One of the things I always want to see more of in YA is the transition to university or the world of work, that first step that teens take into the grOne of the things I always want to see more of in YA is the transition to university or the world of work, that first step that teens take into the grown up world. As a teen I desperately wanted to read books where the characters were on the same journey I was, other than the Sweet Valley University series I had to rely primarily on tv – seeing the characters from Buffy and Dawson’s Creek go to university answered lots of questions I had. When I heard about this book it sounded exactly the sort of book I’d wanted to read.
Roomies is the story of two teen girls in the summer before they start college. They are assigned as roommates and given each other’s contact details so they can get in touch before they meet face to face. The book starts with the arrival of this room assignment, and follows the girls through the summer as they email back and forth.
The book is about this exchange of emails and the gradual getting to know each other process but it’s about far more than that two. The chapters switch back and forward between Elizabeth, known as EB, and Lauren – each contains the next email in the conversation but also shows us what’s going on in their lives. Both girls come from different situations; different locations, different family structures, different dating experiences. At the same time many of their experiences are shared, they’re both trying to work out how to make this new start, how to deal with leaving behind everything they know, how to manage fledgling relationships that are soon going to be dealing with the added challenge of long distances.
Both girls’ personal situations have done a lot to shape the person they are. This reflection of the importance of family, but also reaching the stage where you start to wonder who you are outside of the context of your family unit plays out really well in this book and I think will be something that many teen readers will identify with. There’s a huge amount for the target audience to love about this book, the way it echoes the queries and worries many waiting to start university or college in particular. I found myself remembering the summer before I started university and how I felt, recognising myself in both characters.
I’ve already mentioned the fledgling relationships that play a part in this book. With these comes a fair amount of discussion of sex, and of when the time’s right for each of the girls to have sex. I’m always going to be a fan of books that discuss this, particularly when they discuss the idea that teens should wait until they personally feel ready. It’s really well done in Roomies, as is the discussion of whether the girls try and make long distance relationships work with boys they’ve only been with for a short while. I’m not going to give anything away, but I will say that again I really liked the different resolutions to this – there is no right or wrong in these situations and seeing different paths given equal credit made me really happy.
I really, really liked this book. I do wish it had been around a long time ago, but regardless I’m really pleased it exists now. This is a book that should be on the shelves of school and sixth form libraries across the country....more
**spoiler alert** I was drawn to this book first by that gorgeous cover and then by the blurb. When it first came out the reviews were glowing, and in**spoiler alert** I was drawn to this book first by that gorgeous cover and then by the blurb. When it first came out the reviews were glowing, and in the months since I’ve seen it brought up in many conversations about publishing, diversity in publishing and just really good YA releases of 2014. I must admit that I was a little apprehensive when I started to read, I always am when I’m picking up a much loved book, what if I was the one person who didn’t like it? I think I got about 2 or 3 chapters in to the book and realised I was already hooked, I took a brief pause to sigh with relief and then carried on reading. I only stopped reading twice, both times to refill my coffee mug!
The book has two narrative threads told in alternating chapters. There is the current timeline, beginning with Sophie’s release from rehab, and there is a flashback timeline that dances forwards and backwards over the previous few years adding detail and necessary history to all of the current goings on. This structure worked really well, both aspects of the story were equally strong. The thriller aspect of Sophie trying to investigate Mina’s murder plays out well, I didn’t suspect the eventual culprit but it felt like a believable outcome to me.
I liked Sophie from the outset. I found that I had an unwavering belief in what she was saying, and a real frustration with her parents who didn’t seem able to see past what others had told them. The fact they had sent her to rehab when she had not relapsed made me really sad, both for Sophie getting the lack of support she wanted and needed, and for her parents who must be in some state to be incapable of hearing the truth their daughter is telling them. I really appreciated the presence of Aunt Macy in Sophie’s life – she deserved an awesome adult who was in her corner unconditionally.
