Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

“If love is like possession, maybe my letters are like my exorcisms. My letters set me free… or at least they’re supposed to.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control”

As I keep finding myself saying, I have long since outgrown Young Adult Contemporary; and yet I still find myself picking it up every now and again so maybe this statement isn’t very true anymore. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a book that I see every time I go into a bookstore and people are constantly talking about it – especially with the movie announcement. It’s because of that reason that I decided to give the book a go.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before follows a girl called Lara Jean who writes love letters to every boy she’s ever loved and keeps them in a box. They’re not intended for the person she’s written to. They’re for her eyes only as sort of “goodbyes” when she’s decided to move on from that crush for whatever reason. But one day when her letters are sent out, Lara is forced to face the past.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Laura Knight Keating which was the best decision I could have made. It was absolutely brilliant. Laura managed to capture the real essence of the protagonist and it really felt like I was just sitting down with a coffee listening to Lara chat about her story.

It was wonderful to see sibling relationships with a strong bond. A lot of the story is focused on Lara’s connection with her older sister Margot and how there is this inherent need to look after each other, even more so with the youngest, Kitty, and seeing them spending so much time together just added a nice layer to the book. Lara is Korean-American and it was nice to see her exploring that side of her while being encouraged by her father to do so. It was all very positive and even when it did fall to negative sides with some of her other interactions, Lara was not afraid to stand up for herself and say “this is wrong.” In fact, the initial plot device of the letters is more of a footnote in the story rather than a driving force. Most of the narrative is taken up by the sibling connections and the fake relationship that develops between Lara and Peter Kavinsky to make his ex-girlfriend jealous. The letters are more of a nod to how even the small interactions you have in life can have a lasting impact on you. Everything about this book was just so seamless and well thought out that I was in complete awe of the storytelling.

The only things that didn’t sit right were that it didn’t make sense why Peter would choose Lara out of every other girl at school to be his fake girlfriend when she wasn’t from the same social circle, and it was more likely to cause suspicion. Another was the fact that Lara had decided to address the letters if she never planned on sending them. But these factors didn’t make that much of an impact on my reading.

If you haven’t read the book yet, and plan on doing so, I highly recommend getting the audiobook.

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Posted in 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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Posted in 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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Posted in 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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Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

We ComeApart – Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan

“I can’t put on a brave face and pretend that at

The end of this

Things will be different.”

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Blurb: “Nicu has emigrated from Romania and is struggling to find his place in his new home. Meanwhile, Jess’s home life is overshadowed by violence. When Nicu and Jess meet, what starts out as friendship grows into romance as the two bond over their painful pasts and hopeful futures. But will they be able to save each other, let alone themselves?
For fans of Una LaMarche’s Like No Other, this illuminating story told in dual points of view through vibrant verse will stay with readers long after they’ve turned the last page.”

 

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

Sarah Crossan won the 2015 Carnegie Medal for her free-verse novel One, which I’ve heard a great deal about and Brian Conaghan is shortlisted for the Costa Book Prize for Children’s fiction for his novel The Bombs That Brought Us Together. This was the first book that I had read from either author and I am always a sucker for co-written books; there just seems to be an extra bit of magic decorating the pages. While I requested this book from the publisher, which they approved, I didn’t expect much from this book. This is one of those many times when my preconceived ideas have been wrong.

We Come Apart is told in two perspectives:  a Romanian boy named Nicu who wants to improve his English and fit in while worrying every day that he may be sent back to his home country, and a girl called Jess who lives in an abusive household. Both end up in series trouble which results in the pair having to spend time on a rehabilitation scheme which is where the two characters meet.

The unique factor of this book is that it’s free-verse, meaning it is essentially several poems from the point of view of each character. (Crossan’s novel One was written in the same format)  Normally I hate “simple” things. I need tons of description to really enjoy a book but the format of this book took that away. I hate to use the word “simple” but I’m sure you understand what I mean. I was left stunned by how such small verses could pack an almighty punch.

The characters are both loveable in their own ways and I found it interesting how Nicu’s character spoke in broken English; it added to the factor of how separate his and Sarah’s lives were.

I feel that it’s so easy to get caught up in the romance with this book but it’s about so much more than that. We Come Apart is about not letting differences separate you, that it’s okay to embrace them and stand up for what you believe is wrong and help someone out, regardless of what other people may think. It’s about standing up for yourself, being willing to learn about others and most importantly knowing that sometimes you have to let things go.

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Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, review

The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters – Nadiya Hussain

“It’s not as if we get to like everything in life, but we accept it and get on with it.”

 

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Blurb: “The four Amir sisters – Fatima, Farah, Bubblee and Mae – are the only young Muslims in the quaint English village of Wyvernage. On the outside, despite not quite fitting in with their neighbours, the Amirs are happy. But on the inside, each sister is secretly struggling. Fatima is trying to find out who she really is – and after fifteen attempts, finally pass her driving test. Farah is happy being a wife but longs to be a mother. Bubblee is determined to be an artist in London, away from family tradition, and Mae is coping with burgeoning Youtube stardom. Yet when family tragedy strikes, it brings the Amir sisters closer together and forces them to learn more about life, love, faith and each other than they ever thought possible.”

