Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Clean – Juno Dawson

“Shit just got really real.”

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Blurb: “When socialite Lexi Volkov almost overdoses, she thinks she’s hit rock bottom. She’s wrong. Rock bottom is when she’s forced into an exclusive rehab facility. From there, the only way is up for Lexi and her fellow inmates, including the mysterious Brady. As she faces her demons, Lexi realises love is the most powerful drug of all…”

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

Trigger warnings: drug overdose, scenes of drug taking, recovery, relapse, suicide and eating disorders.

The reader first meets Lexi Volkov when she wakes up in the back of her brother’s car on the way to rehab. I really liked how this is where the story began because it was really disorientating and took a while to get used to where the protagonist was and where she was going; it created that same sense of confusion and anxiety that Lexi was feeling.  As a character, Lexi verges on unbearable at times; informing everyone of who her father is, being ignorant to other people’s problems and frequently offering sexual favours just for an extra pill.

If you’re looking for a cute little story that just happens to have drugs on the side, this is not that story. As the tagline says “it’s a difficult business getting clean.” You’ll have noticed that I included trigger warnings at the start of this review and that’s for good reason. This book is graphic: nothing is hinted at by the way scenes are set up; the reader witnesses everything first hand along with Lexi. It’s raw, brutal and –at times- incredibly uncomfortable to have to read. If it was a film, I would have probably covered my face with my hands and turned away. While it’s incredibly discomforting to have to face head-on, these stories need to exist and especially in Young Adult.

Watching Lexi come to terms with her problems and look back over key moments in her life was heart-breaking to watch but just shows the importance of looking at aspects of our own lives with a different lens; to see what other people do when they’re desperately trying to help us with our own problems.

One big apprehension I had going into this was the hint at a possible romance in the synopsis. I’ve spoken quite loudly on my issues with “boy fixes girls problems” stories and I was really praying this book wouldn’t go that way. While I did groan quite frequently as that sub-plot started to build, I liked the turn that it took, showing that all of the characters involved were focused on their recovery first. Having said that, I wasn’t invested in the slightest in the love aspect of the story.

Lexi is obligated to attend both solo and group therapy and it’s in the latter where the story thrives. The reader is introduced to a whole host of characters all with a variety of problems and I liked how the preconceptions of these were broken down and it was made clear that they’re still problems to the individual regardless of whether you understand them or not. It was nice seeing Lexi adapt and slowly start to trust them.

Clean does an utterly brilliant job of showcasing the recovery process in all its ugly glory along with relapses, while also highlighting that slipping up does not mean that you’re a failure, or you won’t ever get…well…clean.

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Posted in 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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Posted in review, young adult

Margot & Me – Juno Dawson

“I wonder, when writing diary entries such as this one, if we in some way hope they’ll be found.”

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Blurb: “Fliss’s mum needs peace and quiet to recuperate from a long illness, so they both move to the countryside to live with Margot, Fliss’ stern and bullying grandmother. Life on the farm is tough and life at school is even tougher, so when Fliss unearths Margot’s wartime diary she sees an opportunity to get her own back. But Fliss soon discovers Margot’s life during the evacuation was full of adventure, mystery… and even passion. What’s more, she learns a terrible secret that could tear her whole family apart…”

The story is centred on a girl called Felicity (Fliss for short) who is uprooted from her life in London and moved to a farm in Wales where her mother is suffering from cancer. The plan is to stay there temporarily until her mother recovers from the illness which would be much easier to deal with if Fliss didn’t have to put up with her horrid grandma called Margot.  During Fliss’s exploration of her new home she comes across a diary that belonged to Margot during World War II and decides to start reading.

When I pick up a new book from an author I consistently read, I always look for improvements in the quality and writing. Juno Dawson does not disappoint. This book was just on a new level to anything she’s ever written and really did have a Hollow Pike feel to it. Unlike a lot of Young Adult books, Fliss really did feel like a teenager and a lot of the comments she made about things, including Margot, had me out-loud laughing at times. There was a really good balance between the past and present and it didn’t feel like you were lingering too long in the present world or the diary world. It was nice to see the barriers between Fliss and Margot slowly start to dismantle as the story progressed.

This book is a perfect example of how we may dismiss someone because they’re a polar opposite to us only to learn that actually we have a lot more in common than we originally thought.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

“Home means something different for everyone. Many of us are fortunate enough to count our home as a place of stability, love and safety; others are not so lucky.”

 

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Blurb: “The UK’s top Young Adult authors join together in this collection of new stories and poems on the theme of home.”

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

I have always been a sucker for anthologies. I just love the idea of a group of authors being given a particular theme and seeing what wonderful variety of stories are created from the minds of talented people.

This collection focuses on – you’ve guessed it – the idea of home during the festive period. Stripes Publishing have worked with the Crisis Charity for this book as not everyone has the option of being in a loving home this time of year and so some of the proceeds from book sales go to the charity.

The contributors are as follows:

Benjamin Zephaniah
Non Pratt
Marcus Sedgwick
Cat Clarke
Kevin Brooks
Holly Bourne
Julie Mayhew
Juno Dawson
Sita Brahmachari
Tracey Darnton
Tom Becker
Katy Cannon
Melvin Burgess
Lisa Williamson

What I loved about this anthology is that it introduced me to new authors and  every story was different. They all had a different message to put across, different ways a person could spend Christmas (for example,  one of the stories is set in space!) and it just helped show how vast the world is and how no two-people really share the same ideas and it also made me realise how grateful I am for  the things and people I have in my life.

If you’re looking for a festive, Christmas read that does some good in the process, I urge you to pick up a copy of this book.
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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Hollow Pike- Juno Dawson

“When I was little, my dad used to tell me stories about children who went into the copse and never came out. They just vanished.”

 

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Blurb: “She thought she’d be safe in the country, but you can’t escape your own nightmares, and Lis London dreams repeatedly that someone is trying to kill her. Lis thinks she’s being paranoid – after all who would want to murder her? She doesn’t believe in the local legends of witchcraft. She doesn’t believe that anything bad will really happen to her. You never do, do you? Not until you’re alone in the woods, after dark – and a twig snaps…”

*Disclaimer: Dawson has since announced that she is transgender hence the name on the book. However, she has said that she would prefer her new name and pronouns to be used when referring to her older works*

The story follows Lis London who moves to Hollow Pike to live with her sister. She hopes that a new place and a new school will stop her reoccurring nightmares in which she is murdered. No such luck there when her new home looks very similar to the location in her dreams. She learns that Hollow Pike has a history of witchcraft and one night, when a prank goes horribly wrong, Lis starts to wonder whether the rumours about Hollow Pike are something more.

I have been on and off with Juno’s writing in the past but the concept of one of her books with more of a “witchy” theme made me hold out just a little bit longer. This was the first book she wrote in the Young Adult genre and it’s incredibly well written.

The characters felt so real and therefore it was easy to believe that any decisions made fit in line with how that character would act. The plot progressed at a perfect pace; in this kind of story it could so easily have fallen into painful lull period but it didn’t. There was enough happening in sub plots to keep the story afloat without losing the main objective of what it was trying to achieve.

It was a solid read with no weaknesses I could pick out. There was a nice balance between the contemporary and supernatural elements.

Well worth a read!

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