Young Adult Reviews

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

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Extract:

I read once that you get déjà vu when the two halves of your brain process things are different speed: the right hand half a few second before the left, or vice versa. Science is probably my worst subject, so I didn’t understand the whole article, but that would explain the weird double feeling it leaves you with, like the whole world is splitting in half – or you are.  

That’s the way I feel, at least: like there’s a real me and a reflection of me, and I have no way of telling which is which. 

The thing about déjà vu is it has always passed really quickly – thiry seconds, a minute at most. 

But this doesn’t pass.

Everything is the same: Eileen Cho squealing over her roses in first period and Samara Phillips leaning over and crooning, ‘he must really love you.’ I pass the same people in the halls at the same time. Aaron Stern spills his coffee all over the hallway again, and Carol Lin starts screaming at him again.

Even her words are the same, ‘Were you dropped on your head one too many times or something?’ I have to admit it is pretty funny, even the second time around. Even when I feel like I’m crazy. Even when I feel like I could scream.

Even weirder are the little blips and wrinkles, the things that have shifted around.

(Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. P66.) 

Synopsis:

Sam doesn’t believe in that whole ‘life flashing before your eyes’ thing. Still, if she’d known she was going to die today, she would have expected to see her triumphs. The really important stuff: all the parties, and all the times she got drunk. The moment Rob asked her out. Instead she sees Vicky Hamlin’s expression, right after everybody told her she was fat. Not what Sam would have chosen.

Then again, she didn’t choose to die in a car crash, or to relive her final day over and over.  

Every time it starts the same. The flash of white light, the falling. Then the alarm clock rings, and it’s Cupid Day again. Cupid Day is a big day at Thomas Jefferson High. The number of roses delivered to you throughout the day is a sign of your popularity. Sam’s popular. She used to be one of the unpopular kids, then she learnt how to dress, and how to stick by the right people. How to laugh at the wrong ones. She figures that’s just how it is.

Everything else about the day differs with each rewind. Sam sees different perspectives, and learns all the different places her actions could have lead. She also finds out things she didn’t see the first time, like what Juliet Sykes did after everybody turned on her at that party. Like how even Lindsay doesn’t do things for no reason at all.

A great narrative on bullying, mental health and collective responsibility.

 

Review: 

 OK, I’m totally late to the party, but how addictive is Before I Fall? Superficially, it sounds complicated, until you realise Sam’s emotional narrative forms the structure. The genius is in the multi-faceted day. Sam’s final day changes with every retell, but every change puts a new perspective on Day 1. Every day *could* have been the first day. We’re in multi-dimensional reality territory and I love it.

The days are underpinned by recurring events – the alarm clock. A scrum for the last parking space. The delivery of a rose from childhood friend Kent. Whichever variation of the day we are in, this repetition gives the day a time frame.

Occasional italicised paragraphs interrupt the story. This make clear that Sam narrates from wherever she is suspended. When the first day sets Sam’s character up as a shallow, thoughtless and cruel, it is clear from the italicised text that she acknowledges how wrong she got that first day. She also offers a challenge to the reader: How different am I from you?

As Juliet Sykes’s story unfolds, it becomes clear Sam’s initial challenge relates to every single reader. A brilliant one-liner encapsulates the novel: ‘We are all the Hangman’. The teenagers who scream abuse at Juliet on day one didn’t make individual decisions to bully her. Sam needs to learn this. Sam spends a whole day blaming Lindsay, but it makes no difference to Juliet’s outcome. This is an important way of thinking about suicide prevention. It isn’t about one person in one moment. We are interconnected.  

Oliver’s characters are brilliantly depicted. She’s the writer who can nail down a butterfly by writing it on to the page. When I related to a character, I didn’t feel I was reading something knew; I felt Oliver was telling me to myself in ways I couldn’t have recognised. 

I loved Kent. I’m not usually such a sucker for the-boy-we’re-supposed-to-like. Kent represents the values Sam needs to rediscover. On Day One, Sam can’t understand how Kent can be happy when he’s unpopular. Slowly, she comes to terms with the idea that there’s more to life than this strange system of social judgement. When she’s ready to see Kent for who he is, and not for his social status, she finds there is a lot to like.