Sophie’s a well developed character, like all of the characters in the book she’s complex and messy with jagged edges and personal demons. Whilst I want to see all sorts of characters represented in fiction I have a personal investment in seeing characters who are dealing with disabilities and/or ongoing health issues. Sophie was in a car crash that nearly killed her (the first of two near death experiences in her fairly short life, the other being the catalysing event that results in Mina’s death) – she escaped with injuries affecting her leg and back, along with huge amounts of scarring. Her injuries are going to be with her for the rest of the life, she is in pain and has weakness that compromises her walking. She’s angry and bitter, and her former drug addiction is directly linked to the pain she’s in. I really appreciated how honestly Sophie’s experiences are dealt with, and the way that whilst they make up a significant part of her they aren’t the only thing about her. I also liked the way she used gardening as a therapeutic tool – this again felt very true to the character and her situation.
Whilst the book begins with Mina’s death we get to see the hole her absence has left in the lives of those closest to her, particularly her brother Trev and Sophie. She also plays a really prominent role in the flashback chapters – she was Sophie’s closest, dearest friend and played a significant part in her life. Through the strength of her presence I felt like I really got to know her, whilst not as well as I got to know Sophie still significantly more than I had expected to.
Relationships play a significant role in all aspects of this book, both romantic and platonic ones. There is an LGBT plot thread that is well executed, I don’t want to say to much about it as its brilliance is at least partly in how it plays out throughout the book. It’s not something I’ve seen played out often in YA fiction and it’s done in a really well thought out manner. There are a couple of sexual encounters – these are handled deftly, they don’t quite fade to black but are written in a careful and sensitive manner.
I love it when a book like Far From You comes along and reminds me just how brilliant realistic fiction can be. This is the kind of book that leaves you both wanting more and not wanting to go near another book for a while, instead just letting everything you’ve read sink in. I can’t recommend this book strongly enough....more
I absolutely loved the sound of this book, particularly the mentions in the blurb of friendship and very different teenagers being thrown together inI absolutely loved the sound of this book, particularly the mentions in the blurb of friendship and very different teenagers being thrown together in the face of such adversity. I’d not long read a grown up post pandemic novel and loved it (Station Eleven) so was eager to read another such title.
The book primarily follows Clare, she’s fifteen years old and all too close to adulthood – the time when Pest will catch up with her (it catches up with everyone eventually you see). To begin with she’s on her own, remembering the demises of those closest to her and trying to work out how to exist in this new world. This beginning is brilliantly claustrophobic – I loved the way that Clare doesn’t fall to pieces or turn into some super strong survivalist. Instead she falls somewhere between the two, having moments where she shuts down and moments where she manages to work out a next step to take. Then, slowly but surely she meets others – Jem first and then other little groups of children – and they begin to work together both to survive and to try and find the cure being promised to them. For me the book really began to shine once Clare was with the other children.
The book also follows the Master, the voice in the radio promising a cure to all children who are hearing his broadcast. Very quickly we realise there is something seriously weird about this man, this only increases as the book progresses. I found that when it became a Master chapter I was willing it to end quickly – there was something so incredibly unsettling about him. If anything this was the part of the book I enjoyed least, whilst I know there is a need for peril I’m not sure the true level of wrongness about him was really necessary within the book.
One element of the book that did surprise me was the presence of the Cured – adults who, when the pandemic first broke out, received a supposed cure that left them in a zombie-esque state. I enjoyed the dilemmas that the Cured brought to the young people, but at the same time felt like a number of the scenarios were quite familiar to me.
Whilst I generally enjoyed this book it didn’t do a brilliant job of capturing my attention. It took me over two weeks to read it – by my standards this is virtually glacial. I found I could only read it in smallish chunks, maybe to do with my intense dislike of the Master, and then once I’d put it down there was no great pull to pick it back up. Interestingly there was never any question of my not finishing the book – there was obviously something hooking me to it, I think this was the central focus on Clare and the other children. I did genuinely care about them to some extent.
I’m sad that this isn’t a book I’ll be rushing to revisit or to recommend, though I’m sure there will be lots of readers who’ll feel entirely differently about it (Goodreads already has a number of glowing 5 star reviews of this book)....more
Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses books were for me, like so many others, some of the first young adult fiction I read as an adult. I was blown aMalorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses books were for me, like so many others, some of the first young adult fiction I read as an adult. I was blown away by them and passed my copies to others so that they too could read their brilliance. For whatever reason I hadn’t read any more of her books, I kept hearing great things about Boys Don’t Cry so I grabbed it when I saw it at my local library. Eventually I sat down to read it and devoured it in one slightly emotional sitting, and then kicked myself hard for not reading it sooner.
