feminism · lgbt · Non-Fiction · review

The Gender Games – Juno Dawson

“Transitioning is not going to mystically solve all the worries in my life. I will still be skint. I will still get lonely sometimes. I will still be driven and overambitious. I’ll still be jealous and competitive. But I will be a woman. I will be Juno. I will be righted. I will be me.”

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Blurb: “Gender isn’t just screwing over trans people, it’s messing with everyone. From little girls who think they can’t be doctors to teenagers who come to expect street harassment. From exclusionist feminists to ‘alt-right’ young men. From men who can’t cry to the women who think they shouldn’t. As her body gets in line with her mind, Juno tells not only her own story, but the story of everyone who is shaped by society’s expectations of gender – and what we can do about it.

Juno Dawson – primarily known for her Young Adult books – announced her transition in 2015 and was met with tremendous support from her readers, the book community and her publisher (who have since gone to lengths to reprint her books under her new name). Following this announcement – though I feel that isn’t the right word to use – Juno went on to talk publicly about her transition in a monthly Glamour Column. I’ve asked her in the past if she was likely to write a book either featuring a trans character or about her own experience of transitioning. She said yes.

I will admit I expected The Gender Games to be all about her experience of transitioning; and doing so in the public eye. Which it is in part, though it focuses on the bigger problem of gender throughout.

Gender is personified, built up to be the creature in the dark ruining everyone’s fun. She talks about growing into a gay man and how she believes that was the label that fit until society developed and “transgender” became more commonly known. She acknowledges the privilege she still had as a gay man when it came to her publishing career; once she compared it to her female counterparts and how they are many spaces for young LGBT people online with this likes of Hannah Hart and Tyler Oakley racking up millions of views and subscribers along with the ever-growing success of Ru Paul’s Drag Race yet none of them are recognised in the so-called “mainstream media.” She goes into details of how men can benefit from feminism if it wasn’t seen as such a dirty word and things such as “you throw like a girl” aren’t helping anyone. She brings in contributors such as Sex & Relationships Youtuber Hannah Witton and drag queen Alaska to illustrate how universal some experiences are.

For me, I learnt a lot about the importance of not taking things at face value. I follow Juno avidly on all her social media and have experienced a sort of pride watching her publically grow but it seemed to lean towards the positive. In The Gender Games the reader really gets to see what goes on behind those glamour columns and Instagram stories. The reader gets to see the hardships, the abuse, the state of our NHS when it comes to dealing with gender, and just how isolating it can be.

She talks about how the LGBT community itself is not perfect and highlights the important stigma around bisexuals – something I have sadly experienced myself -and how a change needs to happen within for those on the outside to take anyone seriously.

Another important factor is that Juno acknowledges she is not perfect. She is aware of her privilege and quick to declare that she knows not everyone had the same resources available to them. She mentions that she messes up too and it’s important to apologise and work on being better. Which is something that I’m sure all of us can do.

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contemporary · review · young adult

A Change Is Gonna Come

“Change is not inevitable or impossible; it requires imagination to picture how thing might be, as well as courage and tenacity to work to make the imagined a reality.”

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Blurb: “Featuring top Young Adult authors alongside a host of exciting new talent, this anthology of stories and poetry from BAME writers on the theme of change is a long-overdue addition to the YA scene.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Diversity is a topic that constantly comes up in conversation in the book world. With a push to get more diverse voices out there both on the writing side and the industry side, and with the successes of new YA books like The Hate U Give, it really does feel like change is on the way.

A Change Is Gonna Come is a Young Adult anthology aiming to give voices to those who have “historically had their thoughts, ideas and experiences oppressed.” The overarching theme is change and contributors are from various BAME backgrounds. Well-known writers such as Nikesh Shukla (The Good Immigrant) and Patrice Lawrence (Orangeboy) have made contributions along with many fantastic debuts. When speaking to one of the latter, Aisha Bushby she talked about how Nikesh Shukla is wary of diversity becoming a marketing trend. She agrees and said that while diversity is important, she doesn’t want that aspect to detract from the quality of the stories.

My personal favourites from this collection are as follows:

“Marionette Girl” by Aisha Bushby tells the story of a girl with OCD who lives her life confined by time. This one is great for anyone who loves Harry Potter references. (Trigger warning for OCD and Anxiety)

“Hackney Moon” by Tanya Byrne is the story of how a same sex relationship falls apart over time. The writing is so poetic and beautiful that it reminded me of the writing style in The Book Thief.

“We Who?” by Nikesh Shukla showcases the breakdown of a friendship after the Brexit result of the referendum. It addresses the idea of “us v them” mentality and whether it’s possible to be tolerant of different views when you are the thing wishing to be tolerated.

