed, though. That's not to say History Is All You Left Me is a bad book; it's not badly written, and the story isn't awful. It was actually a great story! I think the problem for me is More Happy Than Not was so incredible, I was expecting a book that was just as good, but in my opinion, wasn't as captivating as the first. Had I read this first, I think I would have loved it, but I guess I was just expecting more.
Saying that, I did enjoy the story. Griffin's relationship with Theo was a complicated one. The story is told in alternating chapters of Today, in the present, and History, which follows Griffin and Theo's relationship from best friends to a couple, and then back to best friends again. It was such an interesting way to tell the story, because from the start you know that Theo will die, and before that, that he and Griffin will break up, and Theo will find a new boyfriend, Jackson. So you get to know the Theo knowing his end will come. In some ways, this was awesome, because I quite liked Theo (though not all of the time, sometimes he was not the nicest of guys), and I felt sad as I warmed to him, knowing he was going to die. However, when History gets to the point where he does die, very close to the end, it wasn't as upsetting because I already knew, and had already read half of the chapters watching Griffin deal with his grief in present day. And on the flip side of this, at the beginning we don't know Theo that well yet, so although I sympathised with Griffin, I couldn't empathise with his grief; I hadn't lost him yet. It was a really great way to tell the story, but at the same time telling the story this way left me with an emotional disconnect; I felt sorry for the characters who were grieving, but I wasn't all that upset myself.
What was really odd, but also beautiful, was the relationship between Griffin and Jackson. Reading the blurb, I thought it was going to end up that the two would bond in their grief and fall in love, but it's not that story. These two do not fall in love, but they do bond. Neither like the other; Griffin always held out hope that he and Theo would eventually get back together, that is was going to be them for life, and Jackson was this obstacle to that, and Jackson struggled with how close Theo was to his ex - and understandably really, as Griffin was hoping they would end up breaking up. In the History chapters, I think a number of us will be able to relate to Griffin during these moments; that feeling of being in love with someone who is with someone else. Griffin really struggles with it, and I found it really uncomfortable how he really wanted them to split up, that every time Theo would come to him after he and Jackson would have a fight, he'd say all the right things, being a "friend", but secretly hoping this was the fight that would end things. That really wasn't nice to see, it really bothered me, and I just kept thinking, why can't you accept the way things are and move on? It was really unhealthy, and he hoped in a way that I wasn't ok with. But the reason he holds on to his hope so much is covered later in the book, and it just upset me in the biggest way. And all I can say is, thank god for Wade, Theo and Griffin's friend. He is such a good guy! But ugh, Griffin just isn't that great, I really disliked him at times.
But back to Griffin and Jackson in present day. They do not like each other, but they are the only other people who know exactly what they're going through: losing someone you love. Each can accept that the other genuinely loved Theo, and so both are experiencing the same thing, though they each have different history with Theo. A friendship is formed as they get to know each other, though, and learn about the Theo each didn't know, and grieve together. But at the same time, Griffin still feels jealousy over their relationship, and though he wants to know about Theo-at-college and his relationship with Jackson, each thing he learns hurts him. Their friendship helps each other, but it also hurts each other. I do think they talk about things they shouldn't talk about with each other, but they need to talk about Theo, and who else is going to listen, is going to get it?
I loved the intersectionality of this book, because Griffin is gay (making this book #OwnVoices), and has OCD. The focus is on Griffin's grief, his relationship with Theo, and his blossoming friendship with Jackson, but Griffin's OCD is still a big part of the book. He can only walk or be on people's left sides, he was an issue with odd numbers, when it comes to the time and dates as well as the number of things. We witness Griffin having a panic attack twice, and when he can't get past an odd number of in a mental list. As someone who has panic attacks because of anxiety, I found them to be very realistic, even if the causes are different. I would have liked to have seen more of him in therapy and getting treated for it, but it's understandable that we don't as Griffin isn't in a place to deal with it when he's so weighed down by his grief.
In all, History Is All You Left Me is a beautiful, but heartbreaking story - despite my emotional disconnect!
Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children's Books for the bookseller reading copy....more
It wasn't until fairly recently that I discovered Dahlia Adler was an author. Originally, I thought Adler was worked in publishing in some way as an aIt wasn't until fairly recently that I discovered Dahlia Adler was an author. Originally, I thought Adler was worked in publishing in some way as an advocate for diverse YA. But once I discovered she was an author, considering how passionate she is about diverse YA, I was sure her books would be awesome, so when the opportunity came up to review her latest novel, Just Visiting, I jumped at the chance. I'm so glad I did, because it was brilliant!
Reagan and Victoria have been best friends for the past three years. Complete opposites, Reagan is academic and driven while Victoria is interested in parties and boys. The one things that keeps them close is their longing to get out of small town Charytan; for Reagan, to escape the poverty of her trailer park and to get away from a secret past, and for Victoria, to go somewhere where she can do something with her love of fashion design and where no-one bats an eye at the colour of her skin. Together, they plan multiple weekend visits to various colleges to help them decide where they will go, because one thing is for certain: they will be going together. But when Victoria struggles to find exactly what she's after, and Reagan's life is made complicated by meeting the gorgeous Dev, the two friends realise, as much as they love each other, there's a lot about each other they don't know. They have relied on each other for so long, but when the truth comes out, is their friendship sttrong enough to survive the secrets?
Oh, I loved this book so, so much! I'm always amazed when authors manage to give their characters such distinctive voices for a dual narrative, and Adler does a fantastic job with Reagan and Victoria! The two are so, so different, sometimes it's a wonder they're friends at all, but they're both so fiercely loyal to each other, they always have each other's back. That is until they discover there's more to each other than they realised, things they've been holding back. Reagan has a secret past from before Victoria moved to Charytan, involving a relationship with a boy who is now in the army. But Reagan is very tight-lipped about the topic, it's simply not something that's up for discussion. Whatever it is, though, affected her deeply, making the tentative friendship-with-the-possibility-of-more with Dev even more complicated than it already is. Even with the hints that were dropped throughout the novel, I never really guessed what Reagan's back story would be. It was so shocking, and I could completely understand why Reagan has the problems she does. For Victoria, her secrets are intertwined with who she is. Victoria's parents are from Mexico, and she has suffered suspicion and dislike her whole life because of the colour of her skin - at best. Victoria doesn't think about what it's been like at it's worst.
