Book Review

Book Review: The Opposite of You by Lou Morgan

Published May 4th 2017 by Stripes Books.

34338745Goodreads Synopsis: Bex and her identical twin sister Naomi used to be close. They used to be able to finish each other’s sentences, used to know exactly what the other was thinking. They were a matching pair.
And then something changed.
But Bex didn’t even realise until it was too late. When Naomi walks out of the house the night before their last GCSE exam and doesn’t come back, Bex has to think hard about how to find her.
What happens next will force Bex to unpick their shared history and the memories, following Naomi’s trail through their family, their past and all the way to the blinding lights of the Hemisphere music festival. Everything she thought she knew is called into question.

My Review: It’s not every day that a book arrives at your doorstep with a blue wig… So needless to say, this had me very intrigued! I didn’t know very much about it before starting, but found that quite refreshing – and I enjoyed the story a lot.

The Opposite of You focuses on twins Naomi and Bex, who have grown apart at sixteen; Naomi becoming more rebellious and private about her social life. When Naomi goes missing, Bex has to piece together everything she (thinks she) knows about her sister to figure out what’s happened.

I was a little hesitant when I got into this, because the whole twin-minds thing is a bit of a trope in fiction! I really hoped this wouldn’t be too typical and predictable. However, the twin set-up is done really well. It’s a great take on the relationship between sisters and all of the ups and downs. Morgan really takes the time to delve into the different personalities of Naomi and Bex, which I really loved, especially Naomi’s alternate persona. I found myself being able to connect with the characters more than I thought for a relatively short read. Bex’s chemistry with a newfound friend pleased me because there was no forced romance. The focus remained on Naomi’s disappearance, which I was glad about.

What I think I loved most about this book was its structure! It seems a little strange, at first, flitting back and forth between Bex and Naomi in the present, then previous days, months and years. The narrative is structured really well and I loved the way the plot unfolded through different little hints and secret reveals. Some of the flashbacks to the twins’ past seem random, like the final one before the ending, but the symbolism is a really great touch once you pick up on it.

I do feel like the story ended quite abruptly – I wish there had just been a chapter or two, to explore Bex and Naomi’s relationship some more after the events of the music festival. Aside from that, though, I really can’t identify anything I’d change.

Overall, The Opposite of You is a fantastic read that will hook you in and not let you go until you’ve close the book. I ended up devouring the story over a couple of hours; it’s an addictive read! The characters are really well fleshed out. Although the concept of twins and an otherwordly connection may feel a bit overdone in books, Lou Morgan tells their story in a great, refreshing way. I certainly enjoyed this.

My Review:

I received a copy of The Opposite of You from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Discussion

Required Reading: Books I Would Put on the Curriculum

Particularly in the last three years, following Michael Gove’s decision to axe American literature from the GCSE English reading list, I’ve paid close attention to the types of literature I’ve been exposed to in school. Here’s all the books I’ve studied from year six to year twelve:

studied

These books are great and generate a lot of discussion. This year, I’ve really enjoyed Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I don’t mean to say these texts aren’t worthy of studying – but classrooms would hugely benefit from more diverse and current books, especially from this century. This is already happening, to a certain extent – for example, with Noughts and Crosses.

I think YA is more likely to make an impact on a student’s life. The YA section in a bookstore is where you’ll find some of the most influential and life-changing reads, as well as a plethora of diverse stories. So much of what I read in these categories spark important discussions.

In my opinion, the current syllabuses fail to do so – of course, there’s discussion of race and patriarchy, but often in the context of eras gone by. As important as historical literature is, it’s also integral to make syllabuses inclusive of books that deal with issues in the current state of the world.

It’s also so vital children see themselves represented. I’m yet to find literature by authors of any Asian origin on a syllabus, and LGBT* representation is shockingly sparse. The ratio of black and female authors to white and male authors is also far from equal on reading lists.

So, what would I put on the curriculum?

A while ago, I wrote a post based on a Twitter discussion, about what books others would like to see in school. I wanted to revisit this idea, using some of my recent reads! Without further ado, here’s a shortlist of books I’d give students, if I had the power:

if you could be mine

GCSE and A Level: If You Could Be Mine is a beautifully written book about two girls in Iran, who have feelings for one another but can’t express it publicly. It would be awesome to see an Iranian author on the syllabus, and the story is an emotional one with lots of themes to be talked about in class, from sexuality and religion to society and tradition.

george

Middle Grade Reading: George would be a fantastic book to discuss with younger pupils. Not only is it a really fun, heartwarming read – it’s also the perfect way to start a discussion about gender with children and promote tolerance of trans kids. Trans children are more likely to feel alienated and be victims of bullying in school: wouldn’t it be incredible for them to see themselves in the books they read?