There are many more wonderful additions to this anthology and the book has a glossary at the back with links to helplines and research websites if you are affected by any of the stories.

 
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contemporary · lgbt · review · young adult

Noah Can’t Even – Simon James Green

“Screw it all. He was going to be normal. He was going to do normal things. Be a normal boy. That would show his mum! It was the night of the party. And he was going to kiss Sophie.”

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Blurb: “Poor Noah Grimes! His father disappeared years ago, his mother’s Beyonce tribute act is an unacceptable embarrassment, and his beloved gran is no longer herself. He only has one friend, Harry, and school is…Well, it’s pure HELL. Why can’t Noah be normal, like everyone else at school? Maybe if he struck up a romantic relationship with someone – maybe Sophie, who is perfect and lovely – he’d be seen in a different light? But Noah’s plans are derailed when Harry kisses him at a party. That’s when things go from bad to utter chaos.

I first heard about this book because of an interview Amber at the milelongbookshelf did with the author on her channel. The pair discussed the lack of British LGBT books and why it’s great that Simon’s is exactly that. So when release day rolled around I was very quick to get a copy.

Noah Can’t Even follows a sixteen year old boy called Noah who is the bottom of the school food chain. His dad is missing, his mum is a total embarrassment and after an unfortunate incident in P.E, he’s soon to be the laughing stock of the school. Noah just wants to be normal and when he’s paired up with the gorgeous Sophie on his Geography project, he sees this as his opportunity to win her affections. It’s all going well until he ends up kissing his best friend, Harry, at a party and the school bully turns out to have video evidence of it and he isn’t afraid to start passing it around.

There have been many discussions about Young Adult books feeling like they’re the “older teens” rather than actual teenagers but this isn’t one of those books. Noah feels like a real teenager from the awkward interactions to the ridiculous internal monologue throughout. It’s cringy, embarrassing and downright hilarious. It’s one of those books where I was laughing out loud and even after finishing, when reminded of certain scenes, I found myself laughing again.

It’s a brilliant coming-of-age story about exploring your sexuality and while there isn’t a bisexual character present, bisexuality is frequently mentioned in such a normal way and that is a beautiful thing to see. It’s great to see bisexuality be normalised and becoming more present within LGBT Young Adult books.

It blows my mind that this is a debut because it’s so well put together. I cannot wait to see what Simon James Green comes out with next!

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contemporary · review · young adult

One Of Us Is Lying – Karen M. Mcmanus

“Is everybody in it together, or is somebody pulling the strings? Who’s the puppet master and who’s the puppet? I’ll give you a hint to get you started: everyone is lying.”

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Blurb: “On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.
Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

When a group of teenagers from different social groups end up in detention together, they think nothing could possibly get worse. Until Simon, the school gossip, dies an hour later. As the only people in room when it happened, the group become persons of interest. Who is telling the truth? And who is lying?

The initial start of this book feels very much like The Breakfast Club and I worried  that the story would feel too similar but once the driving force of the plot –Simon’s death – kicks in, it started to move away for that and grew to become its own story. While the unexpected death shakes the school, leading to threatening tumblr posts and a media frenzy, One of Us Is Lying is more about the characters. The use of multiple perspectives allows the reader an insight into each of the character’s lives and does a really good job of breaking down preconceived ideas we have of people based on how they appear from the outside.

Personally I’ve been having a lot of problem with plot-length in books this year and One of Us Is Lying is one of those. In a “who done it” type of story it’s hard to get the balance between the investigation elements and the getting-to-know-the-characters element and, for me, there was too much of the latter. But I think a lot of that played into the fact that apart from Bronwyn (who I could really relate to), I didn’t really connect to any of the characters enough to want to know more about their lives outside of the school walls. Which was more fault of me than the book itself.

The big reveal was underwhelming and I’ve seen a lot of other reviewers express their concerns about it.

This one just wasn’t for me.

 

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feminism · review

The Power – Naomi Alderman

“She cuppeth the lightning in her hand. She commandeth it to strike.”

 

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Blurb: “In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.”

*Edit: Since writing this review The Power won the Prize*

This shortlisted Baileys Women’s Prize novel is set in a modern day world where women start to develop powers which they use to become the dominant gender. Throughout the story, the reader follows four different people living in different parts of the world and sees the unfolding events told through their eyes.

The Power’s concept is one that struck me the second I heard about it. As expected, it delivers a dark and compelling insight into a world where society is turned on its head. At times it was very difficult to read and I feel like that was the point of it. While, to some, the idea of men ruling over women may seem like an ideal universe, Alderman doesn’t skimp out on showing that maybe things wouldn’t be that much better either.