Treatment of Sam’s friendship group was sympathetic. I never thought I’d find myself sticking up for Queen Bees, but I was pleased their friendship wasn’t written off by the narrative. Lindsay may be a bully, but Sam doesn’t think she is any less of a person. Given the theme of collective responsibility, this was important. It was also truer to life. Too many similar narratives show the bully left behind by the reformed, without any consideration of the years of friendship behind them. 

Before I Fall is now available on Netflix. If you’ve joined the modern era and subscribed, let me know whether it lives up to expectations. Meanwhile, I’ll get hold of some more Lauren Oliver. The best thing about being late to the party? It’s in full swing. There’s a stack of books waiting to be bought.

 

Huge thanks to Chapter 5/Hodder Books for my copy. This does not affect the honesty of my review.

Young Adult Reviews

Review – S.T.A.G.S by MA Bennett

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Extract:

The men stood too, while we left the room, and as we filed through the door to the drawing room I was the last, so I took my chance and grabbed his sleeve. He turned with an odd expression – pent up, excited and impatient all at once. I opened my mouth to thank him on behalf of the world’s women, realised how dumb that sounded and just couldn’t do it. Instead, I whispered, ‘Was that true? The tiger-mother thing?’ 

He frowned. ‘Of course not,’ he said. ‘My father runs a bank in Jaipur. You’re as bad as they are.’ And then I had to leave.

So now I knew. He wasn’t their friend after all. He had woven a tale to turn the guns on himself, to make himself the focus and the target, instead of Chanel. And more than that, he was locked in some strange rivalry with Henry de Wallencourt, fought from their two ends of the table. 

 

Synopsis:

Greer MacDonald wins a scholarship to prestigious public school St Aidan the Great. It is a world away from comprehensive school.  At S.T.A.G.S, the teachers are called Friars, and the modern buildings have been around since the time of Henry VIII. Then there are the antlers. All around the school, there are motifs of antlers, and stories about stags.  

Nobody talks to scholarship girl Greer. It gets her down, but there are other ‘misfits’. There’s Shafeen, who dares to be Indian, and Nel, (short for Chanel.) Nel’s father has more money than half the other parents put together, but he made it by inventing a smart phone. Smart phones are out at STAGS. The Internet is for research purposes only. Most forms of technology are considered ‘Savage’. Nobody wants to be ‘Savage’. Everybody wants to be ‘Medieval’.

The Medievals run the school. They hang around in the quad at breaktimes, and bully other students during lessons. At the centre of the group is Henry de Wallencourt. Greer thinks Henry is different from the other Medievals. It’s never Henry who bullies. Besides, he’s so good looking. Greer receives an invite to the de Wallencourt country estate for the autumn break. It’s tradition – every year a group of students are invited to take part in blood sports and social events.

Greer hopes the invite is a sign she’s finally been accepted. Maybe even a chance to prove her worth, and become Medieval. She’s not prepared to listen to fellow scholarship girl Gemma, who begs her not to go…

 

Review:

From the opening lines, we know Greer was involved in manslaughter. MA Bennett is brilliant at keeping the reader in suspense. Greer narrates after the events. She hints at terrible things to come in the narrative. We keep reading, as we know more action is coming.

Bennett is also brilliant at suspense within a scene. My favourite moment was when Greer, Nel and Shafeen  creep around Longcross, (Henry’s stately home,)  in the middle of the night. When the silhouette of a man in a flat cap falls across the floor, we know who it belongs to, and we know the students might be in danger. We aren’t told this. We know it for ourselves. This increases the chill factor.

I love the trio of Greer, Nel and Shafeen. At the start, the three avoid each other. Each has their own motive. Greer is concerned about being ‘Medieval’. She wants to fit in with the group of popular students who eshew technology and modern day progress. Greer is afraid bonding with Nel and Shafeen might affect her chances. Most people live outside the world of STAGS and Longcross, but every secondary school has popularity groups. Anyone who has been the unpopular kid can relate to Greer. She’s so desperate to be popular, she is blind to the people who might be her friends.

