contemporary · review · young adult

Stranger Than Fanfiction – Chris Colfer

“Joining a bunch of strangers on a road trip isn’t something I make a hobby out of, but I figured, why the fuck not?”

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Blurb: “Cash Carter is the young, world famous lead actor of the hit television Wiz Kids. When four fans jokingly invite him on a cross-country road trip, they are shocked that he actually takes them up on it. Chased by paparazzi and hounded by reporters, this unlikely crew takes off on a journey of a lifetime–but along the way they discover that the star they love has deep secrets he’s been keeping.”

Chris Colfer is another one of those celebrity-turned-writers that I was initially sceptical of when it came to his Land of Stories series but quickly proved me wrong. As I’ve witnessed Colfer grow as a writer over the past few years he has become a firm auto buy author for me.

Going back to his old roots, Colfer returns to the Young Adult age range with Stranger Than Fanfiction with a story following a group of teenagers, about to go off to college, who decide to go on a road trip. Their bond exists through their mutual love of a sci-fi TV show called Whizz Kids, fronted by heart-throb Cash Carter. As the group set off on their final adventure together before college, they invite their favourite actor along not thinking for one minute that he might actually say yes… until he shows up.

Stranger Than Fiction is fundamentally like every other road trip style novel you’ll come across. It’s formulaic to the point where some landmarks visited are ones I’ve seen in countless other books.  So that aspect left little to the imagination. Colfer’s overall flair remains throughout but I was left disappointed: none of the characters really stood out for me despite the depth of their backstories, except for Cash Carter who is the real driving force for the plot and the only really interesting part as you get to see what really goes down on the other side of a media story.

This is a tale about identity, friendship, final goodbyes and making memories that are sure to last forever.

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Non-Fiction · review

Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick

“It’s possible that in ten years, every word in here will send me into fits of humiliated paralysis. But the crazy wants out. Let’s do this.”

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Blurb: “Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”
At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.”

Like probably many others, I discovered Anna Kendrick through Twilight and Pitch Perfect. I’m not really that person who is a fan of a celebrity to the extent where I’m willing to read a book about their lives, but there’s something so down-to-earth about the way that Anna Kendrick presents herself during interviews that I am willing to watch literally anything she’s involved in.

In Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna discusses fashion, sex , relationships and her path into acting (which started as a child in theatre – something I didn’t actually know). She talks about what actually goes on behind the scenes at those flashy award ceremonies and how, even though you may star in really successful films, you might not actually earn that much.

One aspect I really like was that the photos from key points in Anna’s life were sprinkled throughout the chapters rather than being lumped together in the middle of the book. It felt like the photos being with the corresponding stories Anna shared really added something special and helped me get more immersed in the memories she was sharing.

Overall it’s an honest, insightful read with a sprinkling of Anna’s witty humour that might just have you laughing out loud.

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contemporary · review · young adult

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

“I always said if I saw it happen to somebody I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, then I’m sure you’ve heard about The Hate U Give. At the time of writing this post, the book is celebrating its sixth week at the top of the NYT Bestseller list and is still receiving overwhelming positive reviews.

The Hate U Give is a debut novel following Starr Carter who is stuck between two worlds: she goes to a posh predominantly white school during the day but she lives in a rough neighbourhood. One night Starr witnesses her friend, Khalid, being shot by a police officer. Inspired by the black lives matter movement, this is a raw and brutally honest narrative about what it means to be on the other side of a media story; to be mourning the loss of yet another person to police gun violence in America.

Starr is an utterly compelling character, bound to keep the reader hooked through the emotions she feels after Khalid’s death and the events that follow; including the court case at which she has to testify.

Every time the police showed up in the plot I found myself staying still and even holding my breath as if somehow breaking either would have an effect on the story. It shocked me into the reality of the situation. There are groups of people out there who fell threatened by the police and see them as something to avoid, not do anything to provoke, rather than someone they can go to when they need help. And that is truth: there are people out there when The Hate U Give is their everyday lives and that is terrifying and needs to change.

Starr’s friends at her school also need their moment in the spotlight because they added extra layers to this story. Hailey is a textbook High School girl and openly makes racist comments and refuses to apologise for them. She reflects so many people I’ve come across in the past few years as I’ve opened myself up to learning about other cultures and experiences. The other friend, Maya, is Chinese and also suffers a Hailey’s sharp tongue. I feel she represents a lot of people I know personally and I related to her a lot. She’s the type of person that acknowledges bad things but stays quiet. In a world of Maya’s we need to endeavour to be a Starr.

It’s very rare that I find a Young Adult contemporary where the protagonist drives the story. The Hate U Give is the opposite. I was walking along with Starr Carter every step of the way and I will continue to carry her story in my soul.

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contemporary · review · young adult

Under Rose-Tainted Skies – Louise Gornall

“The best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive. Am I coping? Yes, but it’s taking a monumental amount of effort to keep the dynamite inside my stomach from exploding.”

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Blurb: “Agoraphobia confines Norah to the house she shares with her mother.
For her, the outside is sky glimpsed through glass, or a gauntlet to run between home and car. But a chance encounter on the doorstep changes everything: Luke, her new neighbour. Norah is determined to be the girl she thinks Luke deserves: a ‘normal’ girl, her skies unfiltered by the lens of mental illness. Instead, her love and bravery opens a window to unexpected truths…”

In the autumn of 2014 I was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder and it felt like such a relief to finally find a doctor who believed what I was going through. I wanted to see anxiety discussed more within books, especially Young Adult, as there’s still so much stigma around mental illness. Surprisingly, it’s quite hard to find books that accurately depict what it is like living with anxiety and I was pointed in the direction of Under Rose-Tainted Skies.

The story follows a girl called Norah who has agoraphobia, OCD, Anxiety and spends her life living within the safety of her home. She frequently sees her therapist, Dr Reeves and has a mother who bends over backwards to look after her. One day, a new boy called Luke moves in next door and the story takes off from there.

I really didn’t want this to be one of those “cute boy cures mental illness” stories and from very early on it started to lean that way. Luke is a very forward boy: coming over to introduce himself, offering to drive Norah to school (after she lies that she goes to public school and accidently names the one he attends) which naturally makes her curious about getting to know him. However, over the length of the novel it didn’t feel like a realistic balance of the process of a relationship while one of the partners deals with severe anxiety. There were points in the narrative where Norah even talks about how “weird” she used to be as if the issues she faces every day have suddenly evaporated. As someone who is in a long term relationship and deals with anxiety every day, it just felt hurtful at times that she seemed to flick it off like a switch in certain situations. She uses Luke, in a way, as a goal to aim for in improving her life which is brilliant to see but falls flat in the actions.

She lays out boundaries that she doesn’t want Noah to cross but inevitably does and leads to a messy outcome which angered me. However, he did go on to fully research agoraphobia, anxiety, OCD and how to help someone you know dealing with any of those and comes back to Norah and mentions some of the things he learnt which is really good character growth.

The other characters I really liked were, as mentioned earlier, the mother who has quit several jobs in order to be flexible so that she can look after her daughter. Good mothers are something I feel is rarely seen in Young Adult so it was great to see a YA novel showcasing a mother who really does want the best for their child. The therapist, Dr Reeves, was wonderful, insightful, and understanding; even going as far as to conduct a therapy session in a car outside the building because Norah is too afraid to leave it.

I came out of this reading experience feeling depleted. So many other bloggers had recommended this book to me and sung its praises that I felt almost as if I’d missed the point. But I couldn’t get past the message that in some aspects it showed that maybe your mental health problems can be solved simply by meeting a boy.

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