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

This book is the debut from Nadiya Hussain – the winner of Great British Bake Off 2015. I’ve noticed that Nadiya has dipped into creative writing before with her Bake Me A Story which is a recipe book accompanied by original stories but this is her first full-length novel.

The story is centred around the Amir Sisters, living in a small English village. Fatima is in her thirties and has failed her driving test fifteen times and gains her income from being a hand model, Mae is a teenager with a YouTube channel that has gained over 11,000 subscribers, Bubblee is an artist living in London and Farah is married to her cousin. There is also a brother in the family called Jay though he’s difficult to get hold of. When Farah’s husband is involved in a serious car accident, secrets start to reveal themselves causing severe tension within the family.

I really liked the diverse aspects of this book as Nadiya has ties to Bangladesh and this is something she translates over to this story. It was nice to learn something about a different culture. The story is told in multiple perspectives, alternating between each of the sisters. However, the narratives of each sister weren’t obvious meaning I had to go back several times mid-chapter to clarify which sister I was currently following. As Farah is more of the central character plot-wise it would’ve made more sense if everything was from her perspective but I understand the need to split the story in the way it is.

The first half of the book was very bland. It seemed to take a very long time to establish some kind of path the story was going to take and once it reached that point, the story improved greatly and the second half was much better. The book overall just felt very empty. It wasn’t clear where they characters were based and when Bangladesh was introduced there wasn’t much distinction between the two made. It was hard to picture what the characters looked like either as there were barely any descriptions given.  It just feels like it needed more adding to it.

Having said that, it is Nadiya’s debut and the only thing she can do with her next book is keep writing and as she continues to do so, her writing will get better and better.

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Posted in discussion, young adult

The Damaging Stigmas Around YA Fiction

*Trigger warnings: Mentions of eating disorders, rape, other mental illnesses and racial discrimination*

If you’re a frequent reader (or writer) of Young Adult fiction then you have most likely seen the endless stigmas around it. Young Adult is often viewed as a sort of stepping stone – a pit stop before inevitably moving on to the vast world of Adult Fiction. Contrary to this belief, there are many adults who obviously write within this genre, but there are also many adults that read it too. For example, I am twenty-two years old and I both read and write within the genre.

My reason for doing another kind of discussion post here is due to the recent article for The Guardian, written by Anthony McGowan titled Most YA Fiction Is Grown-Up in Disguise. As you can tell, it was yet another article discounting the validity of a rather important reading area. This not the first and certainly won’t be the last in a long line of obnoxious articles about an aspect someone doesn’t really understand. In 2014, Ruth Graham wrote a piece titled  Against YA in which she used the sub heading “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children” and  (again as you can tell) she discusses how you should only read about the people of your own age as they tend to be more realistic and about “more important things.” Very recently another article surfaced about the adaptation of Jojo Moyes novel “Me Before You” in which the headline was Me before You: how to build a YA movie that rules however the problem here is that the novel is categorised as Adult Romance and the protagonist is in her late twenties making it fall outside the range it chooses to attack. A fact that is even mentioned within the actual viewpoint Owen Gleiberman lays out:

“The film’s central characters may be 26 and 31 years old, but at heart this is another squeaky clean YA tearjerker built around  a princess too good for words, another saintly love story submerged in youthful doom.”

There is a common misconception that books are written for a certain audience. Which, in this case, is not true. Young Adult fiction isn’t written for young adults, it’s written about them.  This is a point I want to stress in response to McGowan’s comment within his article where he says :

“I’d content that at least some of these books appeal to me, as an adult, because they are not teenage books at all.”

No, it means that despite these books being about teenagers, you have been able to relate and heaven forbid, actually enjoy them regardless of what your age is.

There also comes a point where these comments are very damaging not just to the genre itself, but the people who read it. There are many statistics showing that most young people stop reading in their teens and with things like this surfacing every so often it’s no surprise why many may feel discouraged. In my teens I found solace in seeing my personal problems reflected in characters in YA books. I know that many teenage bloggers also feel the same. McGowan has the nerve in his article to label YA as a “lazy, disheartening mush of false problems, fake solutions, idealised romance, second-rate fantasy, tired dystopias…” Given that there are a large amounts of books  coming out tackling various mental illnesses such as eating disorders in “paperweight” ,  anxiety in Holly’s Bourne’s “Am I Normal?” series and very serious topics such as rape in Louise O’Neill’s “Asking For It”and most recently scenes of Islamophobia in Kim Slater’s “A Seven Letter Word” I would hardly call any of these “false problems.” Just because they are happening to teenagers and you may have not gone through it at that point in your life, doesn’t in any way lessen the fact of their existence. I personally think it’s disgusting and an insult to those who may find solace seeing characters go through similar situations to themselves. By making such comments you are discounting the valid feelings of young people and in a world where there’s already so much stigma around mental illness and the lack of support out there for young people facing these things, it just makes me livid that someone could make such throw away comments in an article on The Guardian website.

I could go on and on about the reasons these things are wrong. But the only thing I will say to round this discussion up is that no one is forcing you to read YA. If you don’t like it, or you feel it has issues you can’t get past such as it being “disheartening mush” then quite simply do not read it.