Young Adult Reviews

Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

dread nation

Extract:

His words are mild ; his tone is not. And what he says unlocks some long-buried memory. Just like that, I’m no longer in the lecture hall but back at Rose Hill Plantation, watching as the major slowly uncoils his horsewhip from its hook. 

This ain’t your place, girl. You run back inside ‘fore you’re next. 

(Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. P76.)

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Synopsis:

Jane McKeene is nearing the end of her training at Miss Preston’s School Of Combat. Since the shamblers first rose on the battlefields of the American Civil War, a programme has been in place to train young black people in the combat skills necessary to keep them at bay.

Jane was born to a white mother and longs to find her way home. Instead, she is sent far away to a Western outpost where she uncovers terrible secrets. It seems not all the monsters are undead.

A zombie story with a political message about the consequences of ignorance and division.

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Review:

At last, a zombie novel which challenges the reader’s intelligence and makes a statement about the current political climate.

The shamblers (what a great word for zombies) are terrifying. They are unashamedly gory and bear a close resemblance to their living forms, roaming the world in ragged clothes.

They are not the only antagonists.

The Survivalists Party puts out propaganda about non-white people’s links to the shamblers and attempts to save themselves by building a wall. You would have to have spent the past two years with your head in the sand if you can’t spot similarities to political events in modern America.

Jane is a feisty and unapologetic heroine whose ideas about combat are often three steps ahead of her elders. She is forced to fight the zombies against her will, and at the same time she is faced with a climate which views her as something less than a person. As well as being an alternative history which builds on very real events, the book speaks out about the experiences faced by black people at the hands of the countries, politicians and neighbours.

If it sounds bleak, remember that this book is giving voice to experiences which have been white-washed out of history. Own voices fantasy brings lived experiences to a mainstream audience, and the world will be a richer place for having these voices in print.

A zombie novel like none I have read before. It proves that zombie stories can be about more than cheap thrills and that the most real horror is the systematic oppression faced by groups in society.

 

Thanks to Titan Books for my gifted copy of Dread Nation. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Extract from The Burning by Laura Bates.

Burning Blog Tour (1)

Extract from The Burning by Laura Bates.

theburning

Some books are worth celebrating. The Burning is such a book. I was delighted to be invited to take part in the blog tour because feminist narratives are something I feel strongly about. 

The Burning is about witch hunts historical and current. It is about a girl who moves escape her past but finds she can’t outrun her problems. Anna is the victim of social media shaming. To escape her feelings, she throws herself into a school project and finds out about Maggie, the victim of a 16th Century witch hunt.

The book is fantastic in every way and I am so pleased to share an extract with you. 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Extract:

Hairbrush. Tampons. Toothbrush. Toothpaste.

The front door opens with a shudder and an ominous creak. Dark blue paint cracks and peels above a tarnished
brass knocker.
Deodorant. Watch. Shoes.
‘Come on,’ Mum pants, heaving two bulging suitcases over the threshold and into the dark hallway.
I’m a list-maker. Lists give me grip. You can hold onto a
list. Doesn’t matter what’s on it. Today it’s everything I had to remember to pack at the last minute. The things I couldn’t put in the car last night because I’d need them this morning. The list has been helping me to breathe. Like a spell to ward off evil. I’ve been chanting it under my breath since I woke up and I haven’t been able to stop. Because, as long as I keep repeating the things I need to remember, somehow I can distract myself. Pretend that I’m not really walking out of my bedroom for the last time. Not really stepping into a car loaded with everything we own. Not really driving past the
park where I fell off my bike for the first time. Not watching the swimming pool where I trained three nights a week disappear in the rear-view mirror.

Hairbrush.
Passing the chippy.
Tampons.
The library.
Toothbrush.
The pet shop where I bought my ill-fated iguana. RIP, Iggy Poppet.
Toothpaste.
But now we’re here. And even the list isn’t powerful enough to blot out the new house in front of me.
I hesitate. Somehow, stepping through the door will make it real. I look back to the car, parked a little way down the street, its doors standing open, more luggage and overstuffed bin bags threatening to spill out. Through the back window, I can see a tatty box labelled anna’s room: diaries, photographs, dad’s books.