Every setting is etched into my mind. STAGS is created around the emblem of the antlers, and the story of St Aiden, who helped a stag evade capture. There are stained glass windows which depict stags, and antlers etched above doors. STAGS is recognisable as a public school. Like Eton or Harrow, it’s ancient buildings are full of future leaders. A world never accessed by 99% of the population, the school is made more mysterious by its old-fashioned uniform and the strange obsession with stags.

The de Warlencourt estate also shows how upper-class life is unrecognisable to most people. There is a great moment when Greer thinks she is in the Great Hall, and learns that she is in the boot room. The de Warlencourt’s wellies enjoy better accommodation than most working-class families. The relationship between the team of servants to the family reminded me of Rebecca. Greer is politer to the servants than any of the ‘Medievals’, but like the second Mrs de Winter, her manners mark her out as somebody who doesn’t belong at Longcross.

I was ridiculously excited to find the book is set in Cumbria. The county is a wonderful setting for a conflict which begins with notions of old money and class identity. Cumbria is full of old estates. There is also tension between people who have farmed the hills for generations and people who would support rewilding. (Dare you: visit the Lake District and say George Monbiot.) The address of Longcross is given as Cumberland. Not everybody will pick up on this, but this is ‘Medieval’. Cumbria didn’t exist until the 1960s.

The ending leaves the story open to a sequel. If you’re Medieval, write the date in your diaries. If you’re Savage, set a reminder on your iPhone. Meanwhile, I’ll be rereading STAGs. Join me, and let me know what you think? I say it’s epic.

 

Have you read STAGs? Are you Savage or Medieval? Let me know in the comments below!

Huge thanks to Readers First and Hot Key Books for my copy. This does not affect the honesty of my review.

 

Young Adult Reviews

A Change is Gonna Come Blog Tour – The Elders on the Wall by Musa Okwonga

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When I told people about my post for the #ChangeBook blog tour, so many people said the same thing:

‘I skip the poems in anthologies.’ Are you one of those people? Listen up: if you skip the poems in A Change is Gonna Come – the epic anthology which celebrates writing from diverse communities – you’ll not only miss some great poetry. The poems offer an interpretation on the theme of Change. They create a lens, which you can use when you look at the stories in the anthology. 

This post focuses the poem which opens the anthology – The Elders on the Wall by Musa Okwonga. Read on to learn about Okwonga, about Elders on the Wall, and to find out how the poem allows readers to think differently as they read the anthology. 

 

About Musa Okwonga:

Musa Okwonga was born in London to UgOkwongaandan parents and is based in Berlin. He is a journalist, musician and the author of two books about football, a poetry collection, Eating Roses for Dinner, and a contributor to The Good Immigrant. On National Poetry Day 2015, JK Rowling tweeted Okwonga’s poem Invisible Men, which speaks out against internet trolls.

Musa Okwonga’s contribution to Change encourages young people to speak out, and take control of the future. Okwonga’s work makes him an excellent role model. He is an advocate for change, and written about issues as diverse as racism and women’s rights, internet trolls and border control. A key theme of this work is the right to exist without repression. He uses different forms of communication, from spoken poetry to social media to journalism, to connect with different audiences. His material shows awareness of how everything from rhythm to movement to clothing choice can be used to communicate with an audience.

Written poetry has been an agent for change in the past. In the age of YouTube and flash mobs, spoken poetry is a form many younger people relate to. Okwonga records and performs many of his poems, and included poetry in his 2012 TedX talk.

 

The Elders on the Wall:

‘I wish to change the world, and the elders smirk’

A young persona stands in front of a wall. Older people ‘smirk’ as the young person stands before the wall, seeing ‘no visible places to grip’. The core theme is introduced in the opening lines. A young person wants to surmount something. Like other young people around him/her, the persona seeks to climb a wall. Not only do they receive no encouragement from their elders, there are times when the elders seek actively to knock the young back.

“You youths can reach where we are if you toil”,

They say, pouring oil down that wall’s face.

They didn’t build this edifice,

But they don’t seem aggrieved that it’s complete.

