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

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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contemporary · lgbt · review · young adult

Radio Silence – Alice Oseman

“If nobody is listening to my voice, am I making any sound at all?”

 

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Blurb: “Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.
But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken.

The story follows a girl called Frances who is very much a model student: she’s the head girl, has really good grades and is on track to securing a place at Cambridge University. On the side she is a devoted fan to a YouTube based podcast called Universe City and spends the gaps between studying not only listening to the show but also creating fan-art for it. When she is approached by the creator to make official art for the show it feels like a dream come true and she finally learns the identity of the person behind Universe City and they become close friends but things quickly turn sour within her beloved online community.

I was reccomended this book on the basis of it having a bisexual character. Frances identifies as bisexual and unlike many books which claim to have one but is never stated, Frances outright says that she identifies so and the way in which it was portrayed felt very authentic; it was just another layer to the story rather than being the main focus.

This is a novel that any reader can relate to: from the stress of exams, choosing universities and even in some cases questioning whether your choice of degree is actually something you want to. Radio Silence does a fantastic job or depicting what it feels like to be young and facing big choices that are intended to set your life on a certain path. I also really like that Oseman showed how university isn’t for everyone.

In a modern age where so many people are connecting via online communities based around something they love, the podcast side of it is very relevent today and shows just how quickly things can become toxic when select members start to stir things.

While there were many elements I liked and appreciated within the plot, overall the story just fell flat for me. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and, honestly, I haven’t really thought about it since I put it down.

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discussion · fantasy

The Importance of Hermione Granger

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In honour of the release of additional Harry Potter material in the form of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, it seems only fitting to talk about how much this series has shaped my life. However, that could take years to fully explain so for now you will have to accept this rather shortened version.

I first discovered the Harry Potter books when I was 7/8 years old. I was wandering around the giant metal crates of books as the Scholastic book fair was at my primary school. My mum had always pushed me towards reading: if I wanted a toy she would make me wait a week and if I still wanted it then I could have it. If it was a book, I could have it right away. She sent me to school that day with money to go to the book fair and get whatever I want. That day when I eagerly scanned the shelves of the various containers, I came across a book called Harry Potter and the chamber of secrets. At the time I wasn’t aware this was the second book and I devoured it. I found out that there were in fact three books out at that point and my first read through went 2nd book, 3rd book, 1st book and then 4-7.

There’s no way I can really encapsulate how much this series meant to me, not only growing up, but even now. It gave that escapism I needed as a child and I was just in awe of this world that I was thrown into. I followed this small orphan boy into a world of magic and wonder, facing something so much bigger than him. I pictured myself fighting alongside them, defending them where needed. I saw myself sat in black robes lined with yellow at the Hufflepuff table in the Great Hall. I had found a place where I belonged. My mum would let me read one chapter a night before bed and then take the book off me and read it herself. We always had 2 bookmarks in our copy of the most recent book because she would take it to work with her and I’d get it when I got home from school. My most prominent childhood memory is sitting in class and my teacher declaring that our reading hour had started. Every single child in that room pulled out a copy of Harry potter and the Order of the Phoenix and began reading. Including my teacher.

Naturally, I adore the movies but there’s so much magic that you don’t get in those compared to the books and every year I find myself coming back to those books, even if it is only one of them. This series was by no means the first I read as a child, but it was the first that really stuck with me. When we went on holidays where we took the car (like getting the ferry across to France) I would demand we listen to the Harry potter audiobooks and I’d sit in the back reading the book along with the soothing tones of Stephen Fry.

When the final book came out, I stared at it for the first two days. We had two copies of the book at that point so mum was well into her copy, but I was terrified of the adventure ending, of parting away with the characters that had been the only real friends I ever had. One night, at 4am, mum came running into my room because I was hysterically crying; Fred Weasley had just died. At that time, I didn’t realise that they would continue walking alongside me to this day. At twenty years old, I was having fights with university friends about which Hogwarts house was superior, my university had both a Harry Potter and a Quidditch society. Some of the best people in my life right now became my friends because of our love for this story. At nearly twenty three, my car keys are attached to a Hufflepuff crest keychain. When I went to the Harry Potter worlds in Universal and the Harry Potter studios, I cried.

This blog post is title “the importance of Hermione Granger” because she was the first time I saw myself as a character in a book. Of course I’d read many books with characters who loved reading but Hermione Granger didn’t just love reading, she loved learning too. She didn’t just have a fascination for the magical subjects of Hogwarts (as she’d lived 11 years of her life in a non-magical world) but she even loved Muggle Studies; a topic about something she already knew probably more of than the teachers did. She is made fun of throughout the books for being the one with her hand always in the air to answer questions, always doing her homework on time and demanding that Harry and Ron start revising for their exams. Her knowledge saves Harry and Ron’s lives countless times. Out of all the things she could use a time turner for in the third book (minus the obvious plot point) she uses it to attend more classes than is physically possible to do without manipulating time. In Deathly Hallows she fills her bag with over ten books just in case there might be any useful information in them that could help further down the line: something that Harry doesn’t even think of when he originally plans to go alone.

My point is she loved reading and she loved learning but more importantly she never changed. She could’ve so easily shrunk inside herself and contained the things that made her such a remarkable character but she never hid her love for either of those things. She showed me that devotion to something you love is important and you should never ever be afraid to passionate about the things that mean the most to you.
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