The Unpredictability of Being Human by Linni Ingemundsen is a book I've wanted to read ever since I heard it was about a girl with undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). And while it was a captivating read and enjoyable read, I've finished it with mixed feelings.
The Unpredictability of Being Human is very much a coming of age story. It follows Malin during a specific period in her life when things change. There's not so much of a plot to the story, it's more a snapshot of her life during this time of change. She makes a new friend, she starts to become a bit more interested in boys, her mum goes away on a "business trip" for quite a long time, secrets that have caused the family a lot of pain come to light, and, although she's never fit in or really had friends, the bullying is stepped up when she retaliates after someone steals something from her - though maybe not in the best way. There is an innocence to Malin, and she takes things at face value, not really understanding that she's being lied to and played with, until it's too late. It's quite heartbreaking when we, the readers, know where things are going to go, because Malin doesn't understand that people are being conniving and fake, but are powerless to stop it.
Despite there not being a real plot, I was captivated by Malin's voice. I was rooting for her when she made a friend in Hanna, who treated her mostly well, when no-one else at school did, and also when it looks like things might work out with a boy she likes. And loved her relationship with her cousin, Magnus; how they were close, and he didn't treat her like he would anyone else, unlike everyone else. But was also so sad when people took advantage of her because she's so guileless, and doesn't understand that people are lying to her to get her to do things. And I also wished her family would stop lying to her. Because she's not stupid, she would understand if she was just told the truth and had things explained to her, she would be fine. But instead is treated like she wouldn't understand, so lie to her to make things easier for her, when it's not necessary. It was also kind of sad that she would find bottles of wine in strange places around the house, like the tumble dryer, and not think anything of it, and that her father shouting and yelling all the time, and occasionally punching a wall, is normal and nothing to worry about. But it's great to see how she learns through the book, as she comes to understand things, and how things in her life get better.
I also loved how The Unpredictability of Being Human was set in Norway, where Ingemundsen is from. I loved all the little elements that made this book stand out from other YA novels, which are mostly set in the US or the UK; the names of the characters, some of the words used occasionally, and the mention of how Malin had never been out of Scandinavia. Being set in Norway just gave the book that little bit something extra, that made it even more interesting.
My main problem is that I only know that Malin has undiagnosed ASD because the publicist told me so. It doesn't come up at all in the book. Towards the end of the book, where things were going in a certain direction, I though she might get a diagnosis then, but no. As the book is from the perspective of Malin, we, the readers, are aware that she might be neurodiverse, because of the things she misses that are quite obvious to us - for example, that her mum is an alcoholic. From the other characters treatment of her, it's clear that they know she's "different"; when her mum goes to rehab, Malin is told her mum is going on a business trip, though a strange one where you can't call her at first, and she can't can't come back until 90 days later, or have visitors. She's also called stupid by various people and a moron by her older brother, and she's bullied for being different. But having ASD is never mention in any way. And this worries me slightly. I am all for a character having ASD where the story isn't about having ASD, but 1) I think it will make it difficult for people with ASD who are looking for books with characters like them to find this book, because it's not even mentioned in the blurb, and 2) I worry that the lack of even one mention of Malin having ASD may cause readers to judge her, because they don't understand? I don't think this is an unnecessary worry, as I've already seen one review of someone saying Malin seemed younger than 14, and was annoyed at Malin, though she was naive and did stupid things - the reader obviously didn't pick up on the fact that she has undiagnosed ASD, and judged her. I just think it would have been better if she had a diagnosis, whether it was right at the end, or, if she had the diagnosis before the book even started, and it could be mentioned that Malin has ASD, what that means, and that's it, the story continued without mentioning it again, because it's not the point of the story. But to not mention it at all feels like a disservice to those with ASD, I feel.
Despite this, I still really enjoyed the story, and getting to know Malin. I loved seeing her life, and seeing things improve for her, even if it broke my heart to see things get worse for a while.
Blackbird by N. D. Gomes sounded so interesting, and I've been in a bit of a mystery phase lately, so I wOriginally published on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Blackbird by N. D. Gomes sounded so interesting, and I've been in a bit of a mystery phase lately, so I was so eager to read it. However, I'm sorry to say it was a huge disappointment.
Blackbird is billed as a murder mystery, and that's true in the fact that Alex's sister Olivia is murdered, and no-one knows who did it. But when it comes to genre, this book is not a mystery. There are no twists and turns. There aren't lots of suspects and numerous theories and there is no second guessing. This book is mainly about how Alex is dealing with her grief that not only is her older sister, who she idolised, dead, but that she was murdered. There is the possibility I may have enjoyed Blackbird more had it not been billed as a murder mystery. But probably not, because Blackbird is very, very slow.
For most of the book, Alex is obsessively harassing Detective Inspector Birkens, who has the patience of a saint. The police need to get on with their job and try to find out who killed Olivia, but she turns up either at the police station or at Birkens house almost every day. I get that she feels like she needs to do something, that she can't just sit around waiting, but at the same time, she's probably holding things up. And nothing really happens. Oh, she manages to get some information here and there that is helpful to the police, but nothing that leads to major strides in the investigation. It's just slow and samey for most of the book.
And the killer was predictable. The one person - the only person - who says something a little suspicious is the one who did it. Sure, what they said could have been innocent enough, but when you know there is a killer on the loose, as a reader, you notice these things. And it was just so predictable.The police had no suspects. There wasn't anybody else who was behaving strangely, or saying weird things. Of course it was them. There was no shock whatsoever. And really, because Blackbird is so samey, I didn't really warm to Alex much. So when she found herself in danger, after working out who it was, I didn't really care. And even if I did, those moments when things are dangerous only lasts a short while, and then it's over.
Plus there are the blackbirds. The blackbirds that died, that have absolutely nothing to do with the story whatsoever. The story is set in Orkney, the blackbirds died in America. There is no link, it's just something that happened. Something that is unimportant, and has no real explanation either. And it's used as a strapline. Here's me thinking that maybe there's going to be a supernatural element to the story. Nope. The blackbirds have no part in this book. The only reason I can think that the book is called Blackbird is because of the coincidence of the birds dying when Olivia disappeared, and because Olivia wanted to escape Orkney - she felt trapped on the island, and wanted to free, like a bird. But that is it. The birds don't mean anything.
This book was such a huge disappointment. No mystery, and very, very slow.
Thank you to HQ Young Adult via NetGalley for the eProof....more
The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed is a book I was so eager to read, having heard it was about a trio of girls whOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed is a book I was so eager to read, having heard it was about a trio of girls who wanted to get justice for a girl who was gang raped but not listened to. However, I had no idea just how incredible this book would be.
When Grace moves into her new home, she find words carved into the window sill of her bedroom. Words of pain from it's previous occupant. At school she finds out the girl who used to live in her house, Lucy, was ran out of town after accusing three popular guys of gang rape. It's not that no-one believed her, it's that it was easier to pretend she was lying than to believe what those guys had done. She makes friends with outcasts Rosina and Erin - one a punk rock girl with attitude, the other a girl with Asperger's Syndrome - the "weird" kids. After learning more about what happened to Lucy, seeing the behaviour of those who got away with it, and the posts shared on blog The Real Men of Prescott, run by a town local, the three decide they have to do something; they have to try and get justice for Lucy, and they have to change the way girls are treated. And so they create The Nowhere Girls. The send an email to all the girls at school, anonymously, calling them to meet up and fight to make a difference. It starts off small, just eight girls. Eight girls who don't think they can really do very much. But one shares that she over heard the guys making a bet on who could have sex with the most girls this year, one saying to go after the freshman because they're easier. The next day, posters appear all over the school, warning girls about the bet. At the next meeting there are more. And it grows.
I absolutely loved this book. So much. I loved Grace, Rosina and Erin, as a trio and individually. They're all dealing with their own problems. Grace has moved to a new town after those in her old town made it almost impossible for her family to live there once her mother became a more liberal pastor in a town that was very conservative. They didn't like what she was preaching, it didn't fit their values, so they turned against her and her family. Grace's mum lost her job, an Grace's friends turned their back on her. So they had to up and leave to start a life elsewhere, and after how Grace was treated before leaving, she just wants to be invisible. She wants to go under the radar and just make it through. But she is haunted by the words she keeps finding carved into her room. On the window sill, on the skirting board, inside a cupboard. Lucy's pain is palpable as her pleas for help and death are read long after she carved them. They are now heard, and Grace simply cannot ignore them. Lucy's pain is in that room, and she can't ignore it. She has to do something to help.