Nothing left to go back to go back to anyway. I take a deep breath, adjust the bulky cat carrier under my arm and step inside.

The hallway has a musty smell, its whitewashed walls and wooden ceiling beams lit by one naked bulb. The removal van which whisked away most of our earthly belongings the night before we left has arrived before us and piles of labelled boxes teeter precariously on all sides. Mum’s already bustling through into the big, airy kitchen, which also serves as the living room. There’s one of those big Aga cookers radiating
warmth and our new brick-red sofa, still covered in protective
plastic sheets.

A massive old fireplace dominates the room, empty but framed by a handsome wooden mantelpiece. I empty my pockets, shoving my journey rubbish on top of it. Soggy
Costa cup. Crumpled crisp packet. Half a Mars bar. It looks a bit less imposing now.

Gently, I set down the cat carrier and one very grumpy black cat unfurls out of it like a puff of smoke, letting out an indignant yowl to tell me exactly what he thinks of being
cooped up in the car for so long.

‘Sorry, Cosmo,’ I whisper. I bend down to ruffle his soft fur with my fingertips, craving the comfort of his familiar warmth, but he turns tail with an angry hiss and disappears
through the kitchen window into the back garden. I sort of wish I could follow him.

I shrug off my jacket and half slump onto the crackling, plastic-covered sofa. ‘Don’t even think about it!’ Mum warns.‘We’ve got hours of unpacking ahead of us and the car’s not
even empty yet.’

Suddenly the trees outside shake with a gust of wind, causing an eerie, shrieking moan that sounds like it came from the bones of the house itself. I try to sound sarcastic instead of freaked out. ‘Are you sure this place is fit for human habitation?’

We only looked round the house once on a rushed, blustery weekend at the end of March, driving up from home and haring round Scotland in a whirl, viewing five or six different properties a day, each less inspiring than the last. At the last minute, we squeezed in an extra stop in a tiny fishing village called St Monans, where Mum instantly fell in love with the quaint, crooked streets and peaceful old harbour lined with
pastel-coloured cottages.

 (From The Burning by Laura Bates.) 

 

The Burning by Laura Bates is out now (paperback £7.99, Simon & Schuster). Thanks for my gifted copy of the book, and for supplying this extract as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Burning by Laura Bates

Blog Tour: The Burning by Laura Bates

theburning

Extract:

I start to read, not taking in the words at first, trying to trick my brain into thinking about something else. But before long I’m genuinely absorbed in the text.

Women who were thought to have broken vital societal rules of behaviour, or to have sinned against God and the church, were punished in a wide variety of different ways. Some punishments were designed to curb particular habits or behaviours, others to shame and humiliate.

 

(The Burning by Laura Bates. P142.)

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

 Synopsis:

Anna has left her old life behind. The move to Scotland is supposed to be a new start, so she can make friends and go to school safely and live without prejudice. Then the rumours start up again.

A false social media profile brings an old photograph back to light. One Anna never intended to make public in the first place. Now she faces everything from quiet judgment to harassment to outright hatred.

At the same time, she researches the story of another girl for her school project. A girl who lived hundreds of years ago and was judged by her society after catching the attention of a young lord.

Witch hunts past and present are called out in this strong, compelling novel by the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project.

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Review:

Feminism is about giving women equal rights to men. The right to have our morals judged on our actions and not our skirt-length. The right to equal pay. To be called by our names instead of endearments from total strangers. If you support those things, it doesn’t matter whether you call it equality, feminism, gender rights, just-plain-humanity or any other name. This is about men and women. This is about human rights.

This vehement anger and derision continually shown towards people searching for equality illustrate why these books are vital. The next generation deserves a world in people are not divided the second they are born.

The focus of the story is on witch hunts. Anna’s school project brings her into contact with the story of Maggie, a girl who was shamed by her society after forced intercourse with a young lord. Maggie’s story is told in haunting scenes which are brought vividly into the reader’s mind. There is no doubt that everything which happens to Maggie is horrific. This forces the reader to confront the similarities between Maggie and Anna’s stories. Although Anna isn’t subjected to the same physical tortures, she too is shunned by her society after someone abuses her trust and makes public the details of her private life.