The two girls have such a fear of judgement and blame, even from their best friend, they keep their pasts hidden, for fear of losing the one of the only people who accept them - because they don't know. Just Visiting is probably the first book I've read where the main focus of the story is on a strong female friendship, and it's beautiful and moving, even with it's complications and bumps in the road along the way. It actually made me a little envious; I didn't have any particularly strong female friendships until my late teens, and even that wasn't as strong as my friendship with my best friend now, who's male. Just Visiting makes me feel I missed out on an important part of being a teenage girl, but also really grateful for the friendship I have now. Just Visiting is really a story on the importance of friendship, and how strong and deep that love goes, even when things get rough.
As expected considering how passionate Adler is about diversity in YA, Just Visiting has a range of diverse and minority characters. As I've mentioned, Victoria is of Mexican descent and Reagan comes from an impoverished family, working every hour she can to pay for gas, some bills, and whatever her mum chooses to buy for herself once Reagan has handed over her money. Victoria's mum is deaf; Dev, Reagen's love interest, is Indian; and Dev's friend Jamie is an Asian Jew. Just Visiting's diverse cast feels quite natural, whereas I've read other diverse books where it felt the diverse characters were there to tick off a box and felt quite forced. Saying that, though, each identity is more than incidental and is touched on, if only briefly; Dev discusses how people have difficulty pronouncing his name, Jamie discusses how people expect him to have a surname like 'Chang' rather than 'Goldstein', and there's talk about learning ASL (American Sign Language). Adler goes into more depth on some identities than others, but it still feels really natural, conversations that would generally come up, rather than shoehorned in.
I absolutely adored Just Visiting, and I am so excited to read Adler's other books! Do read Just Visiting, it's amazing!
Having loved Dumplin', I was really eager to read Julie Murphy's other novel, Side Effects May Vary - but alOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Having loved Dumplin', I was really eager to read Julie Murphy's other novel, Side Effects May Vary - but also a little wary as Cait of Paper Fury wasn't a fan, and I tend to trust her judgement. However, I actually really enjoyed this!
When Alice finds out she has cancer and it doesn't look likely she'll be able to recover, she decides to get revenge on those who have hurt her. She's calls on an old friend, Harvey, who is crazy about her, to help, and despite his misgivings, he agrees. The girl he is in love with is dying; so he wants to spend as much time with her as possible while he still can, even if it's doing things that go against his conscience. For Alice, her ex-boyfriend, and a girl from school who had constantly given her grief until she went too far, must go down. But once she's ticked most of the items off her list, she discovers she's in remission. The cancer is gone, and she's not going to die. Now she has to live and face what she's done - not just to those she sought revenge on, but also Harvey.
I did really enjoy this book. Don't get me wrong, Alice is an awful girl, and did some seriously inexcusable things, but I still found the story itself intriguing. I enjoyed being exasperated and disgusted by Alice, but I also wanted to see what would happen when she doesn't die. Side Effects May Vary is a dual narrative, told from the perspective of both Alice and Harvey. It also alternates between Then and Now - Then being before Alice is told she's in remission, Now being after. It's not alternating narratives, nor is it alternating chapters for Then and Now, but I still found it easy to follow, as each part is told in chronological order. I really loved getting Harvey's perspective on it all, as well, because although this is Alice's story, Harvey is a major part of her story, and she can't do half the things she wants without him. It was so interesting not only to see the power she had over him because of how he felt for her, but also how he felt about everything that was happening; Alice dying, the things she wanted to do, how his own life was effected.
Although Alice is unbelievably mean, I can kind of understand where she was coming from. She's dying, so why not use the time she has to put people in their place? What consequences has a dying girl got to face? Nothing. And she has absolutely nothing to lose because she's dying, so why the hell not make people pay for what they've done? It's not really something I would do, but I could understand it. And while those she's making pay have done some really terrible things, she's not just spurned on by what they have done, but by something absolutely world shattering she discovers before she is diagnosed. She is angry and she is heartbroken, and then she's diagnosed with cancer. She's full of so much emotion, and she puts that into her revenge plans, because those people she can do something about.
I don't exactly understand why Alice treated Harvey the way she did. She used him, the entire time. She knew how he felt about her, and used that to get what she wanted, manipulating him into doing things he didn't agree with. I can understand that she needed his help, but I don't think she should have gone about it the way she did. Granted, he may not have helped otherwise, but it was just so below the belt.
However, I can kind of understand why she acts the way she does after she's told she's in remission. When Harvey comes back into her life, Alice develops feelings for him, and pretty much tells him so, but she's dying. When she's suddenly not dying, she can't quite accept it. The cancer might come back. The cancer and the belief that she would die has made her realise that things aren't permanent, and with that has come fear. She finds she can't commit or make promises about anything - but Harvey in particular - because she might not be able to keep them. She's half-convinced herself that the cancer will come back, and she's terrified of things ending, so she keeps Harvey at arm's length. It's not easy to explain, and I don't fully understand her, having not been there, but this idea of the lack of permanence has really affected her, and it's like she can't trust things - anything - to last. So don't make a commitment, because it might end. Don't make promises you may not be able to keep. It's almost like she's no longer standing on solid ground, and she's so unsure of everything - and also still dealing with what she discovered early on. It's so heartbreaking to see her like this, even after all she's done. She wants Harvey, she loves Harvey, but she is so full of fear.
I really enjoyed this book, even if I didn't like Alice and how she treated people. I could, in some respects, understand her if not agree with her. Side Effects May Vary was a really interesting and engaging book, and I'm so looking forward to reading whatever Julie Murphy writes next.
Thank you to Harper 360 for the review copy....more
When I first heard about If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, I was so eager to read it. A YA novel featuriOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
When I first heard about If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, I was so eager to read it. A YA novel featuring a trans protagonist by an #OwnVoices author? Sold! And it was such a good story!
Amanda Hardy has moved in with her father to start a new life at a new school, after years of bullying and abuse. Now she can be herself without worrying how people react; here, they will only ever have known her as Amanda. She quickly makes friends and even starts dating a guy, but how much of her past should she tell them? For Amanda was once known as Andrew. As she gets to know and trust the new people in her life, the more Amanda wonders about whether or not she wants to tell them she's a transsexual, but her father continually warns her to be careful. She tries to, but the closer she gets to her boyfriend Grant, the more she wants him to really know her. But secrets don't stay secret for long. How will her new friends and boyfriend react when they discover the truth?