Rosina comes from a large, tight knit Mexican family, where family is everything, where responsibility to family is more important than most things. After school each day, Rosina must babysit the plethora of cousins she has and keep an eye on her grandmother, who has dementia and frequently goes walkabout. After that, she must go to work at her uncle's restaurant, where her mum, and all her aunts and uncles work. Rosina has pretty much no social life outside of school, and her mother is always angry at her. Nothing she does is good enough. She doesn't really fit in with her family, they disagree on what's important, and her dream to become a rock star just doesn't fit in with what is expected of her. On top of that, because of her punk rock image, her slight attitude, and the fact that she is queer Latina, she's not well liked at school. She's friends with Erin, another outcast, and Grace after she arrives. After an encounter with one of the guys accused of raping Lucy, and how disgustingly she is treated and leered at, she realises, too, that things have to change.
And then there's Erin. Wonderful Erin. Erin has Asperger's, and I must admit that I know nothing about nor no anyone who has Asperger's, so I can't comment on how good the representation is. All I can comment on is my reading of her. And she is just fantastic. She is socially anxious; social interaction can be difficult for her; she find emotions confusing; she is super intelligent; and she stims, like rubbing her hands or rocking, when she feels nervous or anxious. She likes orders and plans, she is hugely fascinated by marine biology and has a huge love of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But Erin is also super smart in a way that has nothing to do with intelligence, she is strong and brave, and she, too, wants to do the right thing. She has a traumatic past, one she tries to put behind her and forget. And she struggles sometimes with things the rest of us without Asperger's don't. But she is just incredible. At times, she is the bravest of the three, and with how difficult she can find things, this is just so wonderful, and I absolutely loved her.
The book is told primarily from the perspective of all three girls, but it's also interspersed with chapters from "Us" - chapters that share experiences and points of view of other girls at school, girls who at first have no name, some of whom we get to know better as the stories go on. The trans girl who has yet to tell anyone she's trans, who just wants to get through this final year - who isn't sure she would be welcome to one of The Nowhere Girls meetings. A black girl who doesn't think The Nowhere Girls is for her, because it's ok when white girls want to raise their voices and fight back, but it's a different story when a black girl does, alluding to the angry black girl stereotype. The girl who is known as the school slut, but just wants to be loved, and is hurting so badly. The girl who is student body president, who aces all her classes, who doesn't know if she will be taken as seriously if she were to wear make-up or go to parties. The girl who is conservative and pro-choice who thinks the feminists in The Nowhere Girls will just think she's an idiot. The girl who enjoys having sex and the pleasure she gets from it. The cheerleader who only became a cheerleader because she loves football, but is now expected to look and be like someone she isn't. And on, and on. Most of the girls are hurting in some way, and as the story progresses, and we realises who some of these girls are, and who the other girls think they are, there is this huge disparity between how they are seen and who they actually are, that has led to conflict, jealousy, judgement. But through The Nowhere Girls, as they all start getting to know the real young women behind what they see, people are making friends with people they never would have thought they would ever get on with.
The book is also interspersed, every now and then, with the blog posts from The Real Men of Prescott, and oh my god, they are absolutely disgusting. They seriously had me feeling physically sick. This guy rating the women he's slept with - pretty much admitting to rape; "she just laid there," "she was too drunk to say no" - talking about how women want strong men, how men should put women down, because then they'll do anything to get their approval. Oh my god, it goes on and on. I know these are fictional blog posts, but these are the kind of things I've heard about over and over again that are posted online on sites like Reddit, and the rage I felt reading them... I can't tell you.
This book is so hugely powerful. For a huge group of girls to get together and try to make a change, to get justice for a girl who was raped, who isn't even around anymore, is incredible. For those girls to then talk to people in authority is hugely brave. To then have to battle against obstacle after obstacle that is put in their path, is just unbelievable. The girls in this story are just incredible. And the ending - and what led to the ending - affected more than words can say. There is just so much love and support in this book for those who have experienced rape or sexual assault, like you wouldn't believe. There is listening, but no judgement. There is understanding, but no pressure to do anything. Just the offer of help in any way they can that is freely given. It's overwhelmingly beautiful. As someone who was sexually assaulted when I was younger, I found so much hope in this book. I felt seen, and heard, and supported. I so, so wish I had this book to read back then. The strength I would have found in this book, in these characters who were doing the utmost to do the right thing, to seek justice, would have been so helpful. Knowing that, it makes me so, so glad that this book exists now, for any young woman who needs to be seen and heard and supported. For those girls who will read it who will then see and hear and support others. For the hope I am filled with that after reading this book, girls will get together and find strength and love with each other, and the courage to not back down.
The Nowhere Girls broke my heart several times over, but the love and support showed by girls, for girls, blew me away and mended it again. I finished this book completely overwhelmed with pride and gratitude for these fictional girls, and for the courageous girls this book will no doubt inspire. The Nowhere Girls is without a doubt the most important, most powerful book I have read this year.
Can we please talk about how this book is by Cait of Paper Fury? As in, this is by a fellow book blogger. A fellow book blogger I have been followingCan we please talk about how this book is by Cait of Paper Fury? As in, this is by a fellow book blogger. A fellow book blogger I have been following for years. Her debut novel.
I AM TOO EXCITED AND HAPPY FOR HER FOR WORDS!...more
Trigger Warning: Terrorist attack and Islamophobia.
I've wanted to read Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed ever since taking part in the Ramadan Readathon last year, where it was highlighted as a book featuring a Muslim character yet to be released, and I was ecstatic when I discovered it was also being published in the UK. I expected it to be hard-hitting and horrible, and while it is at times, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was also cute and funny at times, too.
You could almost split the book into two parts, before the suicide bomber changes everything, and after. The first half was just brilliant. It felt a lot like Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik meets Jenny Han's YA novels; a sweet, Summery romance, but where our main character is a Muslim, who has parents who have certain expectations for the life of their Indian-American Muslim daughter. The only difference between the parents expectations in this book and in Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is that Sofia's parents behaviour and reactions are met with affectionate exasperation, and provide a fair amount of the comedy, but Maya's parents are deadly serious. They don't seem to understand why Maya would not want the life they expect her to lead; to marry a suitable Muslim boy, and become a lawyer or doctor, when she would rather make her own choices over who she dates, seeing as she is really into the white football captain at school, Phil, and go to NYU to study filmmaking, which is her passion. Their relationship becomes more strained as the story goes on, after the terrorist attack, but the first half of the book is actually really lovely, such a cute romance, and you're rooting for Maya and Phil. Even so, though, there is a sense of foreboding; as the reader, we know there's going to be a suicide attack, and every chapter ends with a few paragraphs from the terrorist's point of view,or a memory of his, as he's preparing to do the unthinkable. So all the while, while you're reading about Maya's everyday life, her arguments with her parents about which college she goes to, and the will-they-won't-they during Maya's swimming lessons with Phil, you know something terrible is coming that is going to shatter Maya's world.
And then it's here. And, my god. Whenever I hear about a terrorist attack on the news, no matter where in the world it's happened, I am engulfed by a wave of fear and sorrow. 2017 saw quite a few take place in the UK, and that fear would trigger my anxiety. Only last month there was a false alarm of a terror attack taking place ten minutes from where I work, while I was at work, and it was absolutely terrifying. The world we live in now, that fear is hard to escape. And Ahmed captured that feeling so brilliantly as Maya and the other students at school are in lockdown just after the attack happens. When they're locked in and they don't know why. When the texts come piling in, when various news outlets are saying different things about what happened, yet all in agreement on terrorist attack. The fear Maya feels - the fear they all feel - in that moment is palpable. And even though this is a book, and even though I knew it was coming, I was right there with them all, engulfed in that fear. I don't write fiction, but I can imagine how difficult it is to write a feeling that is almost beyond words, but Ahmed writes it perfectly.