What shook me was the way this behaviour extended to the adults in Anna’s life. Not only did they fail to challenge the teenagers who destroyed Anna’s reputation and security, but they set an example for young people to follow. Beyond the witch hunts are casual comments about skirt length and women in sport and gossip about the latest shock relationship. The way women criticise their appearance and abilities as a social norm. This is perhaps the most important theme of the book. Our messages go beyond words. It is all very well telling girls they are free to wear whatever they like, but what happens when they are shamed for their choices?

The story also shows that it can be difficult for young people to know where to turn. Facebook and other social media sites currently have policies which make it easy for people to create fake profiles and post incriminating pictures which are often Photoshopped. In the real world, it can be difficult to get help when you are in a situation where people are claiming you have done something wrong. The story calls out such social gaslighting and makes it clear that having a sex life is never wrong, and that the person in the wrong is the one who shares those details without consent. Although there can be great social pressure, we all need to raise awareness of gaslighting because the only way to end it is for everyone to stand together.

The conclusion shows us quite plainly that there is no running from widespread behaviour. So long as society acts as though gender inequalities are acceptable, it won’t be possible for young people to escape those attitudes.

The Exact Opposite Of Okay got people talking last year and The Burning continues the conversation. It honours the voices which have contributed to the Everyday Sexism Project and gives readers an alternative way to respond to gaslighting and social witch hunts. The historical elements remind us that these behaviours are centuries-old and will not change until we change our own responses. A fearless feminist YA novel which we should all shout about.

 

The Burning by Laura Bates is out now (paperback £7.99, Simon & Schuster).

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for my gifted copy of The Burning. Opinions remain my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Year After You by Nina de Pass

year after you

Extract:

In the dimly lit room, my scar is all the more acute: a jagged, burgundy line from wrist to elbow; a reminder that I am here, and I was there. This I will have to cover at all costs. 

(From The Year After You by Nina de Pass. P19.)

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Synopsis:

Nine months ago, Cara was involved in a car crash which killed her best friend.

As a last resort to deal with Cara’s PTSD, her mother sends her across the Atlantic to a boarding school in Switzerland. Hope Hall is nestled in the beautiful scenery of the Alps. It also has a reputation for taking in ‘lost causes’. Nobody at Hope knows Cara’s past, and she intended to keep it that way.

Although she has built barriers around herself and clung to her old life, she makes new friends, such as her roommate Ren and the enigmatic Hector. The closer she gets to these new friends, the more she reveals about herself. Is Cara ready to accept that what happened is in the past and allow herself a chance at the future?

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Review:

A deep and beautifully-written look at the challenges faced in the months after traumatic injury.

Cara’s injuries have healed but she is struggling with the rest of it. How her life appears to have begun again after the crash. That she has a scar on her arm to remind her of how much she went through and how relatively little she suffered compared to others. How telling other people what happened means facing judgment. Including her own.

Other reviewers have suggested Cara is a liar. Straight out, I’m going to challenge this. She’s not a liar. She’s certainly struggling to face things. Traumatic incidents shake your memory. For months and months. Little pieces come back at a time. The human brain is an extraordinary vessel which blocks what it cannot cope with. This allows it to concentrate on physical recovery. The downside is that, as memories drip back in, they must be confronted and processed.

Hope Hall is supposed to be a new start, but how can she ever start over when she is carrying so much emotional baggage?

Slowly Cara decides that she doesn’t want to push her new friends away. But to do that she must fully come to terms with what happened.

Alongside Cara’s experiences, the book examines mental health prejudice generally. Cara faces this early on, when one of the boys at school kicks up a fuss at the inclusion of someone who might be dangerous. Later on, we meet a character who thinks sweeping mental health incidents under the rug makes a better impression on society.