If I Was Your Girl is such a great story! Amanda is such a strong and brave character; she's had to go through so much just to get to the point where she feels she can be herself, but life doesn't stop being complicated once she's living the life she was always meant to. If I Was Your Girl is written mostly in the present day, but there are a number of scenes from back when Amanda was Andrew, showing us what her life was like before, the abuse she had to suffer, the hopelessness she felt, the certainty that no-one, including her parents, would want her if they knew the truth. We also get to see how things change once she receives the help she so desperately needs, and is able to begin transitioning with the support of such wonderful people. That's the story we're used to when it comes to YA novels with a trans protagonist, but If I Was Your Girl, for the most part, tells us Amanda's story after her transition is complete. Russo states in her author's note to cisgender readers that, "I have taken liberties with what I know to be reality. I have fictionalized things to make them work for my story. [...] [Amanda] had a surgery that her family should not have been able to afford, and she started hormones through legitimate channels before she probably could have in the real world."* (p299-300) Amanda probably wouldn't have had completed her transition by 18 in real life, but I still feel it's important to have this story. The story of life for a trans person after transition. Although Amanda's story isn't reflective of every trans person's story of transition, I think it's important for trans teens to see what life could be like.
Even though her transition is complete, and - being straight, feminine and a trans woman who passes - Amanda now has things fairly easy for the most part, there are still difficulties ahead. She struggles with how much to tell the people she now loves. She wants to share something so important about herself with these people who are so important to her, but she's so terrified about how they will react. She knows from before just how cruel and violent people can be when they know the truth, and doesn't want to not only lose the new people in her life, but lose the life she currently has; with passing so easily, no-one has any clue about Amanda's past, so as long as no-one knows, she can simply be. Life at her new school could be so different if people knew she's transsexual, and right now, her life is going so well - it's the life she always wanted.
I'm not going to talk much more about the plot, because I don't want to spoil things, but this is such a beautiful and moving story. Amanda is such an incredible character, and I loved everything about her; her strength, her bravery, her acceptance and love of herself. There is such a beautiful, gorgeous scene where Amanda comes to love the body she is in, a scene where she realises this body she has hated for so long is a body that can bring her such joy. It's completely wonderful! My only issue with the book is that Grant felt a little two-dimensional to me; he has his own story and background, but personality-wise, he felt to me like the cookie-cutter nice guy. He felt flat and unbelievable to me, which is a shame as his and Amanda's romance is a pretty major focus of the story. But the rest of the story is incredible, so I can forgive it!
If I Was Your Girl is an amazing, important story, and one I highly recommend!
Content Warning: This book contains scenes of sexual assault and a failed suicide attempt.
*Please not that I have read a proof of If I Was Your Girl, so this quote may not have made it to the finished copy.
Having recently finished watching 13 Reasons Why, I've been wanting to re-read the book. But, having a book blog, I tend to feel a little guilty about re-reads. So when I was browsing my shelves, I noticed The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu, and remembered the two were similar in that they had bullying at the of the stories. It's such a thought-provoking story, and so incredibly important.
What's great about this book is that it's told from the perspective of other people, and show just how rumours can happen and get out of control. There's Elaine, the most popular girl in the year, who held the party in which Alice supposedly slept two two guys, Brandon Fitzsimmons and Tommy Cray; Kelsie, Alice's former best friend, Josh, Brandon's best friend who was in the car with him during the accident, and Kurt, outcast genius who lives next to Brandon's family. Alice is semi-popular, and while Elaine has tolerated her, she's had a problem with her since eighth grade, when she found her and Brandon kissing in the coat closet at a school dance, a dance she went to with Brandon. Before moving to Healy, Kelsie was a misfit at her previous school, but now she's semi-popular. She doesn't want to be the girl she was before, and doesn't want Alice's reputation to drag her down. Josh not only survived the crash, he saw what led to it; he's the one who tells Brandon's mum that Brandon was distracted by the sexual texts Alice was sending him. Kurt has always fancied Alice, and doesn't care about the rumours; he just wants to help her.
All four have their own story to tell, have their own thing that they're dealing with. For some, it's partially covered by what's said above, but for others it's not. But each person, in some way - and not always in the way you expect - has had a hand in how Alice is being treated now. But, like with 13 Reasons Why, the story shows how something small, like telling someone something about someone else, can have a snowball effect and ruin someone's life. I was bothered mostly by Kelsie; she was Alice's best friend for crying out loud, but she was jealous of her, and far too scared of becoming the outsider again, that she dumps her friend without a second thought. Sure, she misses her, but she believes everything she hears, she judges her, and can't bear the thought that being friends with her will affect her social status. She is such a coward. And sure, she's not had the best time, but that is absolutely no excuse for how disgustingly she treats Alice. God, I can't stand her. She may not have caused Alice to get bullied in the first place, but Alice needs her, and she turns away. The other three do varying levels of terrible things, and they're all, in part, to blame for what Alice is going through, and it's just awful.
The Truth About Alice is really short, at 199 pages, so there's not a huge amount more I can say without spoiling the story. I do want to say that I'm pretty sure Josh is gay, but I don't think he's admitted it to himself yet. I say "pretty sure", but really, I'd say he definitely is gay, but that's just my interpretation of what I've read. It's hinted at throughout his chapters, though he never actually comes out and says it. But by the end of the book, I think it's pretty clear that he is as far as I'm concerned, and that his sexuality is a major reason behind what he does to Alice. And although there's a part of me that thinks for this day and age, we need someone's sexuality to be more than hinted at, I think the story may have possibly played out a little differently if Josh had already admitted it to himself.
There's one final thing I want to say about this book, about just how incredibly important it is, but it's a major spoiler, so don't click the button if you don't want the book spoilt for you.
As I was reading, chapter after chapter, the more certain I became that I knew how the story would end. Like Hannah in 13 Reasons Why, I thought the bullying would become too much for Alice, and she would kill herself. She didn't. Whether she ever entertained ideas of doing so, we don't know, as only the final chapter is from her perspective. But in Kurt, she made a friend, a real friend, who genuinely cared about her, with the potential for more, and his friendship mattered. It made things easier. I don't know if things would have been different if she didn't have Kurt, but what I think is more important is that I thought she would commit suicide. I think it's really, really sad that that's what I thought would happen to her, like that was her only option. When of course it's not, and I don't think it should be. But for the "drama" of the story, I thought that's how it would end - as if it was a trope. But I think it shows just how important this book is, though. Alice doesn't die. Alice is experiencing hell at school, and she's still got another year until she finishes, but there is never any indication that she wants to give up on life. And maybe it's down to Kurt, and maybe it's not, maybe it's not something Alice has or ever would consider, we don't know as we only get the one chapter from her perspective, but I still think it's important that readers see that someone can experience such terrible bullying, but carry on. And keep going. And find someone to talk to. That being bullied doesn't have to mean the end. And for that, I am so, so glad this story exists.