But Maya's fear is different from mine, because her fear isn't just in reaction to the news of a terrorist attack, her fear is also very specific fear of what this will mean for her and other Muslims.
'I'm scared. I'm not just scared that somehow I'll be next; it's a quieter fear, and more insidious. I'm scared of the next Muslim ban. I'm scared of my dad getting pulled into Secondary Security Screening at the airport for "random" questioning. I'm scared for the hijabi girls I know getting their scarves pulled off while they're walking down the sidewalk--or worse. I'm scared of being the object of fear and loathing and suspicion again. Always.' (p140)*
Reading it, it was... shocking. And I was ashamed that it was eye-opening. I think it's part privilege and part being a decent human being who doesn't automatically think that all Muslims are to blame for all terrorist attacks, where the terrorist is - supposedly - a Muslim. I wasn't shocked by the things Maya was scared of happening, I watch the news, I go on Twitter, I carry a spare scarf in my bag, I know what happens. I was shocked that this fear, fear of what the backlash from the terrorist attack would mean for Muslims, is automatic. Of course it would be, when we have scumbags in the world who make the lives of Muslims hell when atrocities like this happen, committing atrocities of their own.
And we get to see some of those atrocities as Maya and her parents experience Islamophobia in the days and weeks following the terrorist attack, verbal and physical. It's disgusting, it's upsetting, it's scary. Maya may be Muslim, but really, she's no different from me, and it's so very easy to put myself in her shoes - especially as a woman - when she is being attacked, when her family is being attacked. It made me feel sick, it made me feel scared, and it made me dread what was to come. And again, I was smacked in the face with the awareness of my privilege, because I don't have to fear what might happen to me when I step outside my house every day in the wake of a terrorist attack, not because of my faith or my skin colour. It's really harrowing to read.
I have to say I loved the conversation Maya had with her parents about the terrorist attack, and how it's nothing to do with Muslim. It's the kind of thing you hear on the news, when someone high up in the Muslim community is interviewed for the news after a terrorist attack, condemning what happened. But it's also a teachable moment for those who maybe don't watch the news, or don't pay any attention.
'My father picks up where my mother leaves off. "These terrorists are the antithesis of Islam. They're not Muslim. Violence has no place in religion, and the terrorists are responsible for their own crimes, not the religion and not us." "Then why is there so much fighting in the Middle East, and why are so many suicide bombers Muslim?" "Terrorism has no religion. Think of Dylann Roof and that church in Charleston or the attack on the Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin. Terrorists have their own ideaology. Who knows what hatred compels them? They're desperate and unthinking and followers--" I interrupt my mother. "Too bad none of that matters. We all get painted like we're un-American, and terrorist sympathizers, no matter how loudly we condemn terrorism and say it's un-Islamic. It's guilt by association."' (p148)*
I have to say I also really loved the sections at the end of every chapter, leading up to and after the terrorist attack, first from the terrorist's point of view, and then from the media, as they discover more about the attack and the terrorist himself. It was so very, very clever. And it was interesting getting to find out about the terrorist's background, from interviews with people who knew him, and from memories of his, even though he's now dead. Terrorists do such horrific things, I think we tend to forget that they're human, too. That they're people. And while what we read is absolutely no excuse for what he did, because it's unforgivable, it does give an insight into what may have led him down this road. It's actually quite sad, and I found myself feeling sorry for him. Which just seems appalling. But I do think it was very clever of Ahmed to give us this guy's background, to show us his humanity. I also think it's pretty wonderful, too, that Ahmed would do this, for this fictional terrorist, when real terrorists commit such unspeakable crimes, to make us think that they are people too, that we don't know what they've been through. It's not forgiveness, it's not, but it's something other than hatred for this person. And I think it's really telling that Ahmed can think about the terrorists' humanity when they've done such terrible things, when bigots jump straight to hatred of those who have done absolutely nothing wrong, who are, as Maya puts it, guilty by association. And I really, really admire Ahmed for giving this terrorist his humanity, and his story.
I do have a few quibbles with Love, Hate and Other Filters, though. It's so, so short, and the terrorist attack doesn't happen until the half-way point. Which works well, it's an even balance between the normal, the everyday, the cute, sweet romance, and the horrific things that follow. But, as it's short at 272 pages as a physical book, there isn't really a huge amount of either. That sounds like I want more Islamophobia,and I really don't; what they Azizs experience is too much as it is. However, a lot of time goes by in this book, though, to be honest, I only really knew that because Maya would think something like she hasn't smiled properly like this in months, and then I know quite a bit of time has gone by, when I thought it was only a few days, so the passing of time isn't made very clear. But months go by after the terrorist attack, the longer lasting affects of Islamophobia aren't shown, exactly. There are specific affects that are specific to Maya and her parents' disagreements about her future, but there's not really anything about the affects to her parents' dental practice over time, for example. There is an attack on the practice, so how does that affect their business? Do patients stop coming, for fear of being hurt during another possible attack, or because they themselves are scumbags who no longer want to be around Muslims? Do they lose money? Do they start to struggle financially? I don't know, because it's not covered. And that's what I mean about there not being a huge amount of before and, more specifically after the attack. I do wish the book was longer, and we got more of the sweet side of things, and more of the affects of Islamophobia.
But all in all, Love, Hate & Other Filters is such an incredible book - and not only incredible, but so very important. It's powerful, and it's needed. I absolutely loved it, and I look forward to reading what Ahmed writes in the future - whether sweet, cute stories, or hard-hitting, powerful stories, or more of both.
*All quotes have been checked against a final copy of the book.
Thank you to Hot Key Books via NetGalley for the eProof....more
Trigger Warning: This book contains sexual assault and talks about rape.
I've been waiting to read Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu since I first heard about it months back. An ordinary teen girl bringing feminism to her school through zines? Just my kind of story! And I absolutely loved it!
This is a book I wish I had to read as a teenager. It's so full of passion and anger, but also action, and I definitely think it would have sparked my becoming a feminist a lot sooner. With Moxie along with Holly Bourne's The Spinster Club Trilogy, I would have been impassioned and ready to start my own club or something similar at school. Even now, as an adult, Moxie had me raring to do something and fix things, wishing I was still at school, so I could try and make a difference there. I can of course do things now as an adult, but Moxie had me thinking about school in particular, and I really just want to shove it into every teen girl's hands, and have them start their own school revolutions.
What I loved most about this book was that Viv was just an ordinary girl; a girl who was insecure, who had hang ups, who didn't like drawing attention to herself and preferred to go under the radar. In that sense, she reminded me a lot of myself when I was teen. And so it was wonderful to see this ordinary girl who isn't self-assured and full of confidence decide to try and change things at her school with her anonymous zine Moxie. I made me think that I could have done this, or any teenage girl could do it. You don't have to be super confident to realise things are screwed up and to decide to do something to change them.
That's another thing I loved about Moxie; it wasn't about Viv, it was about sexism. It was about taking a stand and trying to change the crap girls had to put up with at school; the popular boys saying, "Make me a sandwich," whenever a girl gave an opinion in class. The school's dress code spot checks where they would shame girls for the tightness of their clothing or how much skin was on show because it was distracting to the boys, and being made to cover up with ugly, over-sized gym sweatshirts or tracksuit bottoms. How the girls' soccer team was doing really well, but never got any real recognition for it, no funding, no new uniforms for decades. And so on. Moxie was about pointing out the how crap everything was to those who might not fully realise it, about girls not feeling so alone in feeling it was unfair, and about girls finding the courage to do something about it, supported by each other. With Moxie being anonymous - Viv coming into school early and leaving copies in the girls bathrooms before school started - Viv, as an girl with little confidence, could actually do something without necessarily drawing attention to herself. And at the same time, making it about every girl at the school. Moxie didn't belong to Viv, it belonged to all girls, and the girls would take up the banner of Moxie and start their own things, like a bake sale to raise money for the soccer team. I just loved that!