 

the bunker diary

A Level: The Bunker Diary is controversial, to say the least, and it’s incredibly hard hitting. That’s why I hesitated to put this on the list. But I think it would be fascinating to analyse for students who would feel comfortable talking about its themes. In particular, the narrative is a really interesting point; it’s constantly evolving and switching as the protagonist spends longer in the bunker.

the hate u give

GCSE: Especially on the GCSE curriculum, opportunity to talk about current events is very limited. Police brutality and racism in America is a really important topic to engage students in so they’re aware and informed. The Hate U Give is perfect for this. It’s also a fantastic read that’s hard to put down.

wide awake

GCSE and A Level: Wide Awake is definitely underrated and I’m always eager to recommend David Levithan! The current state of the US is pretty depressing, but this book explores the idea of a gay Jewish president being elected, and the diverse celebration surrounding his campaign. It’s brilliant! David Levithan’s writing is absolutely beautiful and it would be so wonderful for it to be reflected on in classrooms.

 

wonder

Middle Grade Reading: Wonder has to be on this list! I’m pretty sure some primary schools have already used this book as a talking point. Wonder is written from multiple perspectives and follows Auggie as he starts mainstream school with a facial deformity. This book is so heartwarming and has already inspired so many young people to promote kindness.

What books would you put on the curriculum?

 

 

Book Review

Book Review: I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson

Published 4th May 2017 by Electric Monkey.

34042519Goodreads Synopsis: Jemma knows who did the murder. She knows because he told her. And she can’t tell anyone.
Fourteen-year-old Jemma has severe cerebral palsy. Unable to communicate or move, she relies on her family and carer for everything. She has a sharp brain and inquisitive nature, and knows all sorts of things about everyone. But when she is confronted with this terrible secret, she is utterly powerless to do anything. Though that might be about to change…

My Review: When this arrived in the post, I was so excited – the premise sounded amazing. I was hesitant to start it, because I was really hopeful for a realistic and positive portrayal of disability – I had high hopes!

All those high hopes were met – I Have No Secrets is fantastic.

Jemma, 14, is reliant on Sarah, her carer, given her cerebral palsy condition that limits her movement and speech. Those around her are always letting her in on secrets, and Jemma can never reply – and that becomes a huge barrier to a crime when she discovers a culprit.

I absolutely adored following the story through Jenna’s internal monologue. I loved her narration and her voice and it’s the reason why I don’t think there’s anything in YA like this right now. I felt Jemma’s frustration at being unable to tell people what she knew, and really connected with her. Especially as the author has a background in working with disabled people, and a lot of research has gone into this book, I really think it’s a great, honest portrayal of what it’s like to live with severe physical disability.

The story is so eye-opening and diverse: I really liked the family set up. I think it’s pretty rare to see portrayals of large foster families in books, especially including people with disabilities. It was really great to read about them!

For the first third of the book, I felt like the plot was a little bit all over the place, as lots of family, health and crime issues arise close together and my attention was drawn all over the place for a bit. However, it’s really clever how they all intersect and the different parts of Jemma’s life come together – just wait for the ending, it’s really unexpected.

Overall, I hugely enjoyed I Have No Secrets and would definitely recommend it. It has such a wide appeal, and even if contemporary / thriller stories aren’t your kind of thing, I urge you to pick this up for its unique perspective and portrayal of disability. These kinds of books are so important. Not only that; it’s a riveting read too!

My Rating:

four and a half

Book Review

Book Review: Girlhood by Cat Clarke

Published May 4th 2017 by Quercus.

26224552Goodreads Synopsis: Harper has tried to forget the past and fit in at expensive boarding school Duncraggan Academy. Her new group of friends are tight; the kind of girls who Harper knows have her back. But Harper can’t escape the guilt of her twin sister’s Jenna’s death, and her own part in it – and she knows no one else will ever really understand.
But new girl Kirsty seems to get Harper in ways she never expected. She has lost a sister too. Harper finally feels secure. She finally feels…loved. As if she can grow beyond the person she was when Jenna died.
Then Kirsty’s behaviour becomes more erratic. Why is her life a perfect mirror of Harper’s? And why is she so obsessed with Harper’s lost sister? Soon, Harper’s closeness with Kirsty begins to threaten her other relationships, and her own sense of identity.
How can Harper get back to the person she wants to be, and to the girls who mean the most to her?