The one negative is that there is use of the word "retarded" once in the book, by Kelsie, in regards to how she feels Alice is talking to her. I don't approve of ableist language being used, but in this case, I think it shows the kind of person she is, so it felt realistic. Saying that, there are other words, different language that could be used to show how awful Kelsie is - and her actions speak pretty loudly anyway, so it's not really necessary. It's used in her narration, rather than in dialogue, so it's never challenged. I do think it was realistic for the character, but to not have it challenged makes me uncomfortable.
A really quick but powerful read. It will open your eyes, it will make you think, and it will make you question all you hear. And it might make you reach out a hand to someone who is being bullied. Such a wonderful book, I highly recommend it....more
I bought Modern Monsters by Kelley York a few months back, and actually forgot certain details mentioned in the description; I thought it was about a girl making a false rape claim, when it's not that book at all. Despite not being what I expected, I was still hoping Modern Monsters would be a great book. Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed.
Vic is the nice, quiet guy. The guy with a conscience. When, at a party he didn't want to go to, he sees a highly intoxicated Callie throwing up outside, barely able to hold herself up, he can't just leave her to it. He helps her inside, takes her up to an empty bedroom, helps her into bed and puts a bin by the bed in case she needs to be sick again. Then he leaves. A few days later, Vic is arrested for rape. Callie was attacked at the party after Vic left, but Vic is the last person she remembers seeing - in the bedroom. When news gets out that Vic is the prime suspect, suddenly everyone knows who he is, hurling abuse and threats of violence his way, in and out of school. Vic knows he didn't do it, someone else did, and Callie needs justice just as much as he needs his name cleared. A tentative alliance if formed between him and Callie's best friend Autumn, and together they're determined to find the truth - and for Autumn, that's even if it is Vic. But as clues come to light, the two find that the truth might be even harder to believe.
Most of the books I've read for Sex in Teen Lit Month II covering rape and rape culture have been about disbelieving the victim about her attack and glorifying the accused, so I thought it would be interesting to look at a book where the accused didn't actually rape anyone. What is it like to be accused of rape, but be completely innocent of the crime? Vic is such a great character, because he really is a great guy. He is astounded when he's arrested for Callie's rape, but he doesn't just worry about what this means for him, he worries about Callie; she's been through this terrible ordeal, which is bad enough, but he knows they're going after the wrong guy. It's not just the fact that he might go down for it that upsets him, it's that if he does, Callie could walk right past her actual rapist and not know it, and they get off scot-free. I'd say he's more concerned for Callie and what she's going through than he is for himself, and that really made me warm to him, as is shown here when he undergoes an examination before being questioned by the police:
'Is this where they brought Callie, then? Did they shove her into one of these uncomfortable gowns and subject her to being prodded at. My chest constricts at the thought. How does someone even begin to process being violated and then having to spread her legs to let a doctor poke around?' (p20)
What I found interesting about Modern Monsters, in comparison to the other books on rape I've read for the event, is that most people tend to believe her. There's some victim blaming, but they generally tend to believe that Vic did do it. I suppose the fact that he's quiet and unpopular makes it "easier" to believe he did it than it would for star football players, but other than his best friend Brett, Brett's parents, and his boss Amjad, no-one believes he's innocent. Even his mother thinks he's guilty. It's terrible to see the violence suffered and the worse violence that is threatened. It really gets kind of sinister in places, a group of guys waiting for him outside his workplace, it's quite scary. However, the focus of the story is less on what he suffers, but on finding out the truth with Autumn, and the relationship between them as the story progresses.
And that's where I had to suspend disbelief. I don't understand how a girl who believes a guy raped her best friend could then go and looking for the "truth" with that guy. So we as readers know Vic didn't do it, but at the beginning, Autumn believes he does. If you have that belief, why are you even allowing him to be anywhere near you?! There's a point when Callie starts getting some other memories, nothing clear, but something that makes her think perhaps Vic didn't rape her, but she's not positive of that, and Vic isn't officially cleared from the investigation until the end of the book, so I just don't understand how Autumn would put herself at such risk. Sure, she comes to believe he didn't do it, but that's only through spending time with him and looking for who might have. She still fully believed he did it when they first start looking into things. And I can't understand her thinking. I really can't. But putting that disbelief aside and just forgetting about it, I really enjoyed Autumn and Vic together. Autumn is strong and feisty, such a great friend, and so determined to find out the truth. She's so different from Vic, and her boldness with Vic's shyness was just really sweet. She's also pretty smart in some ways too, but at times I just wish they went to the police. I don't know if the outcome would have turned out the same if it did, but I feel they took some huge risks that were potentially dangerous.
I worked out who Callie's actual rapist was fairly early on - or at least suspected before being positive. And when we get the big reveal is where I have my main problem with this story. I can't talk about it without spoiling the story, so don't click below if you've yet to read this book and don't want it spoiled for you.
(view spoiler)[So we find out the rapist is Brett. Vic has confronted him, and we find out that Patrick, who was in on it has gone to the police. Unable to deal with the fact that his best friend did this, was willing to let him go down for it, and that Brett's lawyer father, who was defending Vic, knew the truth and chose to protect his son, Vic leaves. And later, he finds out that Brett botches a suicide attempt and is left in a coma. WHAT THE HELL?! I was so, SO mad at York for doing this. Sure, Brett had a bright future ahead of him and he worked so hard for it, and he couldn't face that all going wrong for him because of a "drunken mistake", but what?! In real life, conviction rates for rape are SO low, and those who actually come forward and report that they have been raped is actually just a small percentage of those who are actually raped. So York has written this story where the rape has been reported, and the truth has come out... and the rapist STILL gets out of serving time by trying to commit suicide. It just felt so cruel and unfair to me that, with conviction rates so low generally, York wrote her rapist out of serving for his crime. He should have gone down. He would have gone down. And I think it would have been good for people to see that, to read it, even for rape survivors - sometimes they do get justice. Sure, perhaps Modern Monsters does have a potentially realistic ending, but it also had the potential to give readers some hope. And, in my opinion, it dashed that. And I'm so disappointed. (hide spoiler)]
Despite my problems with the end of this book, overall, it's not a bad book. I would have liked to have seen more of how Vic suffered due to other people believing he did it, and maybe Autumn being a little smarter, but it was still mostly an enjoyable read. But the ending just ruined it for me, sadly.