There was one moment towards the end where I felt very emotional, proud of all these young women and what they were fighting for, that they were willing to take risks to speak out against terrible things. And I was so, so mad at the teachers at their school. There's a part of me that wants to believe that this is just fiction, that teachers and head teachers/principles, people in authority, wouldn't treat girls as terribly as those in this book did, but at the same time, it worries me that it could be happening. Which makes me so, so glad this book exists. Because if teens read it and recognise the injustices within their school, recognise them being upheld by their teachers, they might just have the courage to do something about it, to tell someone, to get help elsewhere.
There was another element to this book that I really loved. There is a romance element to the story; Viv starts seeing new guy Seth. Although Seth isn't like the other guys at school, is a pretty decent, nice guy, and, when the talk about Moxie makes it's way around the school,is for the girls being treated better, he just doesn't always get it. He is the voice of "Not all men", and through him, I think guys can maybe start to understand that saying that not all guys are crap not only doesn't change the fact that there are guys who are crap even if they're not, it also derails the conversation, makes it less about the experience of girls and women and how they feel, and makes it about them, and how they would never do that. There is one conversation he has with Viv, where he doubts what someone says and they really fall out, and it just enraged me. It's something that's been said about a guy, and rather than thinking about the girl and her experience, he thinks about the guy. I don't want to spoil the story, so I won't say any more, but it just enraged me, because this is a conversation I have had many times before. In these situations, guys always seem to think about the guy and what this will mean for them, not about the girl. I think it was important to have a decent guy who isn't a complete dick, but a decent guy who does get it wrong, a decent guy who has to learn and understand that, when girls and women are talking about how they don't like the way they're being treated, he needs to shut up and listen - and then help. Although I didn't feel I really got to know Seth, as the romance isn't the focal point of the story, I think his character development is such an important part of the story. Because guys need to understand how crap things are for girls, and because of how Seth gets things wrong and learns, I think this book is also pretty good for guys to read, too.
There is just one negative for me. I felt that the various issues that were dealt with in the novel were kind of "blocky". By this I mean that the sexist issues had their time throughout the year, rather than things happening alongside each other. First there was the "Make me a sandwich" comments that first inspired Viv to make Moxie. Weeks passed, and then the school started up with their random dress code spot checks, which led to another issue of the zine. Then there was something else after another few weeks. It didn't feel realistic to me that these things were only happening at certain times of the school year. The "Make me a sandwich" comments happened year round, and so did a few other things that started later, but it just felt odd to me that everything wasn't happening all at the same time from the beginning. I think it would have felt more realistic if they were happening - or at least some of the things were happening - all the time, and it was as Viv worked on Moxie over time that she came to realise just how screwed up these things were, as she was thinking and learning about sexism. As it stands, it just felt a little too separate to me. But this is only a small quibble, and I loved the book as a whole.
Moxie is an incredible novel, one that will inspire and impassion anyone who reads it to become a Moxie girl and fight back....more
The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles completely bowled me over. There were times when I really struggledOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles completely bowled me over. There were times when I really struggled with it, times when I wanted to give up, but I am so glad I stuck with it, because it's incredible!
Lux is unravelling. Over the Summer, she went to a party, and then blacked out, waking up in hospital. She doesn't remember why she blacked out, she doesn't remember waking up in hospital. But she knows she's different now. Suffering from intense migraines, terrifying nightmares in red, synaesthesia - where the senses overlap, hence the title, and obsessive episodes. All she knows is she wants to get back to who she was before. There's nothing physically wrong with her, and all her doctors and her therapist think she will start to get better if she just remembers what happened. But she has to. If she doesn't start to get better soon, she'll be taken away from everything she loves, her friends and her life at Richdeane, an elitist art school. But those are not the only things she risks losing, as with every moment, she loses more of herself.
I really struggled with this book at first. The way it was written just left me completely confused, in that I didn't know what was happening. The first chapter starts with Lux remembering a party at the beginning of the Summer, weeks before her blackout, and it was just baffling. Not the party itself, but Lux's thoughts. The way she worded her thoughts was just completely bizarre to me. I thought The Taste of Blue Light was going to be one of those arty books you had to be super intelligent to understand, because I was completely lost. Several times, I thought about giving up, because I just lost, but the story itself was so intriguing. I'm so glad I stuck with it, because I kind of got used to the strangeness, and came to realise it's not the writer being arty, it's how Lux is now, as she loses herself.
It was heartbreaking being with Lux as she tries to figure things out, but gets worse and worse. She'll have obsessive, compulsive thoughts - but not how we would generally think of OCD. For example, at one point where she's certain someone or something is after her, that it's in the woods, but she gets it into her head that she has to face whatever it is instead of hide, and so runs into the woods - and runs and runs, terrified, but also certain she will find whatever she's felt that's after her, and once she faces it, she'll get better - and gets herself lost, and doesn't remember afterwards exactly why she was running in the woods in the first place. Or her desperation to connect with former Richdeane student, actor and singer Jade Grace, with this overwhelming feeling that they are the same, and if only Jade Grace would respond to her incessant, obsessive, almost stalker-like emails, she would start to get better. As the story goes on, she just seems to lose her mind a little more, and I was so engrossed in the story, I felt like I was unravelling right along with her. I'd put my book down at the end of my lunch break and go back to work and just feel really strange, because I have to shelve books, but I was just running in the woods with Lux, it was just such an odd feeling. And it was so hard, so unbelievably upsetting, to see Lux slip away when she tries so hard to hold on. She is just so unwell, and she doesn't know how to make herself get better, and her therapist just keeps on at her to remember. She is struggling, drowning and not knowing which way is up, and it's just heartbreaking.
And then she remembers. It was a punch to the gut, reading about what caused her to black out. It was emotional, and it hurt. It was so upsetting, because this book is just so, so timely. It's horrific, and you come to completely understand why her mind would want to protect her from this, and why she would unravel, even thought she couldn't remember. I just got it. I've never experienced what Lux did, but we all have experience of reacting to such events when we hear about them, and with my anxiety, I have felt like I was hanging on by just a thread, and I've not even lived it. So for Lux to have reacted to what she went through the way she did, it was just so completely understandable, and I just wanted to give her the biggest hug. I just wanted to hold her and cry with her. Even now, I'm writing with tears in my eyes, because it just affected me so much.
I'm not the biggest fan of the ending, though. I understood why we had the ending, the purpose of the ending, but at the same time, I didn't really enjoy it. I think I would have preferred the book to have finished around 30% earlier. Those last few chapters just felt unnecessary to me, simply because of the time scale. I just thought it wasn't very interesting; I know I don't like books that have the climax, and then end abruptly, but for me, this felt like it was dragged out a bit two much. I don't think Part Two was necessary as it was. It just didn't work for me, but I can see other people enjoying it.
This book is absolutely incredible. It's not the easiest of reads, but it's such an important one. It's upsetting, but it's powerful and moving, and really, just a triumph. Such a wonderful debut novel.
Thank you to Hodder Children's Books via NetGalley for the eProof....more
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is a book I've been loosely planning to read for a while. Planning to read bOriginally published on Once Upon a Bookcase.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is a book I've been loosely planning to read for a while. Planning to read because a colleague at work raved about it when she read when it first came out, but only loosely because there's very little in way of a blurb. All I knew was that it was about rich teens, and I assumed they would be spoilt and mean, and that's just not my kind of book. However, I was recently recommending books to a customer, and in telling me what she had read before, she and her father both raved about We Were Liars. They implied that it dealt with a serious topic, and that it was very powerful. Their enthusiasm really piqued my interest, and so I finally bought it. And wow. This book is absolutely incredible.
I know the blurb and summary doesn't tell you very much, and I know that annoyed me before I read it, but it really is best that you go into this book knowing very little. I will tell you that it's about three generations of a rich family - grandparents, aunties and mother, and cousins - and a friend, and it's set on their private island. It's about relationships, familial and platonic, and it's about privilege and power. There is a mystery, a secret, and a huge twist that I absolutely did not see coming. One that blew my mind.
The story is narrated by Cadence, one of the cousins, who the story, for the most part, revolves around; Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and their friend Gat. The story jumps from present day, to Cadence recalling what happened two Summers previously. The characters are just wonderful, all so different, and fully formed.