Boys Don’t Cry is Dante’s story, he is a bright teen waiting for the uni results that mean he can go away to university and pursue his dreams of becoming a journalist. His life is turned upside down by the discovery that he fathered a child, and is now entirely responsible for that child. At the same time Boys Don’t Cry is Adam’s story – he gets nearly half of the narrative duties – he’s the younger brother, his heart is set on a career in the performing arts and he’s openly gay even if his brother and father don’t outwardly do or say anything to acknowledge it.
Both boys are under a lot of emotional pressure, they feel the absence of their dead mother keenly, and whilst their father is trying his best to bring them up there are significant cracks in his relationship with them both. The addition of the baby into their family unit pushes the relationships even further, at times this made for painful reading – I found I could understand everyone’s perspective, there truly was no right or wrong between Dante, Adam and their father.
Dante’s reactions to his rapidly changing future feel both harsh and entirely genuine. Discovering he has a child and becoming responsible for her has a dramatic impact on his life in every way imaginable, I found myself wondering how I would have reacted to a similar thing at his age, it felt too big to even begin to consider. I realised as I was nearing the end of the book that we never hear about the Dantes of the world – there must be young single fathers out there, I can’t remember ever hearing about one though.
Adam’s story was somewhat unexpected in that I didn’t expect him to have such a strong presence or narrative within the book. He gets his own storyline, though it twists in and out of Dante’s, whilst this works well there were times when it almost felt like there was a little too much going on – I guess it’s that age old age of it never raining but pouring. I found that I could see relatively early on within his story where it was going, I was willing myself to be wrong but was proven right.
The final section of the book in particular has some beautiful, touching moments. I spent the last few chapters in a completely heightened state of emotions. The conclusions felt very true to the characters and the plot, and I closed the book feeling incredibly glad for the opportunity to read such a book. It deals with some huge issues but never feels like an “issues” book. It is instead a book about the value of communication and the power of family and of love. I have seen mention of a companion novel coming at some point, telling the story of baby Emma’s mother Melanie – I’ll certainly be reading this book far more quickly....more
Contemporary YA is one of my absolute favourite age band / genre match ups, as much of a geek as I am this is always my default book selection when I’Contemporary YA is one of my absolute favourite age band / genre match ups, as much of a geek as I am this is always my default book selection when I’m not sure what I want to read. Epistolary fiction is another of my great loves, so this book sounded like it would suit my reading tastes very well when I first heard about it.
The story is recounted solely through written communications, some are between real people – Elizabeth and her mother communicate frequently by notes left for one another, whereas some are from imaginary committees or groups either berating or praising Elizabeth for the way she’s living her life. This structure works well to tell the story, there’s always a risk with epistolary fiction that it can leave the reader feeling a little short changed – letters can sometimes only scratch the very surface of a story resulting in a more shallow read. This book completely avoids that, I think the reasons for this are two fold. The first is the imaginary organisations’ letters – Elizabeth’s personality and feelings about herself and her identity become increasingly clear through these letters, I felt that I really got to understand her through them. The second is the letters Elizabeth and her new penfriend Christina share. The fact they are complete strangers means that they are incredibly honest in their letters to one another which gives a surprising depth to their relationship.
Elizabeth reminded me so much of myself as a teen, and if I’m completely honest as a younger adult too. There is much discussion about with it means to be a true teenager, I know I spent all of my teenage years feeling somewhat deficient as the things that motivated and interested me were very different to most of my peers. I think this would have been a really important book to me as a teen, seeing someone expressing the same sorts of thoughts and feelings would have been a real comfort. I’m sure there are so many teens out there who feel this way, I hope they find this book and enjoy being able to see themselves within its pages.
Christina’s story is also one that I found myself very invested in, and appreciated the deft way it was handled. During the book Christina experiences questions about her relationship, about sex and intimacy. I wasn’t expecting this book to deal with any such issues and the fact it did and did so very well added a lot to the book. The open nature of her letter writing to Elizabeth worked really well for this.