Perhaps those elders didn’t build the wall which stands in the young persona’s way, but they don’t seek to remove it. They would rather knock the young people back than admit the obstacle exists. This reminded me of recent political divides. The elders, ‘scurrying and scared’, who have voted for political change which will be disastrous to our futures. Changes which encourage division from the international community. It also made me think of economics. Of Student Loans at crazy rates of inflation, at a housing market which young people cannot hope to surmount. It is easy for elder people to believe younger generations are falling behind through some fault or laziness of their own. Far more difficult to stand up and fight for changes which will benefit the majority.

Older generations are referred to as ‘elders’. This language choice seemed almost Biblical. In the Bible, high walls are built to block out the message of God. Okwonga’s poem is secular, but there is no doubt the elders hiding behind the wall are blocking out the message of change. The image of oil running down the wall also seemed Biblical.  

What to do? The Wall extends

In either direction and out of view.

My choices are two

Throughout the poem there are several short lines. These emphasise the questions the young persona is faced with, and their desperation when faced with the wall. Okwonga highlights the fact that epic journeys begin when one person makes a decision. In this instance, one young person chooses not to be deterred by obstacles put in place by their elders. Instead of giving in, or fighting their elders, the young person lengthens their journey and searches for another solution.

The persona turns his back on the wall, and runs. Phrases such as ‘roughest roads’ and ‘loneliest hills’ are used to describe the landscape. These are stock phrases of an epic journey, which emphasizes that the persona’s journey, is every bit as epic as, for example, Frodo’s quest to destroy the ring of darkness.

Perhaps the young person will find a way around the wall. Perhaps they will build their own systems elsewhere. A system can only be so broken before people refuse to play by its rules.

To lands that even maps dare not touch,

Through thoughts that scream I’ll not amount to much

 Left without the support of their elders, the persona encounters self-doubt and despair. Here there are echoes of The Pilgrim’s Progress, where the protagonist journeys through places such as The Slough of Despond to reach their ultimate destination. ‘Lands that even maps dare not touch’ appears to be metaphoric of change which elders have never envisioned, or refuse to countenance. I could imagine the elders saying, ‘you dare to suggest?’ and ‘you dare to go?’ as if it were a character aspersion.

Change comes when people dare to think differently.

‘Change is hard; still, maintain the charge.

They may have the safety but the bravery is all ours.’

Okwonga’s poem dares young people to make their own futures, and to fight for change regardless of the attitudes of older generations. It advocates making choices for ourselves, but travelling alongside likeminded people in in a quest for change.

It is a fitting opening to the anthology. It dares young people to see themselves as agents of change, regardless of attitudes they might have encountered. It dares young people to think and decide for themselves. This is a great start to an anthology which deals with change – change starts when one person decides to act differently. Decides to become the change, and make it happen.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean

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Extract: 

Quill said: ‘Hello. I’m King Gannet. Remember me?’ 

The soft mutterings went on, the bird rocking to and fro, balancing her great wings on one foot at a time. 

‘Has the world ended, d’you know?’ 

The garefowl opened wide her stubby, flightless wings and rattled them. Lit by the setting sun, the spray fanned out like golden seed. Her flat feet made patterns on the landing place, which the next wave wiped out. She mumbled to herself, hoarse and crabby. But after a time, the noise came to sound more Gaelic with a thick, mainland accent. And, inside his head, Quill could see Murdina Galloway printing the sand with her bare, white feet. He could even hear her singing:

The Water is wide, I cannot cross o’er

And neither have I wings to fly. 

Something has happened on Hirta. End or the world or not, their people were not coming to fetch them off the Stac. 

(Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean. P73.)

 

Synopsis:

Once a year, boys from St Kilda go out to a remote sea stac to harvest birds. The trip is a rite of passage, which a boy must prove himself worthy of joining. In the Summer of 1727, three men lead a group of boys out to the stac. No boat returns. Fear and religious superstition lead the boys to wonder whether the world has ended. These stories are encouraged by self-appointed minister Col Cane. 