I love that this book was properly researched. It shows every emotion and experience connected to traumatic injury, including other people’s reactions. It is also beautifully written, and it is impossible not to fall in love with the setting. Think the modern-day Chalet School. For the very privileged. Think a boarding school where ice-skating is on the agenda.

There is a reason everyone is talking about this book. It is insightful and beautifully-written and unafraid to challenge prejudice and misconceptions. A huge achievement from a debut author.

 

Thanks to Ink Road for sending my copy of The Year After You as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Review: Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Empress

Extract:

Frustration cut a bitter path across Taro’s chest. His lips tugged into a sneer. ‘So you hope to be an Empress? You wish for the prince to fall in love with you, and to wear pretty gowns, and to live in luxury for the rest of your life?’

Mari sighed. ‘It is disappointing how little you think of the opposite sex.’ 

Taro grunted. ‘I know the prince. He does not like to be considered some prize to be won.’ 

‘Women are regarded that way all the time,’ Mari said. ‘And just so you know, I have no desire to be Empress.’ 

(Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean. P104.) 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Synopsis:

Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – and marry the prince. Only one girl will get through. The rest die. The contest is held once every generation, and every girl is eligible to apply. Mari has trained for it all her life. The only problem is that as a yōkai she is not eligible to apply. The emperor is determined to see all yōkai destroyed.

Her path collides with that of Taro, the young prince who is determined to be something more than a prize. Taro spends his days making beautiful creatures from metal, and he questions his father’s hard line on yōkai. It seems that Mari and Taro are destined to be together.

At the same time, half- yōkai Akira joins up with the revolution as a way to watch over Mari.

A human, a yōkai and an outcast. The fate of the world rests in their hands.

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Review:

It was the world which drew me to this book. The idea of rooms themed to the seasons which are designed to kill. Sentimental portrays of the seasons abound, and we forget that the quickest and most silent killer in our world is exposure. This story describes the seasons in a way which makes them beautiful and deadly. 

At first, this seems like many YA novels. A savvy girl, a sensitive prince and a brooding boy in the shadows. Do not be fooled. The book shows these roles for the stereotypes they are. Mari, Taro and Akira’s character go so much deeper than their surfaces. Each has an agenda and their story places out against the changing face of an empire.

 This is feminism for people of all genders. It crushes the myths we have been told about love and relationships and the differences between men and women. 

The main story is interspersed with a story of the Gods, which echoes the shifting attitudes the main characters experience towards this theme. After finishing the novel, I went back over this sub-plot and took so much more in than I did the first time around.

I enjoyed another YA novel about yōkai last year and was pleased that Empress Of All Seasons explores that mythology in more detail. One of the best things about reading books from all cultures is learning about different myths and customs. Although shapeshifters exist in Western myths, it is interesting to see different interpretations of their nature. I hope to read more fantasy inspired by world cultures. 

A real page-turner and a setting which will haunt you long after you finish reading. I look forward to reading more from Emiko Jean.

 

Thanks to Gollancz for my gifted copy of Empress Of All Seasons. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Whiteout by Gabriel Dylan

whiteout

Extract:

Something was out there, waiting. Something that had brought Hanna back here, after all she had been through. Something terrible. 

Hanna stole one last glance at the valley far below, then turned back towards the hotel, wondering if tonight she might finally learn answers to the questions that had haunted her for as far back as she could remember. 

(Whiteout by Gabriel Dylan. P63.) 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Synopsis:

A group of young people is at a ski resort in the Alps. For Charlie it is an escape from a difficult home. For Tara it is a low-budget alternative to the life she thinks she deserves. To Hanna it is an income. When a storm cuts them off from the rest of the world, they realise there is more outside than wind and snow.

Then they find the blood and the massacre begins.

A quest to survive begins and the different personalities in the group clash as different people assert their own ideas. Who will survive and how will it change their lives?

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Review:

If you’ve enjoyed the recent spate of novels with Breakfast Club style casts such as Floored or One Of Us Is Lying, you’re in for a treat. Here we have the spoiled girl, the boy with a criminal past, the tough-cookie and a whole cast of strong personalities thrown into a story of mayhem and survival. There are monsters out there in the snow and they’re not afraid to feed on humans.