Also, this book is short. A 225 pages kind of short. Which just makes this whole story even better, because Lockhart has a serious skill to tell a complete and full story in so few pages, where you're left guessing the whole way through. The whole way through. There is not a single word wasted, there's no extraneous description, every single word is purposeful. We Were Liars must have been edited to within an inch of it's life, but it's fantastic for it. It's emotional, and heartbreaking, and powerful, and all of this is accomplished in only a few words.
We Were Liars is just amazing, and you should read it. I can't say any more than that, really. Read it, and prepare to have your jaw drop....more
Before I start this review, I must warn you that it will be full of spoilers. This is because I feel this isOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Before I start this review, I must warn you that it will be full of spoilers. This is because I feel this is an incredibly problematic and harmful book, and I need to explain my reasons why.
T is for Tree by Greg Fowler is about a boy, Eddy, who has Down's Syndrome. I don't know this because it tells us in the book - all the book tells us is that Eddy is different, and that his face isn't like other people's faces. From what we're told, I assumed he may have Down's Syndrome, but this is never confirmed in the book. The only reason I know for sure that Eddy has Down's Syndrome is because T is for Tree was originally self-published as Jam Sandwiches, and it says so in the blurb for that book.
I should point out before I go any further that I don't know anyone with Down's Syndrome, nor do I know much about it at all. However, pretty much the whole way through reading this book, I was distinctly uncomfortable about the representation. First, there is the tree. A branch from the tree next door to Eddy's house has started growing through one of his bedroom windows, a tree that vibrates when he touches it, a tree that makes him see colours - none of which is explained. But the tree also seems to change Eddy. The tree doesn't "cure" Eddy of his Down's Syndrome, but it does make him "better", or "smarter". Eddy ends up smart enough to take six GCSEs and get A*s in all of them. Simply by reading text books, at home, without a teacher. Sure, he has Reagan, his friend from next door, who will explain things he doesn't quite get every now and again, but mostly it's just through reading on his own. I don't know whether or not it's possible for someone with Down's Syndrome to to get A*s in their GCSEs, but the story puts it down to the tree. Not only does this whole thing make me uncomfortable, it also seems far fetched; five years previously, Eddy didn't know his alphabet or what letters words started with. "B is for tree" he said at one point, during a visit from Mrs Stanford, who I assume is from Social Services, but is never said. Now, five years on, because of the tree, Eddy now has six A*s. I couldn't tell in what subjects though, the book is pretty vague on specific details such as the subjects he was studying, or why exactly Mrs Stanford thought Eddy was now capable of taking his GCSEs. He just is, because he's smarter now.
To add to this, as the story goes on, the narration gets confusing. It's told in third person from Eddy's perspective, but sometimes I thought it might be told from some omnipresent unknown narrator because of the distinct change in language, but as I read on, it was clear this was all from Eddy's perspective. I am aware that not all people with Down's Syndrome have the same learning disabilities, that the learning disabilities can range from mild to moderate, but the language used in the narration is not something I would expect from someone with Down's Syndrome. To be honest, it's not the sort of language I would expect from most people. For example:
'For him at least, the feast of knowledge had a limited menu, and the most important answer of them all right now wasn't even on the page.' (p346)*
It just doesn't ring true to me. Even with Eddy being magically smarter, I can't see him thinking like that.
Then there's Eddy's Grandma Daisy. For the first 15 years of Eddy's life, Grandma Daisy has abused him. She keeps him in his bedroom, only allowed to leave to use the bathroom. She verbally abuses him and criticises him all the time. He's stupid, he's "dumb" (a word which is used so often, along with "retard", used by Eddy when he is assuming what others think of him). She is constantly looking for something to have a go at him about. She is supposed to be homeschooling him, but she isn't. She pretends that she does to Mrs Stanford, and makes Eddy lie about it too with threats of being taken away to a boarding school where they will hurt him everyday, just so she can get the benefit for homeschooling. Until Reagan moves next door, Eddy is friendless, and knows no-one except Grandma Daisy. He doesn't know love or kindness. He is bullied by his neighbours. His childhood is a living hell. But this all changes when, once the tree has grown a significant way into Eddy's bedroom, it blooms beautiful pink flowers, in the wrong season, and somehow this does something to Grandma Daisy. She turns a new leaf, full of guilt and apologies, and stops abusing Eddy. There are absolutely no repercussions at all for how Grandma Daisy treated Eddy. Nothing. Sure, she feels guilty, but she gets away with it. She doesn't suffer the consequences. Eddy forgives, and that's it. No. No way. That absolutely does not sit right with me at all. Not only is it disgusting, but it send the awful message that we should just forgive abusers, or that they will simply stop one day. This is terrible and so harmful! It's irresponsible and so appalling.
Then there's the ending. Reagan gets ill. She is ill for months, but doesn't see a doctor until she collapses. First of all, I cannot believe that she gets as ill as she does - tired and lethargic all the time with no energy, and completely not her bubbly, happy self - without her mother demanding that she go to the doctor. Oh, she and Eddy worry about Reagan, but no-one makes her go to see the doctor, because Reagan doesn't want to go. I'm sorry, it's obvious that there is something seriously wrong with Reagan, there is no-way her mother wouldn't take her to the doctor herself. It just wouldn't happen. But it does. She doesn't see a doctor until she collapses. Then they find out she has cancer, some form of leukemia - though we aren't told what form - as I said before, this book is kind of vague on the details. I'm not sure this element was researched well, if at all. When Reagan goes in for chemotherapy, she has radiation. I know a person with cancer can have both chemotherapy and radiation, but the story is written as if the process of having radiation is called chemotherapy, like the author doesn't that they are two separate treatments. She's on all kinds of drugs, though we're not told what, but in the end, the doctors can't help her, and she is taken home to die.
But Eddy can't have this. Nope, not his best friend dying. He noticed that his tree has just started growing into Reagan's bedroom, so when she's asleep, he makes sure she's touching it. Then he goes to his room. By now, the branch in his room has grown all around the walls of him room it's gone full circle, the circle complete by a leaf from the end of the branch touch the start of the branch that comes through Eddy's window. So he lies down to sleep, holding on to the branch. The very next day? Reagan is cured from her cancer. And Eddy? Well, he's dead, isn't he. He's given up his life for his best friend. This story - this terrible story about a boy with Down's Syndrome who is abandoned by his mother at birth because she can't love a child who isn't "normal", about a boy with Down's Syndrome who gets magically smarter, about a boy with Down's Syndrome who suffers through hellish treatment from a grandmother who suffers no consequences - is about a boy with Down's Syndrome who dies at the end. I cannot tell you how absolutely raging I am.
Why? Why?! Why this story? Why not a story about a boy with Down's Syndrome who is loved by his family, about a boy with Down's Syndrome who is treated with love and kindness and the respect he deserves, a boy with Down's Syndrome who is accepted for who he is without the need to be "smarter"/"better"/less "stupid", about a boy with Down's Syndrome who has some kind of fantastical adventure (because fantasy novels can have main characters with Down's Syndrome, too - and let's face it, with the magic tree, this is fantasy), about a boy with Down's Syndrome who doesn't die at the end, but lives a long and happy life?
I am absolutely disgusted by this story. It is so harmful, and so offensive, and I can't stand it. I can't understand how this novel was picked up by a publisher. How they could read this book and think that it was ok. It's absolutely appalling. I will never read another book by Greg Fowler.
*This quote was taken from a proof, so may not be in the final draft.
Thank you to Ink Road Book for the bookseller's proof....more
I've had If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan for a while. It's one I wanted to read because it sounded like it would be an incredible book, but also one I've been putting off because the subject matter had me thinking it would be a difficult read. And although I didn't hate it, I wasn't really a huge fan of it, either. Though this is because I didn't like what the characters were doing, I guess the book did it's job?
Sahar has been in love with her best friend Nasrin ever since they were six years old, but because homosexuality is illegal in Iran, to the extent that sometimes leads to death. their relationship is kept secret. But when Nasrin's parents arrange a marriage for her, the two have more to deal with than just the prospect of being caught. But when Sahar meets Parveen, a friend of her cousin Ali's, she thinks she's found the answer. Parveen is transsexual, and Sahar discovers while being gay is illegal, being trans is not; it's seen an illness, a biological mistake, and transgender people can receive reassignment surgery for free. Sahar decides if she can't be with Nasrin as a girl, she will become a man for her. But is her love worth changing who she is?
