book event · discussion · poetry

Poetry Event | Neil Hilborn

“I saw the future, I did,
and in it,
I was alive.”

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I never used to really be into poetry. Despite having a degree partly in English Literature, having to constantly analyse poems made it really hard to love them outside of a classroom. A friend of mine is a poet and, when I shared these concerns, introduced me to a channel called Button Poetry and his favourite performance poet Neil Hilborn whose main focuses are around mental health as he has OCD. When the announcement of a UK tour was made, it seemed wrong to pass up on it so me and a couple of friends – who all love his poetry – decided to make it a small friend reunion.

I try to pretend that my anxiety disorder is not as crippling it is because sometimes it makes me worry about completely unnecessary things but it’s been a just over a year since I passed my driving test and driving places I’ve never been before still fills me with a sense of dread. But I knew I needed to push myself and one of my friends had driven to Birmingham before so was able to help me navigate along with a sat nav. I am so ridiculously proud of myself for forcing myself to do it; even if my muscles were clenched for the whole journey. We met up with my other friend who’d got her train to Birmingham to meet us and we had dinner to catch up and explored the city. Of course, we took a trip to Waterstones and I was quick to pick up a copy of the newly released Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo.

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We then indulged in more food and made our way over to The Glee Club which was the venue for the performance. The capacity was 420 people and the event was sold out. I’ve been to poetry nights before but never solely to see one poet so I had no idea what to expect.

It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to experience something. Especially when it’s visual. Neil Hilborn’s poetry is so deep, intricate, and complex. To watch him on that stage, pausing as he looked at the floor and taking a deep breath before putting all of his heart and soul into getting those feelings across in his performances felt almost like we’d stumbled into something that was meant to be private.  He even broke away halfway through poems to joke about some of the lines he’s written which just added a little extra humour and a more human element to it. But honestly, I forgot that I was in a tiny room in a comedy club in Birmingham. Listening to these poems with the actual poet in front of me felt like being in a different world.

Surprisingly, after his show had finished, there was the opportunity to meet him. I felt bad not having a copy of his book (I read it on Kindle) and no cash to buy any that were available at the merch table so when I finally did get to meet him I started off by pointing this out and how I felt terrible. He shook my hand and I told him about my anxiety and how listening to his poem The Future helps me when I get into a state where doing every day things becomes difficult. The irony of the situation was that I was on the brink of having a panic attack while thanking him for helping me… not have panic attacks. But I mean, one of the greatest modern poets was sitting in front of me, staring at me and listening to what I was saying. After that, he signed a little card for me and we got a photo.

We then said goodbye to the friend who’d gotten the train and got back in my car where I had to do the whole awful journey in reverse; which turned out to be very eventful as the junction I needed to get off the motorway was closed so we ended up with a lengthy detour.

I feel so honoured to have this experience and getting to meet the man behind all the words and videos I’ve consumed over the past few years. I often find it’s too easy to see people through a screen and forget that they are just that: people.

I’m going to end this post with Neil Hilborn’s performance of The Future which I hope will encourage you to look further into his poetry.

 

contemporary · review · young adult

Orangeboy – Patrice Lawrence

“Orangeboy. Mr Orange.” She lay my phone next to the blackberry. “What the hell have you got yourself into?”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Marlon has made his mum a promise – he’ll never follow his big brother, Andre, down the wrong path. So far, it’s been easy, but when a date ends in tragedy, Marlon finds himself hunted. They’re after the mysterious Mr Orange, and they’re going to use Marlon to get to him.”

There has been a lot of buzz about this book. From overwhelmingly positive review to winning the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize at the start of this year, everyone seems to have fallen in love with Orangeboy. As I keep saying, I am very hit-and-miss when it comes to Young Adult Contemporary. But after reading Kate (Reading Through Infinity)’s review I decided to give it a go.

The location is Hackney, London. The story follows a boy called Marlon who feels like he’s struck gold when he’s on a date with the beautiful Sonya. They take drugs and have fun at the fairground until the night ends in tragedy and Marlon finds himself at a police station.

What took me by surprise is that this book became about more than the initial plot point and the reader is taken deep into a drug empire fuelled by guns, violence and the need for revenge. Marlon is blamed for the things his brother – Andre – did which reinforces the point that our actions affect other people in our lives.

It was nice to have a diverse novel set in Britain, especially in a multi-cultural city like London and it showed a part of it that’s not normally seen. It was dark and gritty which it needed to be for this story to really make an impact.

However, the ending was a bit of a let-down. It felt like the story was slowly building and then it was just over. But overall, I can see why many love this book.

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adult fiction · contemporary · non fiction · review

Happy Mum, Happy Baby – Giovanna Fletcher

“Our words affect others – we can use them to strengthen or to belittle and crush. I know what I want mine to do.”

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Blurb: “Being a mum is an incredible journey, a remarkable experience that changes how we look, how we feel, who we are. As mothers we are strong, protective, proud. We feel a love like no other. But being a parent can be hard too. It challenges us physically, mentally, emotionally. There are the days where just managing to fit a shower in amidst the endless feeding, entertaining young children and surviving on a lack of sleep feels like an achievement. With so many people ready to offer ‘advice’ on the best way to parent, it can feel like you are getting it all wrong.”