This book is funny, and sweet, and smart all at the same time. It feels very realistic and the various characters jump off the page. It’s the first in a set of books all set within the high schools attended by Elizabeth and Christina, I thoroughly enjoyed this one so have every intention of reading the rest. I am really grateful to lovely author Kaz Mahoney who told me about this author, she’s definitely a new favourite!...more
Gillian Cross’ Demon Headmaster books were some of my frequently re-read books when I was younger, when I began reading more children’s fiction againGillian Cross’ Demon Headmaster books were some of my frequently re-read books when I was younger, when I began reading more children’s fiction again I was thrilled to discover she was still writing. I read and enjoyed Where I Belong so when I started seeing all of the buzz around After Tomorrow I added it to my books I need to read list. It’s won a number of awards including the Little Rebels children’s book award – would I find it lived up to such hype?
The first thing I have to say is that this book is a terrifyingly believable read. I’ve always said that for dystopic versions of our world to really work for me I need to be able to see how our world could change in order to become the fictional one. The world created in After Tomorrow doesn’t require much thought at all in this respect, the more you read the more you recognise scenarios from our world today – it’s a fictionalised version of situations occurring around the world. I felt that this made the book both more scary and more thought provoking.
The story begins with the first time Matt, the narrator, and his family get raided. This makes for a bold start, the reader is as surprised by the events unfolding as the characters – I found I couldn’t read fast enough in my bid to understand what was happening and why. It’s not long in the book until the family gets raided again, the raids get worse and worse and I found myself getting angrier and sadder on the characters’ behalf.
It’s not far into the book that the family begin to prepare to escape the dreadful situation in the UK by travelling through the Channel Tunnel. The rest of the book focuses on these experiences, both in making the escape and in living their lives as refugees. It was particularly this aspect that made me realise how topical the book is, some scenes felt like I was watching them on the evening news.
This was a book that I became hugely invested in, as I read I felt the emotions experienced by the characters keenly. There was one scene in particular, a good way through the book, that really got to me emotionally – I had to have a little break and go and make myself a cup of tea before I could carry on reading. I also formed opinions of some of the secondary characters that the main characters didn’t yet share and found myself wanting to shout at them and warn them of my suspicions (by the end of the book I was proven right on only some counts, probably as well I couldn’t actually influence the main characters!).
This book is a really important one, and as such is going to be one that I’m going to be talking about lots. It feels as though it sits on that boundary between middle grade and young adult, it has a lot to offer both age groups. I think it would make an excellent book group book, there’s so much to discuss in it. The way the action is packed into the book, particularly at the beginning, means I think it would hook in most readers. It does slow down a little as the book progresses but I think it still does plenty to keep a young audience reading....more
I loved Dave Cousin’s debut novel 15 Days Without a Head so had very high hopes for this book. Within the first few pages I knew he’d done it again, cI loved Dave Cousin’s debut novel 15 Days Without a Head so had very high hopes for this book. Within the first few pages I knew he’d done it again, creating a warm, funny and touching contemporary tale with great depth.
Oz, the main character of the book, is a brilliant character – I loved how his actions were almost always well intentioned, but had a habit of going wrong. I laughed as he made his way from one scrape to the next, in between wincing at some of the calamities he created.
One of the central relationships in the book is the one between Oz and his older sister Meg. Whilst they bicker and argue there is absolutely no mistaking the strength of their relationship, as an older sister who has always had a strong relationship with her younger brother I really loved this element of the book. Whilst our lives were never as complicated as Oz and Meg’s I could definitely see the similarities.
I hadn’t worked out the gist of the book from the blurb and so was surprised by the direction the book took, and indeed who the titular Gonzo was. This was all to the good, the potentially tricky subject matter was handled with skill – there’s no judgement, no wringing of hands, simply practical honesty and warmth.
Ryan, the hobbit-obsessed geek, who befriends Oz when no one else at school will was another favourite character of mine. I always love the addition of a geeky character who is there simply as part of the ensemble, rather than to be pointed at and laughed at, Ryan certainly had his part to play and reminded me at times of both myself and other geeky friends.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, one that I’m looking forward to recommending to other readers old and young alike....more