Quill is one of the eldest boys. He looks out for the younger boys, who are battered by storms and afraid God’s angels have left them behind on an empty planet. Quill tells the boys stories, offering them alternative narratives.

The boys survive day by day, waiting for a boat from St Kilda or an angelic host. Nobody on Heaven or Earth seems to remember they boys are out there.  

 

Review:

In the ice-lolly tag, I referenced Geraldine McCaughrean as the most versatile author. Her settings vary from a dilapidated music hall, the Australian outback, Noah’s Ark and the Arctic, (is there a propensity towards the edge of civilisation? The wastelands?) Her stories begin with her characters. McCaughrean is great at drawing conflict from the opposing wills of her characters.

I loved the setting. When people say outcast story, I think of Pacific islands, and the Amazon jungle. The bleakness of a far-flung Scottish island works equally well. It is easy to image how the boys might believe they were the only people left in the world.

Quill creates narratives which counter those of Col Cane, the self-appointed ‘minister’. Col Cane uses religious scare-mongering to control the group. A distinction is made between Euan, who truly believes God is watching over him, and Col Cane who uses religious narrative to his advantage. The novel’s main theme is how we create stories when we need to believe something. Quill doesn’t believe the world has ended, but he imagines the voice of pretty Murdina Galloway when he needs to believe his own advice.

Where the World Ends is an interesting historical narrative. McCaughrean details the importance of hunting birds to the island’s residents, and brings St Kilda of the 1700s to life by forming a set of stoical ideals. There is also some exploration of gender inequality, and how men react differently to women than to fellow men. Quill is advised by his friend Murdo that if he loves a woman, he should ‘put a fence around her’, to make her his own. It doesn’t occur to Murdo that the decision might be made between two people.

McCaughrean’s writing is sublime. I love her character descriptions. She writes beautiful descriptions of people’s habits, which summarize their characters. Col Cane, for example ‘thought God was on the other end of the bell rope, and he pulled it to get the Almighty’s attention’. We know from this description Cane seeks God’s favour, but refuses to listen to the people around him. I imagine that bell, drowning out the (real) voices which speak to Cane. Cane is certain he will get acknowledgement from someone almightier, if only he makes enough noise.

Where the World Ends went beyond my (very high) expectations. It is the work of someone who has written well for decades. It is a triumph.

Young Adult Reviews

Review – Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais

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Extract:

Hakima sighs. ‘I wish … I wish there was a way to go to that garden party, to tell the truth about Sassin, to scream it to all the journalists, to make them see…’

‘Hakima,’ growls the Sun.

At the same time, Astrid murmurs, ‘I wish … I wish I could see that Indochine gig …’ 

And I’m also whispering, ‘And I … I also have a reason, of sorts, to wish I could be there …’ 

Funny reason. Diverse, but … related reasons to be their, on the 14th of July, to interrupt their annual fiesta and yes, why not, to remind them we exist.

And while we’re at it, we may as well do it with a bit of … panache, right? 

(Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais. P44.) 

 

Synopsis:

Mireille wants to shame the father who has never acknowledged her existence. The father who happens to be married to the president of France. Hakima wants to expose the General who has accepted a prestigious award, when he could have prevented the attack which left her brother disabled and traumatised.   Astrid wants to declare her love for Indochine – the best band in the world.

So what if the girls have won the Trotters – the award for the ugliest girls in school, organised online by Mireille’s ex-friend Malo. Mireille isn’t going to cry about it. Not when the Bastille celebrations in Paris provide an opportunity for all three girls to achieve their real ambitions.

With the help of three bikes, a trailer full of sausages and Hakima’s 26 year-old brother Kader, the girls set off for Paris. Social Media interest builds up, and soon the girls are a press sensation.

Will the girls fulfil their ambitions in Paris? Will their ambitions even be the same by the time they reach the Bastille? A feel-good, feminist read.

 

Review:

I loved this book. Mireille, Astrid and Hakima are super-realistic teenagers, with big hearts and individual flaws. Think Annabel Pitcher. Mireille’s voice is witty, observant and unerringly honest. Mireille uses humour to hide her feelings. People will think she is fine if she makes them laugh.