Like many my age, I know Giovanna because of her connection to McFly band member Tom Fletcher. As she set up her own YouTube channel and I started watching, I came to love Giovanna as her own person. I have read all of her fiction books and loved every single one of them. But when she announced she was writing a new book about pregnancy and motherhood, I found myself hesitant.

I am not interested in children. That’s not to say I don’t like them; my cousin has children and I absolutely adore them. I just don’t want children myself. So I decided that this book wasn’t for me and that was ok. I’ve started using Audible again and was looking for something new to listen to and came across Happy Mum, Happy Baby and indulged because it’s narrated by Giovanna. It’s the best decision I could have made. The book mimics Giovanna’s voice entirely and listening to it felt like I was having one long coffee and a chat with her.

As things are in the online world, it’s easy to get a skewed sense of reality. While a parent may seem to be having lots of fun playing around in the garden, the people on the outside won’t see the temper tantrum that same child had just five minutes later – something Giovanna touches on a lot in her YouTube series “mumdays.” She also shares more personal stories within her book along with discussing everything from coming off the pill and how her body changed, to her aversion to breast feeding and how that changed once she had a children herself, to the obvious one… giving birth. I found it really interesting to learn about hypnobirthing which is the technique she used to bring both of her children into the world. She tackles the idea of waiting to announce a pregnancy – typically at the three month mark – and how that can have its own negativity because you then have no one to comfort you if things do go wrong. She discusses at length the negative comments she’s received both online and in person, along with how strangers would suddenly feel the need to express their unsolicited thoughts on her body.

Overall I found this to be an insightful, interesting and frankly hilarious at times read.

Even if you don’t think you want children in the future, book is definitely worth checking out.

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discussion · lgbt

My Sexuality In Fiction

While it may be hard for many to believe, I didn’t hear the term “bisexual” until I was fifteen. Up to that point I was very aware of my attraction to men and women so I didn’t fit into the gay or lesbian categories. It was the introduction of a character in the TV show One Tree Hill who later announced their bisexuality that helped me realise a big part of my identity. That label has stuck with me ever since and after facing several years of feeling like it’s a part of myself that was “not relevant to discuss” I’ve started to become more open about it.

After seeing the film trailer for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones I decided to buy the book as I always like reading the source material prior to watching an adaptation. This was the first time that I saw a bisexual character in fiction. Of course there are probably hundreds of books featuring bisexual characters that were released prior to City of Bones but this just happened to be the first book I came across. It had a monumental impact on me. In the pages of this vast urban fantasy world, there was a character openly declaring their bisexuality and that was that. It wasn’t made a big deal of and it was through following Magnus Bane in this world Cassandra Clare has created that I started to think that maybe my own sexuality didn’t need to be a big deal either.

I had the opportunity to meet Cassandra Clare on the UK book tour for The Iron Trial in 2014 and thank her but I completely bottled it and got into such a starstruck state that I asked her about something else instead and completely forgot to even say hello to Holly Black. Thankfully, another opportunity came around last year when Cassandra Clare did a UK book tour for Lady Midnight; Another book featuring a bisexual character.

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The picture above shows the exact moment when I started to share part of my story with an author who has made me feel validated. Looking back on this snapshot of time and seeing how happy Cassandra looks just made it matter even more to me. She went on to explain why she felt it was so important to include bisexual characters in her books and listed all of the ones she’s included. While they are all male characters, I was so overwhelmed at what she’d said and just how many are included in the Shadowhunter world that it was only until later that I started to question why most of the bisexual characters I had come across, in other media forms including books, seemed to mainly be men.

While the LGBT genre in Young Adult boasts about the diversity it holds, there isn’t much outside of the discovering-your-identity gay and lesbian stories. (Note: I want to make the point that I am no way discrediting or saying there should be less of one type of representation to make way for another.) Earlier this year I picked up the new release from Becky Albertalli called The Upside of Unrequited and it was brilliant as expected but came with quite a shock.

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The protagonist has two mothers in the book but it is late revealed that one of them is bisexual. I broke down crying. This wasn’t just a character close to my age mentioning her bisexuality. This a grown married woman with children stating the fact. It showed that, despite what people try to tell me, my sexual identity is not a phase and it is possible to be wife and a mother as well as being bisexual. I will champion this book for the rest of my days.

Another book I experienced this year was a debut called Noah Can’t Even by Simon James Green. While a book about a boy discovering he’s gay, it encouraged me to make a video over on my booktube channel talking about coming out and how important the treatment of bisexuality is to me. Simon actually watched this video too.
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Naturally, this response made me cry too but also has been a big motivator for me. I never really thought that what I was starting to do constitutes as “brave.” As I mentioned, I’ve become more vocal about my sexuality and the representation of it on books and not been afraid to call out bad representation when I come across it, regardless of how popular the book and author are. It’s also encouraged me to “write the change I want to see” and I have plans for a bisexuality driven YA book which I hope makes it out into the world one day.