The use of multi-perspective was the best way to tell this story because it showed just how vastly different society had become across various countries and my personal favourites to consume were Thude’s – a journalist.

The sequence of events takes place over the course of ten years and this is where The Power really starts to fall apart. While we are given snapshots of events over the time period, it feels very stagnant and when I got to the end I felt almost cheated. The story just never really seemed to go anywhere and I’m not sure if that was the intention or not.

Overall, this is one of those books where the concept is infinitely better than the plot itself.

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contemporary · review

All The Good Things – Clare Fisher

“Writing about the good things is hard, because sooner or later you get to the edge, and if you’re not careful, you fall off.”

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Blurb: “Twenty-one year old Beth is in prison. The thing she did is so bad she doesn’t deserve to ever feel good again. But her counsellor, Erika, won’t give up on her. She asks Beth to make a list of all the good things in her life. So Beth starts to write down her story, from sharing silences with Foster Dad No. 1, to flirting in the Odeon on Orange Wednesdays, to the very first time she sniffed her baby’s head. But at the end of her story, Beth must confront the bad thing.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
The story follows a twenty-one year old woman called Beth who is serving time in prison for a crime she refuses to talk about. She attends frequent sessions with her therapist, Erika, who one day encourages Beth to come to terms with what she did by writing a list of all the good things in her life.  However, instead of just writing a list, Beth also writes stories about her life linked to the good things she mentions. As the reader travels through the list, it’s almost like walking through Beth’s house as she opens door after door, inviting you into another room.

I expect this to be a book that I would enjoy but not one that would leave a massive impact. Dear reader, I have never been more wrong. This book came out of nowhere and slapped me across the face… then a second time just to make sure I don’t forget about our encounter. All The Good Things is driven by an utterly compelling main character. I found myself going from reading a few chapters over an hour to walking down the street with my face glued to my kindle because I was simply unable to stop reading. I went from wanting to know what Beth did that was so horrible – referred to as “the bad thing” throughout – to just wanting to know more about her life; from her days working at the Odeon, to the relationship she had with a married man, to the birth of her daughter. I was unbelievably encapsulated by this character and her backstory to the point where I found myself screaming, unbearably upset, when I turned the page to be met with the acknowledgements.

I am struggling to put into words what I felt when finishing this book. The only way I can describe it that I am walking around with this heavy weight in my chest, feeling lost now this character has moved on to other things and left me behind.

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children's fiction · review

Demon Dentist – David Walliams

“That fateful afternoon the boy vowed he would never ever go to the dentist’s again.”

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Blurb: “Darkness had come to the town. Strange things were happening in the dead of night. Children would put a tooth under their pillow for the tooth fairy, but in the morning they would wake up to find… a dead slug; a live spider, hundreds of earwigs creeping and crawling beneath their pillow. Evil was at work. But who or what was behind it?”

I’ve been slowly making my way through all of David Walliams’ books and Demon Dentist marks the third stop on this adventure.

The story follows a boy called Alex who has avoided going to the dentist even since he suffered an unfortunate incident there. As a result his teeth are brown and rotten. It can be no coincidence that children wake up to gifts of dead frogs, eyeballs and creepy crawlies from the tooth fairy just as the new dentist, Miss Root, moves to the town.  The strange occurrences encourage Alex and his new (friend that’s a girl, not girlfriend!) Gabz to investigate what’s exactly going on.

When I was a child I was terrified of the dentist and to be honest, not much has changed and the darker – while still comical – tone of this book really does re-affirm why my fear of the dentist is quite legitimate… okay maybe I should book a dentist appointment. In addition to the regular Walliams humour you can find in his books, Demon Dentist features “made up words” which just adds to a more hysterical reading experience. It’s a small thing but packs a big punch.

Miss Root is a truly suspicious character that had me on edge throughout the story; you never really can work out what her deal is. Alex faces a lot of hardships (outside of his rotting teeth) because his dad is in a wheelchair, making Alex his sole carer. I thought this was a wonderful addition to the story as there are real-life cases where children are put in situations where they have to look after family members. It centred the story more in the real world and provided some representation to those children who may pick up this book.

What I’ve discovered with Walliams’ books is that the minor characters are always the one that make the biggest impact. In Demon Dentist that role is taken on by Winnie; a social worker sent to look after Alex’s dad. There’s one scene where she chases Alex through the school on her moped to try and make him go to the dentist. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt!

Demon Dentist is the best of Walliams’ works so far and if you’re looking for somewhere to start, this is the best one to dip your toe in the water.

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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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