The main theme is a feminist narrative. Marlo believes his Pig Pageant is an opportunity for girls to realise they have let themselves go. Like many males before him, he believes girls have a duty to look good for the boys around them. Marlo’s story is interesting. He was friends with Mireille until the end of primary school, where people started to tease him for hanging around with an ugly girl. I’m sure more than one reader will relate to this story, and question whether boys have the right to judge girls on their appearance the second they hit adolescence.

There is also some interesting exploration of race and disability discrimination. Hakima and Kader face casual racism daily. Fewer people buy sausages when Hakima and Kader serve, and an elderly lady assures them it isn’t their fault they aren’t white. After all, she says, people come in all colours these days. Likewise, where a newspaper article introduces the girls by name, Kader is written off as a disabled man. Beauvais is excellent at exploring a theme without throwing it in the reader’s face. Many of these comments are incidental – the reader is left to challenge them. Kader is an excellent character. He is not defined by his disability, but his situation means he hasn’t yet adapted to the implications of his condition. This allows the reader to see the challenges Kader faces without turning his disability into a trope.

Pushkin publishes international fiction. One of the great things about their books is reading about other cultures. Piglettes is set in France, and there is a particular focus on the pressure for perfection piled on Middle Class women. There are also descriptions of French cuisine which will make your mouth water. This is a wonderful contrast. Mireille firmly believes there is no point trying to stay slim when you live alongside such wonderful cuisine.  

How can a book which encompasses sexism, racism and disability discrimination be uplifting? The focus of the story is about overcoming other people’s opinions. The fictional press take to the Piglettes for this exact reason – everybody relates to the ‘revenge’ narrative. Three girls are told they are ugly, so they set out on a phenomenal journey, and promise to achieve great things. If that isn’t uplifting, I’ve got two pink ears and a curly tail.

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review – Odyssey by Aarhus 39

AarhusOdyssey is one of two books published by the Aarhus 39 – 39 emerging Eurpoean children’s writers under the age of 40. The books, Odyssey and Quest, have been published to coincide with the International Children’s Literature Hay Festival, which takes place in October 2017. Both books were editied by Daniel Hahn. Odyssey is the YA title.

The stories are centered around the theme of ‘journeys’. It is wonderful to see the different interpretations. Many metaphorical journeys take place – rites of passage, growth, exploration of gender and sexuality. The book’s introduction talks about political division, and goes on to highlight how the same themes emerged regardless of which country the author came from. I think this is one of the most interesting things about the book. Adolescence is adolescence is adolescence, no matter where it takes place. It is a journey in its own right.

I was interested to see the varying ages of the protagonists – although the majority of protagonists fitted the standard 14 – 18 of YA fiction, there were a healthy number of younger children, and a couple of adults. I was pleased to see a university-aged protagonist. In all other sections of children’s fiction, it is accepted that the reader wants to read up, to see what is coming next. Certainly in the UK, the advice is to write about young people of school age. Where does this leave 17 year-olds who want to know about settings beyond  the school gates? 

 I have written a short synopsis for eight stories which stood out. These are the stories which stayed with me when I closed the book. They stood out for different reasons, some for the theme, others for the form. I want to emphasise that both Odyssey and Quest are high among the best reads of the year. Devour these stories, then return to them for a second sitting. See what else they have to say. Outstanding.

 

Breakwater – Michaela Holzinger. Illustrated by Rotraut Susanne Berner.

Breakwater uses a repeated journey to show how young people change over time. Lilian’s family have vacationed by the lake every autumn. Every autumn, Lilian spends her days with Kilian, while their fathers play chess under the trees. This year Lilian would rather stay at home. She’s too old to play games. Too old for geeky Kilian, with his silly games and his Lego-Minecraft. Except time has changed Kilian, too. Suddenly, Lilian’s father is not so certain the teenagers should be spending so much time together. Like the chess played out below the trees, Lilian and Kilian have a battle on their hands.

This was one of the few stories which took place in a static location – that is, many authors took travel literally, and wrote about walking trips and boat journeys and trains. Holzinger shows the passage of time as effectively by focusing on one moment in time.