I can only hope that slowly there is more of an inclusion of bisexuality in books.

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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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adaptations · discussion

Movie Announcement | The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give was always going to be big. Given the current political situation and an ever growing push for diverse books in Young Adult, when Angie Thomas burst onto the scene with her debut, it got people talking. The book crashed onto the New York Times Bestseller list in the top spot and, several months later, still remains on the list.

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The story is about a teenage girl called Starr who witnesses her best friend get shot by a police officer. In the media frenzy and outrage from the community that follows, it is down to Starr to stand up, seek justice, and more importantly make her voice heard.

So let’s get into the current casting:

Starr Carter played by Amandla Stenberg 

 

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Amandla Stenberg was the first actor to be cast for this film. In fact, they were cast in the lead role before the book was even released. Which shows how much Fox believes in the source material. When I first saw them as Rue in The Hunger Games I could never have predicted that they would be a child actor that goes on to have a real career in acting. But with their recent role as Madeline in Everything Everything, it seems that Amandla may well be someone to watch. I have to admit, when the news broke that they would be taking on the lead role I did a fist-pump. I cannot wait to see them bring this character to life.

Lisa Carter played by Regina Hall

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Taking on the role of mama Carter is Regina Hall, most known for her role of Brenda in the Scary Movie franchise. For the moment I don’t really have an opinion on this announcement as I haven’t seen any of her TV or film work. But I really hope she does the character justice.

Big Mav played by Russell Hornsby 

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Daddy Carter comes in the form of Russell Hornsby. He’s most known for his roles as Hank in Grimm and Lyons in Fences. I’m a little unsure, since at this point I can only go off his look unless I decide to venture into his previous works, I just pictured the father to be a little older for some reason. But again, both parental figures in the film could really prove me wrong.

Seven Carter played by Lamar Johnson

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And finally, completing the line-up of the Carter family is Lamar Johnson. Yes. Quite simply, yes. In terms of credentials, Lamar is due to play a role in the upcoming X-Men film X-Men: Dark Phoenix so he’s another one worth keeping an eye on! I cannot wait to see him bring one of my favourites from the book to life.

The fact that this book is being turned into movie and definitely going to hit screens -unlike many YA adaptations that end up stuck in the mud – is so important. I feel like this film, given the current state of the world and raw, brutal, honesty of its message will really get people talking. Hopefully, talking about change. Because things really do need to change. And this being put out there in a visual format may finally get the conversation moving in the right direction. And with conversation comes action.

Let me know your thoughts on the casting. Who would you like to see take on the role of Khalil or Starr’s school friends? Are you looking forward to seeing The Hate U Give on the big screen?

 

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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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adaptations · discussion · young adult

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before | Movie Announcement

Over the past few years, there has been a steady increase of Young Adult books making it onto the big screen. From Everything, Everything to Simon Vs The Homosapiens Agenda, the newest addition to the list is To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, based on the best-selling series by Jenny Han.

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The story follows a girl called Lara Jean who has just started her junior year of High school. Everything is going fine until her box of letters written to her crushes is delivered to their doorsteps.

I have to admit, I have seen the massive love for this trilogy but I haven’t read it myself. (Though that is soon to change due to this announcement!) As a result of this, I can’t speak for the accuracy of the actors cast so please express your opinions! With that being said, let’s get into the casting:

Lana Condor as Lara Jean Covey

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Lana Condor made her debut appearance in X-Men: Apocalypse and is now going to be taking on the lead role in this adaptation. As Jenny Han highlights in her announcement, this is massive news. The casting directors could have easily gone down the white-washing route which happens all too often, but instead they decided to go with a Vietnamese-American actress.
Janel Parrish as Margot Covey

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Probably the most recognisable from the cast announcements, Janel Parrish’s popularity stems from her role in the hit TV series Pretty Little Liars. It’s nice to see moving on to other acting roles.

John Corbett as Dr Covey

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John Corbett is taking on a fatherly role. From a quick look through his roles, it doesn’t seem like he’s made many big-impact appearances.

Noah Centineo as Peter Kavinsky

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There’s another recognisable face in the form of Noah Centineo who’s most known for his role in the Disney Channel Original Film How To Build A Better Boy.

The film is also being directed by Susan Johnson and the screenplay is by Sofia Alvarez, so there’s women taking on roles behind the camera as well!

I’ve made a post in the past about strong female characters and the role of women in both books and film. Since then, we’ve had the likes of Wonder Woman, a female Jedi in Star Wars , and a woman taking on the lead role in Doctor Who for the first time in the show’s history. While these are all monumental achievements, it’s important not to forget about women of different ethnicities getting their representation too.

As I said in the section on Lana Condor, they could have easily white-washed this film and come up with some terrible reason for doing so. But they haven’t. They’ve stayed true to a fundamental part of the character which, from seeing the outpouring of love and support, is already making a huge impact.

And I hope that this film is a success. Not just because it’s loved by so many, but also because if it does well, it really could pave the way for more POC women taking on leading roles in films.

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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