What made this book for me was the characters. Each character is so realistic that I felt as I had been introduced to living, breathing people. The tensions between the characters are real. Conflict and friction are created by the events which happen the characters’ different reactions. Most memorable to me was ‘bad boy’ Charlie who is more responsible and reflective than many of his peers. The book never resorts to stereotypes but shows that we are deeper than the image we like to project.

In terms of horror – there is blood. There are monsters which feast on human flesh. You can be certain there is a certain level of gore. It never felt overdone. As someone who prefers subtle, folksy horror, I thought this would be a departure from my comfort zone, but the action is well-paced and there is a big emphasis on the people thrust into that situation. Be warned though: the body count is high.

The climax is haunting and it will fill you with adrenaline. Secrets have been kept in the mountains and horror has thrived.

Instead of pinning down what the horror is early and categorising it (zombie-attack, vampire plague …) there is a strong sense of the unknown and the unknowable. This keeps the tension up and we ask those questions alongside the characters. A gripping story and an author I will look out for in the future.

 

Thanks to Stripes Publishing for my gifted copy of Whiteout. Opinions my own.

 

   

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Pulp by Robin Talley

pulp

Extract:

Janet had never understood, not until she’d turned the thin brown pages of Dolores Wood’s novel, that other girls might feel the way she did. That a world existed outside the one she’d always known. 

(Pulp by Robin Talley. P36.) 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.pngSynopsis:

Washington DC.

1955: Janet Jones is in love and she has finally discovered a romance novel she can relate to. Reading Pulp fiction helps Janet to embrace her feelings for her friend Marie. Everything should be perfect, except it is practically a crime to be gay in 1955 DC. As Janet comes to terms with her feelings, she begins to write fiction of her own, but her writing puts both herself and her friend in danger.

2017: Abby Zimet’s family is falling apart and her relationship with Linh is over. As she struggles to deal with her feelings, Abby becomes more engrossed in her senior creative writing project: an attempt to write a subverted pulp novel. The more research she does, the more Abby longs to talk to author Marian Love.

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.pngReview:

Sometimes a book just blows you away. Pulp did that to me.

It is a story about love, a story about prejudice and a story about writing. It is about a specific genre of fiction which emerged in reaction to prejudice faced by very real people who just wanted the freedom to love. It captures two time periods in the same city. Two generations of young adults forming their identities.

Both Abby and Janet discover pulp fiction for the first time, but they discover it in totally different eras. Pulp novels were often forced to show drastic endings which warned women off such ‘behaviour’ but these endings could be tacked on to narratives about genuine romance. To Janet in 1955, this is groundbreaking. It is the first time she has heard voices like her own. To Abby in 2017, these novels are in need of an update. I love how we see their contrasting reactions. We come to empathise with people who are living in a climate of censure and what it means to get around those restrictions and read something even partially like your own experience.

The story will speak to anyone who has come out or struggled to form their own identity, about how much comfort there is in fiction and in knowing that there are other people who feel the same way as ourselves.

As someone trying to bridge the gap between writing for myself as writing as a career, this story spoke to me in volumes. It showed so much about the writing process which a lot of people are often unaware of – how genres often conform to patterns, how writers both consciously and subconsciously emulate other writers, and how stories often begin with something from real life. It showed how much work it takes to get to one complete manuscript (hint: there’s a volume of work behind book one) and how authors sometimes wish they could revise their early novels.

A couple of reviews have suggested that this book is hard to follow. I’m going to dispute that although I understand how the reviewers came to that conclusion. Throughout both storylines there are extracts from other works – books read and written by Abby and Janet. Two of these feature heavily, to the point where you might try to follow the fictional characters’ stories. My advice? Don’t treat these as additional plotlines. They teach us so much about the characters we are investing in, the characters we are following, but don’t mistake them for additional stands of the plot.

Aside from that, I loved the characterisation. Abby is so set on one version of happily-ever-after but she grows and changes a lot over the course of the novel in a way which felt realistic. This is a strong narrative for older YA readers and one which lots of adults will relate to with hindsight.