 

Everyone Knows Petter’s Gay – Endre Lund Eriksen. Illustrated by Jörg Mühle. 

Everyone knows that new kid Petter is gay, but our narrator sets out to prove it to his peer group. After all, anything could happen if there was any uncertainty. This story is great for tone – it is clear from the character’s voice that he is resentful. He begrudges Petter his success on the football team, and the friendships he makes when he moves away from the narrator’s company. It is a great story about the peer pressure which makes coming out feel impossible to young people, and the effect that can have on their life.

Like ‘Breakwater’, there is a physical journey, to training camp, and a metaphoric journey. In Everyone Knows Petter’s Gay, the metaphoric journey is coming out.

 

Journey at Dusk – Sandrine Kao. Illustrated by the author.

 Blanche could have spent the summer practicing for her oboe exam and hanging out with her friends. You know, normal French things. Instead, she must spend time in her parents’ country. Blanche works hard to fit in at home. She doesn’t  want to learn about the family culture. Greeted by Aunt Mi-I and her small son, Blanche trails through the market, dripping with sweat and contempt. Then she hears the one thing that might win her over to a new culture – a woodwind instrument.

This was the only journey which focused on a young person born in the western world, learning about their parents’ very different culture. With so many people now relating to multiple cultures, it was right up to date, and so beautifully done. Blanche learns to focus on the similarities between cultures, and to explore her heritage with pride.

 

What We’ve Lost – Sarah Engell. Illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet.

aarhus2 A boat full of people who know each other not by name, but by what they’ve lost. After seven hours at sea, the engine packed in. Our protagonist looks after a small boy, but with no idea which direction they are drifting in, and only so much water between them, odds are not in their favour. We’ve all seen the news articles. ‘Journey in Europe’ brings to mind the refugees, who undertake desperate journeys in search of a peaceful home. Sarah Engell hands it with great sensitivity. This was one of the stories which beautifully matched its pictures. I was in floods by the end, but so I should be. These stories need to be read. 

 

The Blue Well – Ana Pessoa. Illustrated by Helen Stephens.

 Our protagonist has found herself sitting back, watching life slip past. She’s lost her sense of adventure. The day her family visit the mountains, she would rather hide beneath her wide-brimmed hat, alone with her thoughts. Thoughts nobody else understands, but that is OK. Our protagonist would rather exist, a part of the landscape. The mountain. Then she reaches the Blue Well. This is a story which merits rereading. It is also in touch with the intensity of young people’s thoughts.

 

 Mine – Sarah Crossan. Illustrated by Anke Kuhl. 

The baby is coming. Stacey is waiting to find out whether it is a girl or boy, but frankly she doesn’t care. Curled in the baby’s cot, she waits for live to change beyond recognition. Why does the baby’s room get a fancy name? Why does it get everybody’s time and attention. Then she sees the bunny in the corner of the cot, and she hatches a plan.

Rites of passage are metaphorical journeys. Stacey travels along with her family, wondering whether anybody will care about her when they reach the point of great change.

 

Out There – Victor Dixon. Illustrated by Peter Bailey. 

 Thibaut refuses to wait another season before taking up a rifle and becoming a man. He has great dreams of taking over his father’s estate, and protecting the livelihood of the tenants. Determined to prove he is a man, Thibaut shoots a gander, as it leads a flock of geese on migration. Throughout the summer, the geese land on the farm, first in tens, then in thousands. The crop is decimated.

Victor Dixon uses the metaphor of migration to explore the transition between adolescence and manhood, and the relationship between Thibaut and his father. This reminded me of a fairy tale, particularly with its country-estate setting.

 

Lost in Transformation – Cornelia Travnicek. Illustrated by Dave McKean. 

aarhus4 Lou is neither male nor female. That’s about to change, but Lou wants to know why. ‘Because everybody has to make that decision’ doesn’t seem a good enough reason to face the transformation all young people undertake before the start of their secondary education. Following years among the Cybele – a colony of asexual, genderless beings – Lou wants to know if there are options which have not been presented. This was the only Sci-Fi story in the anthology, and it is one of the stories which got under my skin. It put its questions across in a way which lasted beyond the last page. This was intensified by Dave McKean’s haunting illustrations.