Have you read Modern Monsters? What did you think of the book as a whole, and the ending?...more
I think we can all agree that Twitter is a wonderful thing. If it wasn't for a retweet of a retweet of a tweOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I think we can all agree that Twitter is a wonderful thing. If it wasn't for a retweet of a retweet of a tweet about Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, I wouldn't have heard about the book when I did, I wouldn't have gone to NetGalley to request it, I wouldn't have been accepted, and I wouldn't have reviewed Firsts for Sex in Teen Lit Month II. I'm so glad I did see that twice retweeted tweet, because this book is amazing!
Mercedes has come up with an idea to help the female virgins in her school: she will have sex with their virginal boyfriends and show them exactly what to do and how, and what to say, so that when they have sex with their girlfriends, the girls will get the perfect first time. Not only does she show them what to do during the act of having sex, but she helps them plan the perfect night leading up to it. All she asks is that they keep it to themselves, unless there's another virgin who needs her help. The guys are so grateful that someone will show them how, someone who has no expectations of them, they're practically queueing up to learn from her. But the number of virgins is racking up, though, to more than Mercedes expected, and she's starting to have trouble justifying her good-deeds. Who is she doing this for? How is she going to deal with her best friend's boyfriend, Charlie, wanting a go? And why is she so put off by the idea of something more than sex from Zach, her Wednesday hook-up lunch date?
This book! Oh my god, I can't tell you how good this is! When I first read the description of the book, I couldn't really understand how Mercedes could believe what she was doing was a good idea: she's sleeping with other girls' boyfriends! This is not on! But when reading the book, you can really understand her motivation. Her own first time was as awful as it could be, and she just wants to make sure other girls have a better memory than she does. At first, she truly believes that she's doing something good. She feels good about herself afterwards, because she's helping people out; she knows these girls are going to have as good an experience as possible, because of her advice. She likes that she's able to help them. But at the same time, as you're reading you're still thinking, "Ok, Mercedes, I get where you're coming from... but this is not ok. You can't have sex with other people's boyfriends, no matter what your intentions! This is all going to backfire on you!"
The thing is, Mercedes has her issues. There is the experience of her own first time, which we're not told much about for most of the story. There are subtle hints here and there about what happened, but not enough to be sure. I had several theories that I would go back and forth on, one of which was the correct one, but by the time I twigged that was definitely what happened before it's outright said, I had already settled on another theory. Then there's her relationship with her mother, who is constantly chasing youth and the next man. Kim is all about botox, dieting, dressing for men, and she's hardly ever around. I could understand Mercedes dislike of her, but I think there was a lack of communication going on. Kim is clueless, and gives Mercedes all the wrong advice, but I did feel like she actually cared, even if she was misguided about what was right for Mercedes, which in her opinion had to do with guys. When Kim does realise that Mercedes is having different guys over, she almost seems to approve, which is the opposite of what Mercedes wants from her mother. Because of all her issues, Mercedes just wants to control her life.
Which is part of the reason she keeps pushing Zach away. Oh, Zach! He was just the nicest, sweetest guy, and he's so into Mercedes, but she keeps pushing her way. She is only interested in his body, and doesn't like him touching her during the act in any way that is to personal or intimate. She must have control of this area. She cannot be with Zach, or anyone else. She is not going to have some walk out on her again. This way, she calls the shots, she has the power, she is in control. Just the way she likes it.
But when new girl Faye starts school, who is drop dead gorgeous, and so wants to be Mercedes friend, Mercedes has a problem. Because now Zach is looking at Faye the way he used to look at her. And she does not like it one bit. She doesn't want him, but no-one else can have him either. And Faye... she tries so hard to make friends with Mercedes, but she's just not having any of it for a good while. Another person who wants to be let in. She just doesn't have the mental space for either of them. It's almost like she can't afford to care. But things start happening that give Mercedes cause to pause; although Faye enjoys Zach's attention and seems to be interested too, she's also flirting with Mercedes. Or is she? What's with all the touching? And what's with getting so close? And why is Mercedes not sure whether she wants Faye to step back or get closer? This is a really interesting part of the story, because for a lot of it, I had no idea where it was going to go. Is Mercedes bi, maybe? Or perhaps she's just questioning because it's new, and she's never had a girl seem to take interest in her? Will it be Faye? Will it be Zach? Will it be someone else entirely? Will it be no-one? I HAD NO CLUE! And I seriously loved it! It's a real treat when you're reading a book and you really have no real theories of what's lying ahead. It was the same with Mercedes' own experience of losing her virginity, I just wasn't sure what would turn out actually happened. And it was so refreshing to be guessing the whole time! That's the norm for mysteries, not for contemporaries/romances! This story is so unpredictable, it's wonderful!
There's more I could talk about in regards to the plot, but I'm worried about spoiling things, and this review is also quite long, and I really want to talk about the sexual aspect of the story, now. It was never graphic; some things are described, but not in huge detail, and most of the time it felt so clinical. Mercedes sleeping with these virgins was not about her own sexual pleasure. For most of the guys, she didn't get any pleasure from it at all, it was about giving pointers. Zach is the only person to have got her off, as she puts it, which is probably half the reason she keeps having sex with him; this time it's about pleasure and control. But even in the few sex scenes with Zach, it still feels kind of clinical, and I think that's because emotionally, Mercedes is just not there. It feels different from other books with no-strings sex, and I think this is to do with Mercedes issues. It's not just about purely physical pleasure, it's about control, and I think she gets more from the control aspect of sex than she does from Zach making her feel good. When things between them get difficult later, and Zach actually wants to talk to her and have conversations about things, Mercedes response is to try to turn him on and get him to have sex with her. She can't do real talk. Sex is what she understands, sex is where she has the power.
This book also had some really interesting to say about virginity. Mercedes talks about how for girls, it's expected that their first time is meant to be this important thing they give to someone when they feel ready, after conversations with friends and she's finally comfortable to do so, but for guys, they're expected to always be ready, and know what they're doing, and make sure they're gentle and give their girlfriends a magical experience, when that's just not going to happen because they're also scared.
