Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Girls With Sharp Sticks – Suzanne Young

“You are perfection personified,” she continues, “and we must ask that you act like it.”

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Blurb:”The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.”

[AD – GIFTED]

Trigger Warnings: Violence, emotional abuse, gore.

Innovations Academy requires girls to work towards being the perfect sponsorship investment upon their graduation. Their diets are strict (no additives in their own meals but they must learn how to cook a hearty flavourful meal for a future husband), dating is strictly forbidden, no access to the internet because their future sponsor/husband will give them all the relevant news information they need. They’re not allowed to leave the property except for the very rare trips to the town where their movements are carefully monitored.

The protagonist, Philomena, is coming to the end of her time at the academy but feels her opinions of the teachings she’s been given start to waver after bumping into a boy called Jackson at a gas station. He’s completely different to what she’s been trained to believe boys and men act like and suddenly everything is under a magnifying glass. For the majority of this book, Philomena was difficult for me to get behind because she didn’t have much personality. However, I think this is more the fault of the situation she’s in than her exclusively as a character because once she starts to pick apart what’s really going on she becomes a much more well-rounded character and I was rooting for her by the end.

It’s a very quiet, slow book but when it hits that climax I was unable to process what was happening. The inner workings of this place are something I never saw coming and it was refreshing to read a YA book of this ilk that had something completely different in that big reveal.

There’s some LGBT representation as two of the girls are in a secret lesbian relationship and while this is mentioned briefly, it’s more of a sideline thing to show some girls doing the opposite of what they’re being told and it would have been nice to see this get played out more.

My favourite scene in the book was when the girls get their hands on a women’s magazine and start reading an article about how to work out if you’re good at oral sex or not. It was a little bit of exposure to a world they didn’t know existed and it was so funny.

Girls With Sharp Sticks shows the importance of friendship, the power of literature and taking back what was once taken from you.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Last Bus To Everland – Sophie Cameron

“I think we’re not in the real world any more.”

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Blurb: “Brody Fair feels like nobody gets him: not his overworked parents, not his genius older brother, and definitely not the girls in the projects set on making his life miserable. Then he meets Nico, an art student who takes Brody to Everland, a “knock-off Narnia” that opens its door at 11:21pm each Thursday for Nico and his band of present-day misfits and miscreants. Here Brody finds his tribe and a weekly respite from a world where he feels out of place. But when the doors to Everland begin to disappear, Brody is forced to make a decision: He can say goodbye to Everland and to Nico, or stay there and risk never seeing his family again.”

[Ad – Gifted]

I adored Sophie Cameron’s debut Out Of The Blue and so when Macmillan sent me an advanced copy of her new book, I was over the moon.

Everland is a secret world beyond a door that appears at 11:21pm every Thursday and the protagonist, Brody, happens upon it after a chance meeting with wing-wearing Nico. This new location has everything you can possibly think of and is full of people from all around the world. It’s a place that will surely appeal to fans of readers who dream of abandoning the every day for a bit of magic just within their grasp. While Everland was what initially drew me to this book, it’s not what ended up holding my interest. The mantle goes to Brody himself.

Brody is a gay – not out yet- boy who is bullied at his school, under-performing and always second to his intelligent “soon to be a Cambridge student” brother, with a dad suffering from agoraphobia and a mother working all hours to make ends meet. If anything, the discovery of Everland becomes a lifeline for him. But for six days a week he is forced to live this version of his life.

Last Bus To Everland tackles dealing with a relative who has a mental illness, the pressures of under-achieving as well as over-achieving, and poverty. I expected this book to be heavily set in Everland and that was not the case. Everland is almost that physical manifestation of wanting to get away: its inhabitants are all facing issues in their lives and Everland provides that place to escape everything, while also proving that you can leave your problems behind, but they’ll always be waiting when you get back. I love that this aspect gave the platform to round out why all the characters came to this magical place and what led them to discover it in the first place.