Lou is about to be escorted back to face transformation into something gendered. Will Lou follow, or will Lou break away?

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review – Editing Emma by Chloe Seager

editing emma

Extract:

 

‘I’m nothing.’

‘You’re not nothing. You’re definitely something.’ 

We stayed hugging for a while until she said, ‘Emma, this is all lovely and everything, but on second thoughts can we hug after you’ve had a shower?’ She moved away.

‘Oh God. Look at me. This happened two months ago and I still feel exactly the same about it. I mean, yes, that status only just came up. But we stopped speaking at the beginning of the summer. In two months, I have made zero progress. How is that possible?’

‘Maybe because instead of actually  trying to make progress you keep stewing over how you’ve made no progress.’ 

(Editing Emma by Chloe Seager. P15.) 

 

Synopsis:

Leon changes his Facebook status. After two months of ignoring Emma, Leon has started to date Anna.  Emma is forced to admit something is wrong. Was Emma even dumped? Surrounded by Leon’s old Chewit wrappers, and the sticking plaster she rescued from the bin, Emma sits in her pyjamas posting bitter updates on her blog. Leon isn’t worth any girl’s time or virginity. His parents hate him anyway.

When best friend Steph tells Emma to get a grip, Emma decides to take her blog in a new direction. She will transform herself one ‘edit’ at a time, starting with a new boyfriend. If Mum’s serial-dating is anything to go by, there are plenty of willing guys out there. So what if Emma has to lie a bit?

Her transformations result in a life which is less than plain sailing. The internet is the greatest tool of communication in existence. Has Emma got it completely wrong? 

A hilarious, heart-breaking read which gives an honest picture of teenage life.

 

Review:

Editing Emma reminded me how painful it is to be a teenager. However bad adult life gets, the only person entitled to an opinion on your private life is you. Emma is constantly monitored: by her mother, her teachers and her peer group. She broadcasts her emotional life to the world, in a way which could be metaphoric of teenage life itself. Not that the exploration of online life is figurative. Chole Seager understands how the internet is a very real presence in modern teenage life. Themes raised include the omnipresence of social judgement, and the decisions we must make about how to use the internet in a positive way. The Frankenstein-thread is a great analogy for this. However ‘modern’ we think we are, people have faced the same issues before. It will make you want to revisit Shelly’s work.

Emma is constantly venting. Although she is a gloomy character, this is lifted by her brutally honest sense of humour, and the way we take her into our hearts. She’s not socially au fait, but this only made me care for her more. Plenty of us have been Emma, and all of us have had an Emma moment – a moment where we make a catastrophically stupid social move, then wonder why the world is being so mean. Emma is fed up of seeing teenage life portrayed on television by glamourous women in their mid-20s. Editing Emma is the brutal – but brutally funny – real thing.

I loved Emma’s friend Steph. She appears to have life sorted when giving Emma advice, but isn’t perfect herself. She is the friend every teenager needs – the one who tells it like it is, while offering high-calorie treats as consolation.

   I also like the relationship between Emma and her Mum. Initially, I condemned Mum as a bad role-model. Part way through, I changed my mind. Mum is imperfect, human, but she steps in when the consequence of Emma’s actions spins out of control. Perhaps she hasn’t sorted her own social life, but she’s a great parent.

At times I wondered whether these could really *all* be posts. Wouldn’t Emma’s stone-drunk messages be incoherent? Wouldn’t her phone be confiscated sooner? Taking the idea that it was all posted online with a pinch of salt, it was a great narrative. It was tightly structured. If you know anything about five-act structure, you will understand why Emma’s initial ‘edits’ are doomed to failure.

 One for anybody who wants a realistic portrayal of teenage life, or important questions about the way we use the internet.

 

Released August 10th 2017.

I received my copy from HQ Stories via NetGalley, in return for a review. This does not affect the honesty of my review. HUGE thanks to HQ Stories for my copy.