There was one small thing I had an issue with though; Mercedes is with one of the virgins and she's straddling him while topless when she asks what he would say to his girlfriend in this position, and he responds that he would tell her she's beautiful, and ask if he could touch her boobs. Mercedes tells him that he should always tell her she's beautiful, but he should never ask to do something. Instead, he should be bold, because confidence should be faked until he is confident. But this set off alarms for me; of course he should ask! Consent is required! I think it's really crappy advice, and it's better to ask maybe a couple of times - not necessarily if he's allowed, but if she's wants him to. "Is this ok? Are you happy for us to go further?" - asking that would be awesome, and you know, would not only make her feel more at ease with saying "no" if that's the case, but also prevent sexual assault. Just because she said yes at the start, doesn't mean it's yes the whole way through, or that she won't change her mind. "Never ask" is just so wrong. And I seriously cannot believe how Mercedes would think asking permission to go forward, asking if she's comfortable, would be a bad thing. Not only do I think it's wrong, but I don't think it's true to the character, either.
But overall, Firsts is a really awesome book, and a fantastic debut novel! I'm really excited to see what the rest of you think when it's released in January. I'm looking forward to seeing what else Flynn writes in future!
Thank you to St. Martin's Griffin via NetGalley for the eProof....more
I can't remember how I stumbled across What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler, but when I did, I didn't waste any timOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I can't remember how I stumbled across What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler, but when I did, I didn't waste any time pre-ordering the eBook. Not only was it the perfect fit for Sex Crimes in YA within my Sex in Teen Lit Month II event, but it also sounded really fascinating; a novel about rape culture, told from the perspective of someone not directly involved in the rape, but an acquaintance of both the victim and those accused. This book has got to be one of the most incredible books on rape and rape culture I have ever read.
When Kate goes to a house party, she gets very drunk very quickly and has to leave early. Over the next few days she hears rumours about how Stacey, a class mate she'd shared shots with, was completely wasted and all over the guys. Then a photo emerges of her, unconscious, dangled over the shoulder of one of the school's star basketball players, without her top on. The very next day, rape charges are filed against four guys in school. Everyone is livid; how dare she? These guys' futures are on the line! The school's chances at the basketball tournament they're due to play in are low without them! Why'd she get so drunk, wear revealing clothing and chase them if she didn't want it? She's a liar; a slut who regretted it later. Kate can't help but feel ill at ease with the scorn felt for Stacey and the support for the boys accused. She was very drunk that night, would she have deserved it? Kate is desperate to know the truth, because she doesn't know what to think, but "the closer you look, the more you see," and once you've seen, you can't un-see.
This book is amazing! Seriously, I cannot begin to tell you just how incredible this book is. It was so interesting having the story told from Kate's perspective, because she gets to be right amidst rape culture in action, rather than hearing it second hand, like a victim who's avoiding it all might. It's so much more shocking to see Kate in conversations with her class mates, and hear what they're saying. I was so unbelievably angry the whole way through this book, but also thinking, "YES!" the whole time, because Hartzler shows us exactly what people are like. Even more, he holds up a mirror to us, showing us our own behaviour, our own thoughts, how terrible we as people can be.
What We Saw was inspired by the same real case as Louise O'Neill's Asking For It; the Steubenville Case. The general, basic plots are almost identical; a girl goes to a party wearing revealing clothing, gets extremely drunk, and comes on to the guys at the party (though I should state in What We Saw, it's not clear exactly whether Stacey came on to anyone, there are just rumours that she did). The difference is the perspective; the rape victim, Emma, in Asking For It, and an acquaintance of all involved, Kate, in What We Saw – and this difference makes these two stories so incredibly different.
What's wonderful with Kate being the narrator is it's easy to imagine being her; just a teenage student who went to a party held by school mates, a student who hears rumours about what happened later that night when back at school. It's an easy situation to imagine, most of us have probably been there. But by having this story narrated by Kate and not the victim Stacey, Hartzler has you asking questions of yourself about what you'd think or what you would do in her position. Who would you believe? Would you question? Would you worry about your own safety that night? Would you ask "what ifs" about if you hadn't been taken home when you were, if you stayed being as drunk as you were, could it have been you instead? Would you go with the crowd, the school, the community in supporting the town's star basketball players that are finally going to take your team far, because it's easier, or would you ask questions? Even though it has nothing to do with you? Even though you weren't there? Even though it doesn't affect you? Or does it? Can you live with not being sure? Live with possibly being around rapists? What would you do in Kate's position? It's so affective going along with Kate and asking yourself the questions she asks herself, watching her go back and forth, but always really uncomfortable about the whole situation, and feeling that something isn't right, but she doesn't know, she wasn't there! It's just amazing!
I read this on my Kindle, and thinking of this review, I bookmarked pages I wanted to quote. Looking back now, I have thirty-eight bookmarks. Thirty-eight. That's how awesome this book is, I want to just quote the whole bloody thing to you! You must go read it, you must! But I will share with you just a few quotes to show just how brilliant it is. Kate is out shopping for a dress for the Spring Fling with her three friends Rachel, Christy and Lindsey.
'"Whose side are you on?" Christy asks. "I mean, Dooney and Deacon are morons, sure. But they’re our morons. They’re not animals." "I know, I know," Rachel says. "It's just... why are we automatically assuming the guys are the ones telling the truth?" Christy’s eyes go wide. "Excuse me? Did you see the skirt Stacey was wearing at that party? I have washcloths made of more fabric." [...] "Wait," Lindsey says. "Just because she's wearing skimpy clothes means what she's lying about those guys forcing themselves on her?" "Whoa, whoa, whoa," says Christy. "It's Stacey's word against theirs. She's accusing them." Christy settles on a pair of platform shoes and turns to address me and Lindsey. "Look, this is not rocket science. It's common sense. If you don't want to work a guy into a lather, keep your cooch covered up." [...] "I just don't believe Dooney and Deacon would have sex with a girl who told them no," Christy says. "They could be with any girl they want. They're not that stupid." "What if she didn’t tell them no because she couldn't?" Lindsey asks quietly. "What if she was too drunk to say anything?" Christy shrugs. "And whose fault is that?"' (38-39%)
What We Saw is also an extremely feminist novel too, in other areas away from the rape, which just had me cheering. The following is an exchange between Kate and Lindsey after Kate discovers her brother Will has been rating girls photos on Facebook.