So I had problems with Sahar's attitude towards her transitioning into a man. I completely understood why she wanted to go down that path - there was no other way she could be with Nasrin - but at the same time, she just completely takes advantage of people and resources for actual transgender people. She has moments of real selfishness, where, at a support group for trans people, she wants those talking to hurry up and finish so she can speak, and ask about how she can begin transitioning. She does feel for the people she meets, for maybe a split second, but mainly she's thinking about herself. She takes advantage of Parveen's friendship, is almost without empathy for the trans experience that it doesn't even really occur to her that what she is doing is wrong. And that just didn't sit right with me.
Saying that, like Sahar, I was surprised to find that Katayoun, a trans woman Sahar meets through the support group, not only accepts how her country treats gay people, but is all for it. I know gender identity and sexual orientation are not really related, but I would have thought those who are discriminated against - and trans people are discriminated against, even if being trans isn't illegal - would feel comradeship with each other, but no.
'"It's safe to... Well, to be one's self here. I mean, there is less of a chance of judgement or, I don't know, more of a chance for people who, I imagine, are sympathetic.""I'm not like them! You hear me? What they do is unnatural." She whispers as her eyes train on a table of two men giving each other affectionate glances...."I'm sorry, I thought--""Thought what? That I am the same as these... these perverts, just because I am different?"..."My illness is treatable. Their malady is a bargain made with the devil. The Republic knows that, the Koran knows that, and you damn well better know that if you are to survive in this society."'(p150-151)
I also didn't like Nasrin. She wanted - expected - her relationship with Sahar to continue after she's married, even though adultery is also illegal. She wanted to have her cake and eat it. It was like she didn't seem to fully grasp or care just how precarious their situation was, or how worse it would be if they carried on. And she herself was in some kind of denial, because she said she wasn't gay, and was judgemental around other gay people. And they way she bossed Sahar around, I just didn't feel like she really cared, despite her moments of crying and declaring how in love with Sahar she was. So it was even harder for me to excuse what Sahar was doing, because not only was she doing something terrible, she was doing it for a spoilt, entitled brat.
So I didn't like the characters or their decisions, so I didn't enjoy the story. This isn't always the case, but this time, it just wasn't one I really enjoyed. That doesn't make it a bad story however, just one that isn't for me. Do read other reviews before deciding whether or not to read If You Could Be Mine....more
This book! I cannot tell you how much I loved The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Such a brilliant, thought provoking read.
Mina is a refugee who fled Afghanistan with her mother ten years ago, and has been living in Australia ever since. When Mina is granted a scholarship to a prestigious high school, to save her the two hour commute each way, her family decide to move to be closer to the school - despite feeling at home in their old multicultural neighbourhood, and running a successful restaurant. They open a new restaurant in their new area, but come under fire from Aussie Values, an anti-immigration organisation.
Michael's father runs the organisation, and has never really questioned his parents beliefs about immigrants and refugees. But when he meets Mina at school, who shares her views in their Culture and Society class, she shows him a different perspective. The more he gets to know her, and the more he questions everything he's been told. It's time for Michael to work out what he really stands for.
Could this book be more timely? I don't really talk about politics on this blog, but with what's happening in the UK right now with Brexit, and with the Muslim ban Trump tried to bring about in the US, this book is so relevant. Saying that, it's not quite as heavy politically as I expected it to be. Politics is discussed, but it's more about people - their racist opinions on one side, the experiences of those on the other - and morals, right and wrong, and common human decency.
I just loved this book. I loved how it shows that not all racists are "bad" people - in that they're not necessarily abusive and threatening in obvious ways, not really aggressive. Michael's parents come across as quite reasonable in that they're not just spouting typical hate speech, but that they're intelligent, and have arguments about immigration and the impact on jobs for Aussies, the economy and so on. That you have to draw a line at some point and say we can't allow any more immigrants in. They're articulate, and they put forward their arguments - on "Islamification", on people needing to assimilate, and so forth - in such a way that it's understandable that Michael has never really questioned it before, even though I was reading their opinions with my mouth hanging open. I think it's sad that it took Michael meeting Mina - a refugee, a Muslim - for him to look at things from the immigrants/refugees' point of view, but at least he did question.
I loved Mina. I loved how angry she was, and how she stood up for herself. She has spirit and fire, and won't allow anyone to get away with their racist and Islamphobic remarks. She challenges Michael on what his parents think, what they say on TV. And when the Aussie Values bring their ideology to her parents' restaurant's door, she continues to argue and fight back. She isn't cowed by the abuse she receives. She's just wonderful.
'I see red. "You want me to make it easier for you to confront your privilege because God knows even antiracism has to be done in a way that makes the majority comfortable? Sorry, Michael, I don't have time to babysit you through your enlightenment. The first step would be for you to realize you need to figure it out on your own!"' (p219)
'Soon I realize I've become desensitized to the smell of the garbage bins. That's life I guess. Stick around shit long enough and pretty soon you can't smell it. I don't want that to ever happen to me. I want to feel, to be affected, to get angry. Nobody changed the world by being polite. I'm going to fight with all I've got.' (p338)
The only thing that bothered me about the book was the romance. I didn't feel it. As far as I could tell, the only reason they liked each other was because they thought the other was hot. Michael learns from Mina, and Mina learns that people can change, but Michael didn't like Mina because he learnt from her, Mina didn't like Michael because he was starting to change - those weren't reasons for their attraction. Why they liked each other, I don't know. There was no foundation for it. They found each other attractive, they liked the same music - that was it. So I was never rooting for them as a couple. But it kind of doesn't matter. I mean, this book is a romance, so it kind of does matter, but the strength of this book, for me, was how it dealt tackled racism, Islamophobia and anti-immigration ideology. I think it will open the eyes of people who may not get why such views are racist, and how the work of organisations such as Aussie Values affects the people they want to turn away.
A wonderful, insightful novel! I'm really looking forward to reading more by Abdel-Fattah in future!
Thank you to Scholastic for the review copy....more
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 was really intrigued by Out of Heart by Irfan Master when I first heard about it. There have been a few YAOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I was really intrigued by Out of Heart by Irfan Master when I first heard about it. There have been a few YA books that deal with heart transplants, but for the most part, they are romances focusing on the grief of a girl losing her boyfriend, and slowly finding love again in the guy who now has his heart. With Out of Heart, however, it's the story of how a boy, Adam's grandfather dies and donates his heart, which goes to a man William, and how William affects Adam's family, and vice versa. It wasn't your usual YA heart transplant story, and so I was really interested, expecting an emotional read. But I finished it with mixed feelings, I'm sad to say.
Out of Heart is beautifully written. It's one of those quiet books I usually love, slowly unfolding it's story, leaving me immersed and relaxed. It deals with some tough subjects; Adam's father is no longer on the scene, due to beating his family; his sister, Farah, is unable to speak; his grandfather, Dadda, has apparently left behind some debt to loan sharks, and they're also dealing with their grief.
The problem I had with the book is not a huge deal happens. William, the man (who I originally thought was another teenager from the blurb, but is actually a grown man) who receives Dadda's heart kind of accidentally becomes a part of Adam's family when he visits one day. He just wanted to meet them.n This mad had died, and in doing so, saved William's life. The only problem is William doesn't have much of a life. No family, no friends, no job, no home. But when he meets the Shah family, he doesn't really leave. He does leave, he goes back to the hostel he stays at, but he comes back every day, and slowly becomes part of the family. Both Adam and his mum are a little wary of him at first, but Farah loves him, and slowly Adam and his Mum come round to him, too. He genuinely becomes part of their family. And that's so special to him, to be loved. There's never anything between him and Adam's mum, it's not a romance, he's just a family member. And there's something about William that heals the Shah family, too - though I couldn't say what it is. I think it's just that he's a good guy? The Shah family have been through so much, and it's like William's presence helps to heal those wounds.