Brody is a character that I just felt so much for. I wanted to climb into the pages and give him a hug along with having a stern word with the bullies. He struggles a lot with the weight of the future and feels very much alone: something I’m sure we’ve all dealt with.

Sophie Cameron is a gem of an author. While her story concepts have brought me to both of her books now, it is ultimately the characters I leave thinking about for weeks after.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Ash Princess – Laura Sebastian

“You’re a lamb in the lion’s den, child. You’re surviving. Isn’t that enough?”

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Blurb: “Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia’s family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess–a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.”

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

It’s a common theme in fantasy to see some sort of an invasion take place, and this book is no different. Ash Princess doesn’t hold back, and it’s brutal to witness. Theo’s home has been taken over, her mother killed, her language stamped out and replaced with that which her invaders brought over. The use of magic stones has been altered, her culture destroyed, the last of her people forced to work until they are driven mad, and she is kept as the prize; paraded in front of court and beaten to prove a point to anyone who dare step out of line. Oh, and she has been forced to answer to a new name: Thora. There were many parts of the book where my heart with in my mouth and it goes all in with the violence, forcing Theo into horrific situations. But I actually quite liked it because it felt like she really had lost anything, unlike other books of the genre that feature this kind of trope.

The world building is incredible. Learning all of the history of Theo’s original culture and seeing how it has changed was so fascinating to read. It just all felt so real.

However, outside of that, I really struggled to finish this book. It was a very predictable read, falling for the love triangle and “try to woo the prince” tropes. I also found the characters to be really bland and the only one who really stood out was the protagonist, Theo, but even then I couldn’t quite work out her character. Minus a particular event that spurs her to seek revenge, she was quite a repressed character and it was like she suddenly flicked the switch and became this individual trying to change her life. I just found myself skim reading quite a lot, desperate to get to the end but not in a good way.

It’s such a shame because the world building and initial start were so strong but everything seemed to fizzle out afterwards.

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Posted in Dystopian, review, young adult

All Rights Reserved – Gregory Scott Katsoulis

“I made the sign of the zippered lips, and I silently vowed I would never speak again.”

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Blurb: “In a world where every word and gesture is copyrighted, patented or trademarked, one girl elects to remain silent.”

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

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, victim shaming, assault and drug use.

In a world where words and gestures are trademarked, the reader is introduced to the protagonist – Speth – who is approaching the age in which she is fitted with a cuff and starts being charged for every word she says and every action she makes. The initial concept of All Rights Reserved is terrifying in itself because it’s an ideal that is all too easy to picture in our own world. Right’s holders can charge a pretty penny for adjectives and a shrug higher than 2cm can cost, people are taken to Debt Collectors for copyright violations that happened years ago and involved their ancestors. People can be sued simply for looking like someone else. The word “sorry” will cost $10 and is classed as a legal admission of guilt.

As listed above, there are a few triggers throughout the story as characters feel trapped by their conditions. Please exersize care and make sure you’re in the best space to read this book because it doesn’t hold back.

All Rights Reserved is an interesting twist on the “dystopian rebellion” trope as normally the protagonist is fighting to make their voice heard. Speth chooses on her “last day” to zip her lips and refuse to speak. I’m not sure where I expected the story to go, but as the book is narrated from first person, the reader doesn’t get to see much of the rebellion. Speth becomes quite isolated as refusing to make her speech means that she can’t make purchases, have a job or get into most establishments because she can’t agree to the Terms and Conditions. A lot of what’s going on outside of her home is explained through her siblings calling out her behaviour and alerting her to news reports. Because of this, I feel like the plot slows down an awful lot and becomes quite a slog to get through. It picks up in the last quarter but it’s quite a struggle to get there.

Speth is by no means the first to rebel against the proverbial system: many other teens in her class read their speeches on their last day and haven’t spoken since. What makes Speth different is that she never read her speech; the first words she must say when she has been fitted with her cuff. It’s sort of like signing a contract.

This is a book with a thrilling premise but the execution falls short.

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