My Review: I first heard about Girlhood at YALC last year, so I’ve been really excited about getting a copy for a while. Cat Clarke’s last three books were incredible, so I had high hopes for this one.

Girlhood takes place at a Scottish boarding school, where Harper has spent the time since her twin sister died. When a new girl joins Harper’s tightly knit group of friends, and seems to feel the same way as Harper, the group’s friendship is put to the test as dark secrets surface.

I really liked the set-up for the book. I haven’t read many books set in a boarding school and I feel like it set a really fitting tone for the story, isolating the girls so the main focus is on their relationship dynamics. It definitely added an eerie atmosphere to the story.

One of my favourite things about Girlhood is that the friendship group was refreshingly diverse. Hell yes for a bisexual protagonist! And a gay roommate! And a friendship group that isn’t all white! I think the characters all had a really interesting dynamic too. I wish that some had been explored further, such as Ama, but the story was still really engaging and I loved the protagonists and their chemistry.

I feel this book was quite different from Clarke’s previous ones, as it felt less suspenseful to me – but it was still an incredibly riveting read. I ended up devouring it in a day, pretty much in one sitting, because I was so eager to understand why Kirsty’s actions were obsessively mirrored Harper’s. I did predict part of the truth revealed at the end, but it was still such an engrossing story.

Overall, Girlhood is another exciting book from Cat Clarke that I definitely recommend reading. It’s a really captivating read, that had me intrigued form start to finish. It explores so many different themes, from family death to the complications of friendships when you’re a teenager. I feel like it’s quite different from some of Cat Clarke’s books, like Undone, but it’s still a fantastic read.

My Rating:

I received a copy of Girlhood from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Zine Review: Do What You Want

Published April 2017, edited and curated by Leah Pritchard and Ruby Tandoh.

35026501Cover blurb: Do what You Want is a one-off magazine, curated and edited by food writer Ruby Tandoh and her partner Leah Pritchard. Focusing on mental health and illness, it features an interview with actress Mara Wilson; writing from New York Magazine’s advice columnist Heather Havrilesky (Ask Polly); recipes from food writers Diana Henry, Meera Sodha and Bee Wilson; and an exclusive Q&A with Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara.

With essays, comics and poems by contributors from all walks of life, Do What You Want shows that mental wellbeing is for everyone. This is a project in aid of mental health charities and not-for-profit organisations. All profits will be split between Mind, Beat, Centre of Mental Health and more.

My Review: As soon as I’d heard about this zine, I knew I needed to order a copy! I’ve love Ruby Tandoh. So to hear she was curating a zine about mental health with her girlfriend Leah (now fiancees – congrats you guys omg), I was over the moon. As a Tegan and Sara obsessive, my excitement was undoubtedly furthered by the announcement that the zine would include an interview with Sara Quin!

Do What You Want covers a huge variety of mental health issues, from eating disorders to anxiety, depression and the intersectionality of mental health with aspects of identity such as being queer. I adored how broad this zine was, as it’s so eye-opening to read accounts from a variety of people from different backgrounds. I’m sure that many people who read this will find something to relate to, as well as come away from it having learned something valuable. It’s rare to see so many diverse, honest stories in one place like this; that’s what makes the zine so special.

dwyw.gif

Every contribution is presented absolutely beautifully, whether it’s a personal story, report on statistics and services or a recipe. Presentation ranges from vibrant comics and portraits, to gorgeous illustrations accompanying heartfelt essays, interviews and first person accounts. I took my time reading this to admire all of the work that’s gone into making this book so visually exciting. The uplifting, wonderful artwork perfectly accompanies some incredibly hard-hitting topics.

I started reading Do What You Want during exam season, and that proved it to be the perfect read to dip in and out of. This zine is a wonderful read whether you’re leafing through a passage or two a night, or reading the entire thing in a day.

dwyw1.gif

As I was about halfway through, I did notice there were significantly more female contributors than male ones. It is fantastic to see so many talented female artists and writers in one place. However, I did want to see more representation of men’s experiences of mental health, after reading around the topic previously, and being aware of some shocking statistics. This is still a teeny tiny problem for me with the zine, but it definitely was addressed really well through a couple of contributions such as George Almond’s portrayal of toxic masculinity in a moving account of his family.