'"Will acted like I was a huge wet blanket because I didn't want him ranking girls in his class. It was like I was this big..." I search for the right word. "Bitch?" Lindsey asks. It stings even coming from her mouth. "Yeah," I say. "I just want him to be a good guy, you know?" [...] "What bothered me most was how Will didn't get it. He didn't understand why I was upset that he was telling these girls they don't measure up. He acts like he has some natural right to tell them they should look a certain way. Why? Because he's a dude?" “"It's not just your brother." Lindsey stand up and stretches her arms above her head. "Seen Hardee's commercial lately? The whole planet is wired that way." We walk to our cars, and when I tell Lindsey I'll see her on Monday, she hugs me. She's not much of a hugger. I smile. "What was that for?" "For being somebody who cares about this stuff," she says. "Not many people around her do."' (63%)
And What We Saw also had me questions my thoughts on Grease, after Kate goes to see the school's production.
'Which is why I say the music is a problem: It's so good that you forget the plot. You forget that "Summer Lovin'" is the story of how hot and heavy Sandy and Danny got before school started. You forget that after exaggerating to the T-Birds how far they went "under the dock," Danny basically blows Sandy off. You forget that later, he tries to get her to have sex in his car when she doesn't want to. You forget that at the end of the show, Sandy gives in. Sure, Danny makes that half-assed attempt to join the track team, but you can tell he doesn't really mean it. Nobody at Rydell High expects him to change. For that matter, no one in the audience expects him to either. It's a funny part that we all laugh at. How ridiculous! Boys don't change for girls. We all expect Sandy to do the changing. And after she flees the drive-in movie when Danny pressures her to go farther than she wants to? Twenty minutes later, she shows up at the Burger Palace in skintight pants and a low-cut shirt. Her hair is huge, and she's wearing tons of makeup. She becomes exactly the person Danny Zuko wants her to be. She makes herself into the version of the girls that he's decided are attractive. She doesn't ask him why he has the power to decide what she should look like. She doesn't say, "Okay. Yes, I'll go have sex with you now." She doesn't have to. [...] By curtain call, this music has made you forget the whole point of the plot—the takeaway of this entire story—which is that Sandy decides that what Danny wants is more important than what she wants.' (68-69%)
I think that might be enough, but you get the picture, right? This book is amazing!
This might just be the best YA novel I've read on rape and rape culture, because you're confronted with it almost non-stop, with very little let-up. There's no hiding from it, Hartzler make you face the world we live in, some of the darkest parts of the humanity, and forces you to look at yourself – can you see yourself in these disgusting people? I cannot recommend this book enough. Everyone needs to read What We Saw, and ask themselves these tough questions....more
Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard is a novel I was really excited to read when I first heard of it. AOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard is a novel I was really excited to read when I first heard of it. A story of strong female friendship, but also of self-destructive behaviour! But unfortunately, I was a little disappointed.
Caddy and Rosie have been best friends since they were young children, and going to different secondary schools hasn't changed their friendship. But when Suzanne moves to the area and becomes friends with Rosie, Caddy starts to get jealous. Suzanne is beautiful and exciting, a better match for interesting Rosie than she is, and Caddy resents their friendship, and how suddenly it's now Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne rather than just the two of them. When Suzanne reveals the reason she moved is because she was being physically abused by her step dad, Caddy softens towards her; she's had a tough time and is trying to make friends and move forward, not steal friends. Once Caddy starts to get to know Suzanne better, she realises how fun Suzanne is. Soon the two are spending time away from Rosie, sneaking out and taking risks. But Suzanne is still struggling to deal with what happened to her, and Caddy's attempts to help seem to lead the two into more trouble. But how can Caddy turn her back on Suzanne when she's the only one who seems to be on her side?
Beautiful Broken Things is the story of the strong bonds of friendship, but also of how abuse physical leaves more damage than just broken bones and bruises. Although Suzanne is now away from her abusive step dad, she's still suffering with the mental effects of the abuse. The feeling that she wasn't good enough, how it went on for years and no-one really helped her - not her mother, and her older brother did what he could, but he was only young himself, and wonders why her step dad, the only dad she's ever known, didn't love her. There's so much pain and sadness in her, she acts out in an attempt to escape it, to distract her from what she feels, to feel something other than all this pain. Although Caddy knows about Suzanne's problems, she doesn't really know how to help her. She's young herself, and thinks being on Suzanne's side and supporting her is what Suzanne needs, not realising she's only enabling her, helping her along her path of self-destruction.
I feel the description for Beautiful Broken Things is a little misleading. It makes out that together Caddy and Suzanne get up to more dangerous, "exciting" things than they do. There are two instances, which I won't spoil, that are pretty shocking, but otherwise, nothing out of the ordinary. Sure, I don't want teenagers sneaking out their house to walk the streets in the early hours of the morning, but unfortunately, it's not unheard of, teenagers put themselves through these risks all the time. There's a lot less of Caddy being brave and Suzanne being reckless actually on the page that you'd expect. There are more conversations through which you see Suzanne's attitude that you see how Suzanne's experiences have affected her, more than actual page time to getting up to "trouble". It's more about the friendship.
The subject matter is hard and difficult to read about, and it left me with a heavy heart. However, I wasn't as emotionally invested in the story as I would have liked, and the reason for this is Caddy. Caddy narrates the story, but I couldn't care less about her; I didn't like her, I didn't dislike her, I wasn't interested in her or her narration. I would have much preferred the book to be narrated by Rosie or Suzanne herself, but if it was, it would be a completely different story; the events might be the same, but we would see it from a different point of view. Caddy and Suzanne's friendship ends up stronger than Rosie and Suzanne's, there are things Rosie doesn't know, events she's absent from, and how she reacts to Suzanne's behaviour is completely different. As I said at the beginning, this is as much a story about friendship as it is about recovering from abuse, so we need Caddy's narration for how deep their friendship goes as it develops and for how hard she tries to help Suzanne, despite helping in the wrong way. Her narration is needed for this particular story. Unfortunately, she's just not a character that brought out any real emotion in me.
Beautiful Broken Things is hugely important, a book that will open conversation that's needed, and one I'm sure is going to be a novel that many will love. A really interesting novel that will open eyes and get people talking.