If you love realistic and heartfelt contemporary novels or novels which celebrate all things literary, give Pulp a go. It’s one of the special ones.  

 

Thanks to Young Adult HQ and Nina Douglas PR for my copy of Pulp. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Fork, The Witch, And The Worm by Christopher Paolini

img_7828

This is a book which many people have been waiting for. Eragon is one of those series which defines a childhood. The kind you remember sitting up at night to read in one go. Now this volume of short stories is here and it catches up with Eragon and Saphira for the first time since they took on the duty of training new dragon riders. 

Eragon’s new story is set a year from that final battle. He is trying to create the perfect home for the dragon riders but finds himself overwhelmed with a huge list of tasks and is afraid he will never get everything done on time. To take his mind off things he listens to three stories – one projected into his mind by the Umaroth, one written in a witch’s papers and one told by the Urgal. These are the three stories which give the book it’s title – The Fork, The Witch, and The Worm. 

This is a love letter to the existing trilogy and it will be a huge hit with existing fans. It brings back many favourite characters and races and it will delight the hardcore fans. It is also a lovely introduction to the trilogy. 

The format is interesting – really it is a book of three separate stories but we also follow Eragon as he listens to them. I liked the short sections where we returned to Eragon after each story because they encouraged the reader to be reflective and to consider the themes of the stories they had just heard. 

My favourite story is The Worm – the tale of a dragon who ravages farmland. After her family is killed in the raids, Ilgra swears she will be the one to take it down. She sets herself apart as a warrior and gets deeper and deeper into the quest she has set herself. This is a story of perspective – of being able to step back and back the right decision. It is also about revenge and how revenge can become all-consuming. I just loved the tone of the story too. It was pure fantasy and it was timeless. 

The stories come together as Eragon moves forward in his own ambitions. 

This is a lovely way back into the trilogy and I am determined to reread the orignial books. I liked the format because it gives us space to think about the role of stories in our lives, and how stories can give us a different perspective on our own problems. 

The Fork, The Witch and The Worm by Christopher Paolini is published by Penguin Random House Children’s and is out now.

Check out my Twitter page to find a giveaway. UK and Ireland only – ends 17.01.2019 at 11.59pm. 

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Other Side Of Lost by Jessi Kirby

theothersideoflost.jpg

Synopsis:

Mari is a social media star who appears to have it all – perfect body, perfect home and perfect life. As her eighteenth birthday approaches, Mari is more aware than ever of the thing that is missing. Her cousin Bri, who should also have been turning eighteen.

Mari shares her true feelings online – that she isn’t the flawless person she pretends to be. In the backlash, she set outs to follow the adventure Bri had planned before her death.

Mari hikes the John Muir trail and navigates her own feelings as she sets a new course for life.cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.pngReview:

A contemporary YA for a contemporary audience. I’m always up for books which promote an outdoor lifestyle and this one had such positive messages and a great vibe.

The online world can get a bit OTT. Mari’s certainly has. She plans her photos down to the smallest detail. It’s nothing to do with real life and everything to do with getting likes. Which isn’t the wrong way to live, btw, and the book doesn’t condemn social media altogether. Mari’s built a platform and gained useful skills along the way. She’s just fed up of the constant pressure. When she lets the mask slip and shows her more vulnerable side, she’s condemned for it. There is a huge pressure to create and stick to an image, particularly on Instagram which is Mari’s main platform and the story explores the effect this has on users like Mari.

I’ve seen reviews which describe Mari as shallow and selfish, but my reading was that she sunk herself deeper into this artificial world following the death of her cousin. There is pressure in the real world as well as in the virtual one. When we lose a loved one there can be huge pressure to keep up the pretence of doing fine. Social media is an obvious place to do this, where every picture and every post can be curated.

I enjoyed the trek itself, particularly the descriptions of the landscape. It’s the sort of book which makes you want to train up and get outside even if, like Mari, you have very little experience of the wilderness.

A relatable contemporary novel which encourages us to choose what matters in life while highlighting the pressures social media puts on today’s teenagers.