But that's it, really. William now spends time at the Shah's family, and they spend time with him. That is the story. Of course, there are other, smaller elements; Adam's graffiti, his relationship with a girl he likes, how his dad tries to worm his way back in. But mainly, it's just about William and the Shah's, and it doesn't really seem to go anywhere, or have much point to it. And with the ending, I was left thinking why? What was the point? I mean, for the characters, I kind of get it, though I can't explain due to spoilers, but for me, as a reader, what was the point? There was no real plot that was kept moving. William joins the family, and that's it until the end. It was beautifully written, and I enjoyed that part of it, but I also feel like I wasted my time. I feel there isn't a huge amount to this book.
There was also a problematic part to the book where Adam's best friend Cans tells Adam he shouldn't be so quiet and randomly pull out his notebook - in which he is always drawing or jotting down wordplay to help him understand his thoughts - because people will think he's weird, that he's autistic. He's not. Cans also links being autistic with having mental health problems, when they're not the same. And Cans says they'll think he's "psycho", and he will be "admitted", implying those with mental illness get locked up. This is obviously not the case, and sure, Cans is 15, and those who are ignorant and have no experience of autism or mental health may say these things... but it was just unnecessary. Sure, Adam pulling out his notebook randomly to sketch or write down his thoughts is a little quirky, but nobody else questions it or brings it up, nobody else thinks about it like Cans does.. It's just what Adam does. It was ableist and really unnecessary.
So sadly Out of Heart isn't for me. But I enjoyed the writing enough to want to read Master's other book, A Beautiful Lie, at some point.
Thank you to Hot Key Books via NetGalley for the eProof....more
When I first picked up Close Your Eyes by Nicci Cloke, I didn't know just how complicated and thought-provokOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
When I first picked up Close Your Eyes by Nicci Cloke, I didn't know just how complicated and thought-provoking this story was going to be. Nothing is as simple as it looks, and everyone sees things differently.
Close Your Eyes is about a diverse group of friends, how their friendships change over the course of a year, and how those changes lead to one of them picking up a gun and taking it to school. The story is told half in retrospect, after the shooting, with transcripts of interviews with some of the friends, one of the teachers, a psychologist, but also with news and radio reports. Those (we never really know who) who are putting all of this information together also use blog posts, diary entries, and text messages between the friends from before the school shooting, too. And the book is told half in third person from the perspective of a number of friends, of the events leading up to the shooting, as they happen.
What's really clever is the way the book is put together. The third person narration is told in chronological order, from a holiday the six friends went on until after the shooting. The epistolary part of the story almost feels like a jigsaw puzzle; We'll be shown an interview with one of the friends, then something in third person from that friend's perspective (showing the difference in what they say happened and what actually did happen), then next we'll have an interview with a psychologist, who seems to be talking about what we've just read about. For the most part, the interviews with the friends, the text messages, the blog posts, correspond to the third person narration, but everything else, there's nothing that says it's to do with the specific event you just read about, but it very much feels like it is.
You'll have noticed I've not mentioned which friends narrate the story, whose blog posts are used, etc. This is due to spoilers. The narration changes hands as the story progresses; one tells the story for a while, then someone else takes over, and then things change again. So at the beginning of the book, you don't know who will be narrating later, and as the interviews also correspond with the narration - interviews with the friends after the shooting - to say who narrates is also to say who survives. Even though part of the story is being told in retrospect, certain things are only revealed to the reader at certain times, so you never quite know. You're being guided through the story; you've been taken by the hand and are walking down a certain path, a path of the leader's choosing. So, in some ways, there's a mystery aspect to the story.
And, really, there's a mystery aspect to the whole story. You're being led to believe that friend X is the shooter, but while you're being led to believe this, from the way the epistolary side of things is pieced with the narration, it is never actually said that "X was the shooter." So is it X? Everything points to X, but is it too easy to be X? Or is that the point, a double bluff? Because it looks like it's X, we may doubt it is X, have us guessing it might be someone else... and then end up being X anyway? It was very, very clever. There were a couple of days in the middle of reading Close Your Eyes I was unable to read for, but I was still thinking about the story. I thought about where I was in the story, and about what I had read so far. I was thinking it was far too easy to be X - I've read Cloke's previous novel, Follow Me Back, and knew how good Cloke was at twists and the unexpected - and then something struck me. Something a psychologist said. It seemed at the time to be talking about X, but I then realised it's quite possible what the psychologist was talking about could refer to Y! From then on, I was convinced it was Y, and I thought myself so clever as little things I remembered from what I'd previously read, and what followed when I could read again all seemed to fit my theory. But it turned out I was completely wrong. As I said above, nothing is as simple as it seems.
As clever as Close Your Eyes is, it is also heartbreaking. There are things about the past of a number of characters' pasts that are just unimaginable. Close Your Eyes really plays on your emotions, because you end up really feeling for those it would be easy to tar with the "bad" brush, and being really bloody upset with those who are "innocent". Though it depends on how you define innocent, and how you define bad. Because what this book is really about is bullying, and the consequences - the effects - of your actions, no matter how small. What is bullying, anyway? Teasing someone a little here, a laugh at someone's expense there - just what friends do, right? There's no malice in it, and definitely no harm. But is there? We don't know what people have been through, we don't know their pasts, so we don't know how that will affect them. And, as an outsider, we don't really know what is going through the head of the one making the joke, or the one laughing. And then there's perspectives and the truth; you can have A think B is just shy, that there's nothing weird about them being quiet and observant, but then C can think B is creepy the way they watch everything, notice everything, plotting maybe, and then you can have the real reasons B is like they are. And if you're C who feels a little uneasy around B, not knowing about B's past? Even though they are your friend, what might you do? There are a lot of people who do a lot of bad things, some small, some huge. They may not have a gun in their hand, they may not be taking life, but they're definitely not innocent. And you never know how much can be too much for some one, nor how someone who it's too much for will react. So, like the description above says, who is truly responsible? It's really very thought provoking.
There's one niggle I had with this book. Once we get to the shooting and we're inside the shooter's head, it is very clear that this person is in need of help. I couldn't say for sure that they have a mental illness, because I'm not a doctor, but they definitely need counselling. It does feel like they have a problem, though, that they could potentially have a mental illness - and there are even interviews with a psychologist who talks about the shooter's past and what that could mean to them. And that made me feel a little uneasy. When things like this happen - when someone picks up a gun and goes on a shooting rampage - the state of their mental health is questioned, or any mental illness they have come to light. I worry that this story may be adding to that idea the news perpetuates when things like this happen, that those with mental illness are dangerous, and therefore upholding the stigma surrounding mental illness. I don't know, I simply don't know enough to be sure that that's what this book is doing. At the same time, for the shooter to not need help, their whole backstory would need to change, because they need help long before they pick up a gun. I don't know what the answer is here, but it did make me feel a little uncomfortable.
Still, Close Your Eyes is a very clever, very thought-provoking, and very upsetting novel. The scenes when the shooting is taking place, the accounts of it - even though I knew it had already happened and was over - it was just terrifying. I felt for the shooter, but I also feared them. Close Your Eyes has so many layers to it, and is so complex; this is more than just a school shooting with a whodunnit element, this is a story about people, how we can never really know people, and a book, I feel, promotes kindness and compassion. What Cloke has done with this story, with these characters... it's pretty incredible.
Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index by Julie Israel is a wonderful story all about love and secrets, family andOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index by Julie Israel is a wonderful story all about love and secrets, family and friendship, grief and guilt, art and music, the lost and the found.
Two months after her older sister, Camilla, dies in a car crash, Juniper finds a letter Camilla wrote to a secret boyfriend - a boyfriend only called 'You' - dated the day she died. Feeling guilty over how they had fallen out just before she died, Juniper wants to deliver the letter to the mysterious 'You', to do this one final thing for her sister. At the same time, Juniper loses card 65 from her Happiness Index - a ritual encouraged by Camie to think about the positives in each day and write them down. But card 65 has a secret Juniper can't bear for anyone to discover. In the search for ' You' and card 65, Juniper starts to find other secrets written by her fellow classmates. Juniper can't fix things with her sister, but maybe she can help those whose secrets she's found.
Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index was such a lovely, moving, heartbreaking read. Juniper is a complex characters, still grieving fro her sister, and feeling guilty about her death. Because of this, she wants to do some good - for Camie and for others. Through people and object lost, other objects and then people are found. Juniper is so set on trying to make up for the past that she doesn't quite see when helping someone becomes meddling, despite the several warnings she's given by Brand Sayers. And then there's the mystery of who 'You' is, plus the secret Juniper wrote on card 65 - though that part was pretty predictable. Over the course of the book, Juniper comes up with several theories of who 'You' could be as more clues come to light. The mystery element was so intriguing! I could see why Juniper suspected each person she thought of, but I also had my own theory, which was strengthen a little as more clues were discovered. I really want to talk about this in more detail, but there will be spoilers, so don't look if you don't want the book spoilt for you.
(view spoiler)[ So, I was pretty sure that 'You' was going to be Mr Bodily, the student English teacher. 'You' will still be staying at the High School, even though Camie had graduated before the Summer - Juniper thought this meant Camie was seeing someone younger, but a teacher wouldn't be leaving the school, either. Camie had mentioned the quirky student teacher, Mr Bodily, that she liked (thought she didn't mean it in that way). This relationship is a secret, but none of Camie's previous relationships have been kept to herself - even from Camie's friends - maybe this time it's kept secret because it's inappropriate and illegal? 'You' has links to the local university - Mr Bodily is only 22 or 23, and is a student teacher. 'You' quoted poetry to Camie, and bought her a copy of Les Misérables by Victor Hugo - Mr Bodily is the English student teacher. And on and on. I was convinced from very early on that 'You' was Mr Bodily.
But we never find out who 'You' is. Juniper doesn't work it out, and so decides to make the letter public, along with a huge art installation all about Camie she decides to put up on the walls of the school. So 'You' reads the letter, but Juniper never works out who s/he is. And so, although we never know for sure, Juniper not finding out - us readers not finding out - leads me to believe that 'You' couldn't have been Mr Bodily, because student-teacher relationships are a huge deal, and something I feel Israel would have dealt with, along with the other big issues she tackles in the book. So I now have no idea who 'You' is, but at the same time, I'm not too bothered about now knowing, because, like Juniper says, it doesn't really matter. What matters is how Juniper copes with her grief and guilt, how she feels about her sister and her relationship with her sister, and how she moves forward with her friends and boyfriend. (hide spoiler)]
I loved all of the characters in this book! I loved how sweet Nate was. I loved Sponge's quirkiness and his awesome memory. I loved Angela and how she was a huge fan of old school geniuses and classic literature. I loved Kody and just how nice she was - and I loved how things worked out for her, even if they started off not so great. And Brand! Oh, how I loved Brand! I loved how his bad boy reputation was simply that - a reputation - and that he was such a good guy underneath it all. I loved how complicated he was, how he could be so clever and intuitive when it came to other people, but stupid, if understandably so, when it came to himself. I loved how his and Juniper's relationship developed as they got to know each other - I just with a whole month after their first date wasn't left out, I would have liked to have seen their romantic relationship develop.
I also really loved all the appreciation for art, in all it's forms. Brand is in a band, Juniper used to be in the choir and had a solo in a musical, and Camie played guitar. Angela, as mentioned, is really into classic literature, Kody is really into the hue YA bestselling series that has been made into a movie. And Juniper really gets into her art class and creates thematic multi-media collages with the things she finds, plus the 'Camie was here' prints she makes and pins up around town. I really loved it all. It just gave the book this extra level, it made the characters feel more real, and it gives us readers something more to relate to. You could just feel Israel's love of creativity and art, and it was just wonderful.
Israel tackles some big issues in Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index, as well as grief and bereavement. She covers bullying, suicidal thoughts, and abuse, and I think they're all dealt with brilliantly - and, despite how heavy some of those issues are, she manages to writes about them in a way that doesn't take away from the general enjoyment of the book. The book itself isn't overly heavy - it balances the dark with the light.
Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index is such a great book, a wonderful debut, and I'm really looking forward to what Israel writes in the future.
Thank you to Penguin 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
I wasn't entirely sure about One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus before I read it. I thought it sounded iOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I wasn't entirely sure about One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus before I read it. I thought it sounded interesting, but murder, and these four students lying... I was worried I wouldn't like it, wouldn't like cold-hearted teens lying about someone's death - because they would all be lying, right? Even if they didn't do it, they would have witnessed it, and for there to be a story, they would ll have to be lying, or three of them just would have said who did it from the very beginning. But One of Us is Lying is not the story I was expecting. In actual fact, it was amazing!
Addy, Bronwyn, Cooper, Nate and Simon are all in detention because mobile phones were found in their bags by a teacher who won't have phones in his classroom. When Simon has a drink of water and collapses, the four other students do what they can to save him. He's had an allergic reaction and needs his Epipen. But his Epipen isn't on him, nor are there any in the nurse's office. Sadly, Simon dies, and a police investigation is started to find out what happened. Turns out, Simon was going to share secrets of each of the four other teens on his gossip app, About That, the very next day, and now all four of them are suspects in his murder. What secrets was Simon about to reveal? And who would kill to keep their secret safe?
One of Us is Lying is told from the perspective of all four of the suspects; Bronwyn, a straight A student who is bound for Yale; Addy, popular, pretty Homecoming Princess; Cooper, the school's star baseball jock; and Nate, who is on probation for drug dealing. What I loved about this book is, when you read about the type of people they are like that, as I've listed them, you're already making certain assumptions about who they are. Yes, Bronwyn is highly intelligent, but she's also under a lot of pressure to be the daughter her parents expect her to be - and to keep clear of the stereotypes of latinx people her father hates. Yes, Addy is pretty and popular, but she is plagued by insecurities and self-doubt. Yes, Cooper is a star athlete, but he's not stupid, and he's struggling to be who he really is. Yes, Nate was a drug dealer, but with an alcoholic father and a dead mother, he has to make a lot of money quickly in order to keep his debilitated roof over his and his father's heads. None of their lives are easy, and all of their lives as they know them would be ruined if Simon revealed their secrets. Which of them is desperate enough to kill Simon to stop their world crumbling around them?
I actually genuinely liked all of them. They were such great characters, and all so individual. I really think it can be difficult, when you have multiple narrators, to keep each character's voice separate, to keep their personalities intact and stop them all blending into one. McManus manages this perfectly, and never once did I confuse who's section I was reading. I loved the mystery aspect of the story, trying to work out who killed Simon and why, but at the same time, liking all the characters, I was really worried about the big reveal. I didn't want any of them to have been the one to have killed Simon, it would have meant i trusted the wrong person, that I fell for their lies. So while, individually, I thought that each of them was innocent, I was also wondering, "are they?" I did have a theory, or rather., half a theory, involving more the what than the who (I know that may not make much sense, but I can't explain without spoiling the story), and I was right, which I was so happy about. I had this half of a theory in my head by the end of chapter three, but I was never really positive about it. With a mystery like this, it really messes with your emotions, because while I was thinking, "I'm sure XYZ is going to be the case... but will it?" I was constantly questioning myself, questioning the characters, and feeling guilty for doing so. I trusted them all, and yet I didn't trust any of them. I never stopped liking them, but I did wonder if perhaps one of them was a very good liar, and I had been duped.
As well as a mystery, One of Us is Lying is also about each of the suspects individual stories. They were such great characters and I worried for and cared about all of them in regards to their own problems. But, of course, it's their own stories that add to the mystery, because they do all have their own things going on, and would they think those things are enough to kill for? What I loved is that there is a bond that is formed between all four of them; only they understand what the rest are going through - how they are treated by others, the media focus, etc - and it's the most unlikely of friendships, but I loved seeing them together, seeing them suffer together, and support each other, and then try to work things out for themselves, because the police are determined to pin it on one of them if not all of them.
God, I absolutely loved this book! And it's reminded me how much I love a mystery! Such a fantastic story full of intrigue, but also heart, and four suspects you can't help but love and feel for! A brilliant debut novel, and I'm so excited to read what McManus writes next!
Thank you to Penguin via NetGalley for the eProof....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.