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books for the proof....more
I really liked the sound of All of the Above by James Dawson when I first heard about it, but I was also a lOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I really liked the sound of All of the Above by James Dawson when I first heard about it, but I was also a little wary. I really didn't like Hollow Pike, Dawson's debut novel, and wasn't a fan of his writing style, so I was worried I might not like this one two. Fortunately, I enjoyed All of the Above more than thought, but I was still left a little disappointed.
Toria moves to Brompton-on-Sea with her family when her dad gets a new job. Worried about making new friends and fitting in at her new school, Toria felt awkward, but she shouldn't have. She is quickly embraced by a group of "alternative" kids, and finally finds her place among them. But finding a place is the least of all Toria's problems as she deals with what life throws at her in her first year at Brompton.
There is a lot going on in All of the Above, so to say it's a story about any one thing would be wrong. It's about everything; moving to a new town, making new friends, romance, mental health issues, sexuality, protesting, exam pressure, family problems, and so on. Rather than feeling like it's too much, it's not as overwhelming as you'd think. All of the Above feels like a very realistic snapshot into a year in Toria's life. No-one ever has just one thing going on, there are all sorts to deal with, and that's how this book is presented.
'Now, I appreciate you might be thinking that this is all a bit issues galore and mega emo. Well, sorry, but that was what happened. It would be neater, wouldn't it, if this was a story about self-harm or sexuality or eating disorders or drunk mums or ridiculously hot bass players, but it's a story about all of them. Yeah it's a mess. And it's about to get messier if you'll bear with me. That's the way it is sometimes - nothing's ever neat and tidy.' (p107)
If I had to narrow it down, I would say it's a story of friendship and finding your place. You'll notice I didn't say sexuality. And that's where this book disappointed me, because I was expecting a story about a girl questioning her sexuality, or discovering she's bisexual, or the fluidity of sexuality, one of these things in one way or another. And it is, but it's a subplot. It's one subplot among many subplots. There's no main focus. So, although there are hints, a few small bits and pieces along the way, Toria's questioning of and thinking about her sexuality doesn't really come into the foreground until maybe the last quarter of the book. And I was sold on this book being about sexuality. The fact that it's not the main focus of the book isn't a bad thing, it's just that the description from Goodreads above, the blurb on the book, even the title, they all make it out to be that kind of novel, and it isn't. All of the Above isn't the book I was expecting.
Saying that, this is a hugely diverse and intersectional novel. Toria is biracial - half English, half Indian, and questions her sexuality. Nico is of Italian descent. Of the new friends Toria makes, Daisy is asexual and has mental health issues, Beasley is gay, Zoë is a black lesbian, Alice is Asian, and Polly has a fluid sexuality and mental health issues. Huge props to Dawson for this; it's just so brilliant that there is such a diverse cast of characters! I'd like to talk about Polly and her sexuality here, because I think she's a character we don't see very often. Polly has had romantic and sexual relationships with boys and she's had romantic and sexual relationships with girls, but Polly does not identify as bisexual, and I think it's important to point this out. Do not put a label on her, she doesn't want them. That's not how she identifies. I could be wrong myself in saying she has a fluid sexuality, because that's not something she states herself. She just likes people.
'"You're bisexual?" [Polly] scowled in distaste. "Bitch, please. Labels are for **** you buy in shops."' (p117)
'"[...]Have you always fancied girls?" I asked, sipping on my now tepid coffee. "I didn't know you weren't supposed to. I never had brothers so I was like nine before I realised boys and girls were even different." "Wow." "No, I think it's a good thing. I don't think we are different. I don't see penises or vaginas, I see hot people or not hot people. It's pretty ******* easy if you ask me." [...] "I don't know why people find it so hard to believe. I find different things sexy. Like with Nico, for example, it was his dimples, his teeth, his arms. With you it was your lips." [...] "But do you see what I mean? I don't think I could ever say 'Oh I fancy this about girls' or I fancy this about boys' because boys don't all look the same and neither do girls.And they're very different in bed. Different but good." (p152-153)
All asterisks are in the actual novel. I think it's awesome to have this fluidity of sexuality represented, because not everyone does identity as bisexual or pansexual or any of the other labels. Straight cis-gendered people need to see that everyone can or wants to be pigeon holed.
As awesome as it is to see Polly discussing her sexuality, I felt a little let down by Daisy. Daisy's asexuality is brought up once:
'"What about you? I asked. "Who are you into?" It occurred to me that Daisy hadn't once mentioned a guy - or a girl - in that way. "Who's on the Daisy Weekes crush list?" Daisy looked me dead in the eye and said, "No one. I am asexual." "What?" She said it in the same way I say, "I'm a Capricorn." She held by gaze. "Are you for real?" I'm not a Tumblr virgin, I know all about asexuality, but I couldn't work out if she was kidding or not. Daisy being Daisy, she simply smiled. "Yes. I don't want to have sex with anyone just now, thank you very much." And that was that.' (p55)
And that really is that. It's not mentioned again. There are so few YA novels with asexual characters, I would have liked perhaps a little more of Daisy talking about it. Toria might "know all about asexuality", but readers of this book might not. I think it could slightly lead to misunderstanding, which I think would mean asexual people are mis-represented; not wanting to have sex "just now" could confuse people about what it means to be asexual. From what I've read and understand - and I could be wrong in my understanding so don't take what I say as gospel - there's no "right" way to be asexual; some asexuals may never have sex at all, whereas some might. There's a lot more to it than that, but I don't trust my memory or understanding enough to go into it further. This would have been a prime opportunity to help readers understand a little more what it means to be asexual, and represent asexual characters better... it's not what I would have hoped. I hate to say it, but, although there's more to her, it's almost like Daisy is the token asexual character when it comes to sexuality. I don't think that's so great.
There's also another girl in the group, Freya, who's story I had a problem with. I don't like how it was left. I don't want to spoil the story, but there's one conversation between Toria and Freya about this specific topic, and that's it, it's just left. I felt there should have been more about her as a character, and have more people involved in that conversation. To be just left like that seemed unfair, to everyone involved, and to Freya's character.
I have to say, there was an emotional disconnect for me throughout the book. I didn't much care about any of the characters or what happened to them. There was a moment of sadness for me, but only a moment. I just wasn't emotionally engaged with these characters. So that, the representation of Daisy's asexuality and the issue with Freya, along with this book not being about what I expected, left me disappointed. But in all, it's an ok, realistic story. I think there are a lot of people who would enjoy it.
Thank you to Hot Key Books for the review copy. ...more