 

Thanks to Harper360 for my ARC of The Other Side Of Lost. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog tour: Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon

 

rosielovesjack

About Rosie Loves Jack

Rosie loves Jack. Jack loves Rosie. 

Rosie would spend every day and every hour with her boyfriend Jack, but due to a brain injury sustained when he was born, Jack finds it difficult to control his temper. After an incident at college, Jack goes away to learn some anger management techniques.

Rosie’s Dad says this is the last straw. He sees is as an opportunity to put an end to the relationship between Rosie and Jack. 

Rosie has other ideas. She may have Down’s Syndrome but she’s not going to let that define her and she’s not going to let her Dad treat her like a small child. Rosie leaves home in search of the boy she loves – even though people think girls like Rosie can’t survive a journey like that on their own. 

What makes Rosie Loves Jack special? Aside from Rosie’s voice, which is so distinctive, it will remain with you love after you close the book, I love the fact that the book confronts the fear and prejudice around people with neurological conditions, mental health problems, and additional needs. Jack certainly needs to learn to control his temper, but there are reasons why it is taking him longer to learn those behaviours than other people. Rosie’s Dad, like many people in the real world, judges Jack on one aspect of his condition and not on his whole personality. 

It is a deep irony that some people are more willing to forgive behaviour in those without additional needs. Everyone deserves the chance to grow. In the end, it is Rosie’s Dad who has to confront his own prejudice. 

Mel Darbon wrote this story because of the attitudes towards her brother. It is a sad fact that people with additional needs face a hard time – for example, only 16% of adults on the autistic spectrum are in full-time employment, and even fewer in a job which matches their abilities. People are more willing to overlook issues in those with strong communication skills than in those with a genuine need for empathy and patience. Statistics like this will not change unless, as a society, we decide to show more tolerance. 

The novel gives voice to a group who are not often heard. 

As part of the blog tour, we were asked to choose from a series of questions. Like many characters, Rosie and her father undergo big emotional changes. I have written about what it is like as a reader to follow a character through their story. 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

What is it like to follow a character’s emotional journey? 

What makes something a story instead of a lump of writing?  

There are many answers to this question, but it begins with the protagonist – the main character who drives the story. Once upon a time there was a person with a flawed world-view. This person wanted something very much. Something stood in their way. There you have the (very very) basics of a story. The result of this is, of course, that writers put their protagonists through the wringer. Before we get to the end of the story, we know the protagonist will have faced many challenges and we know they will have developed their world-view as a result.

The question I chose to answer for the blog tour related specifically to these turning-points – the moment when the protagonist grows and changes as a result of their experience. How does it feel, as a reader, to follow these emotional journeys?

If we connect with a character – and particularly if we identify with their flaw – it can feel as if we have walked a thousand miles in their shoes. As if we were part of the journey and have undergone the same transformation. We may not have gone to wizard-school or crossed the seas, may not have been called up for the Hunger Games or trained a dragon but we can undergo the same learning journey as the character. This is why fiction is an important part of life and why it is the greatest teacher of empathy. It takes us to places we are unlikely to reach to help us change our worldview.

Reaching a turning-point in the story is an almost-spiritual moment. Whether this is the first book we have ever read or the six-thousand and fourth, we know it is coming.  The character has been pushed to their lowest ebb and we know this is the moment where they will have to confront their attitudes. As readers, we come in one step ahead of the protagonist, and there can be a great satisfaction in turning the page and seeing a character come to the same realisation.

Then comes the action-sequence. The moment where the protagonist lifts their head and walks to face their final challenge. This is a moment of empowerment for the reader, too, because we see that internal changes can result in proactive changes in life. If the character’s situation can change as a result of their growth, maybe we can change our own lives too. Maybe we change the world for others.

This is why I struggle to understand when people talk about fiction as if it is a form of light entertainment or a hobby which should be saved for the weekend. Fiction is empowering and it teaches us more about the world than our day-to-day lives ever can. Fiction gives us new approaches and it helps us to believe we can make a change.

 

Thanks to Usborne Publishing LTD for my copy of Rosie Loves Jack.