Overall, I am so, so impressed with Do What You Want; it’s the kind of book you want to shout about from the rooftops and demand everyone reads. not only is it an amazing resource on mental health information; it’s also a beautiful collection of art and writing, and has raised a lot of money for various charities. This is definitely up there in one of my favourite reads of all time. After selling out its initial 4000 prints, the zine is going into a reprint, so you can still order a physical copy now, or get the ebook if you’d like it sooner!

My Rating:

four and a half

 

Book Review

Book Review: Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny Mclachlan

Published 6th April 2017 by Bloomsbury.

32021893Goodreads Synopsis: Science geek Meg is left to look after her little sister for ten days after her free-spirited mum leaves suddenly to follow up yet another of her Big Important Causes. But while Meg may understand how the universe was formed, baby Elsa is a complete mystery to her.
And Mum’s disappearance has come at the worst time: Meg is desperate to win a competition to get the chance to visit NASA headquarters, but to do this she has to beat close rival Ed. Can Meg pull off this double life of caring for Elsa and following her own dreams? She’ll need a miracle of cosmic proportions…

My Review: I’ll admit I’m one to judge a book by its cover. Though I hadn’t read any of McLachlan’s books previously, I was really drawn to this. How beautiful is it?! Anyway, I’m glad I did decide to give it a go because this is now definitely up there in my favourite reads of 2017 so far.

Stargazing for Beginners tells the story of Meg, an teenage aspiring Astronaut, who is hesitantly entering a competition to go to Houston. Just two weeks away from her competition, Meg’s mother suddenly leaves for a humanitarian cause, rendering Meg in a difficult situation, juggling school, her aspirations and her baby sister. It’s a crazy concept, but I absolutely adored it. I became really emotionally invested in the story; I didn’t expect to become so attached.

I cannot fault McLachlan’s characterisation at all: it’s fantastic. Every person in the book felt so real to me, from Meg and her quirky family members to the pupils at her school. I particularly loved reading about Meg developing a relationship with her baby sister, in light of her mum leaving. So much of this book was unexpectedly poignant and beautifully written.

One of the things I loved most about Stargazing for Beginners is it’s portrayal of feeling like an outcast at school. Meg sticks out, being overly passionate about science and labelled a geek. She’s such a relatable character, appealing to read about for anyone who’s ever been through the horrible experience of Secondary school 🙂 It was really moving to see Meg develop a network of friends over the course of the story. And, of course, it was fantastic that one of those friends was portrayed with Cerebral Palsy, a physical disability affecting movement. Disabled characters seem to be pretty underrepresented, particularly in terms of genuine portrayals – so this was really awesome to see.

Stargazing for Beginners has such a wide appeal. Its themes of family and space are written about so wonderfully, it’s hard not to fall in love with the story. I tend to read books with darker or slightly older themes, so I wasn’t sure how much this would appeal to me, but I fell in love with it. The story is so uplifting and touching, I can’t imagine that any kind of reader would dislike it.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Stargazing for Beginners. It’s perfect for anyone, of any age, looking for a feel-good read. Witty, moving and memorable, this is bound to sweep you up as it did with me. Having really enjoyed this, I’m very excited to see what McLachlan writes next!

My Rating:

I received a copy of Stargazing for Beginners via the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Discussion

Confession: I Have Too Many Books (My Book Culling Tips)

Over the years I’ve bragged quite a bit about my fancy colour coded bookshelves. I often buy books because they look pretty. And I’m a sucker for a special edition. 

It’s very clear that I’m, uh, enthusiastic about holding onto books. When I counted how many I owned last year, it totalled around a thousand. Crazy, I know. I’m being constantly warned that if another book crosses the threshold of my room, the ceiling below will literally collapse. 

(don’t worry, this gif is looping, there is an end to my book collection!)

For the past sixteen years of my life, when anyone has questioned my book buying habits (very often), I’ve been quick to jump to my own defence. THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS TOO MANY BOOKS! I’ll yell, lovingly guarding the bookshelves (which seriously need dusting) that occupy half of my room. 

Last year, in a completely spontaneous decision, I managed to sort a box of books that I could part with. It was a painful process. I discarded books then frantically grabbed them back, unwilling to let go. It’s safe to say I’m obsessive about my books, even if I know I’ll never get around to reading them. It’s like a comfort; my room is surrounded by reading material I could never run out of. I’m reluctant to depart from books I’ve read too, even though it’s unlikely I’ll never read them again. They’re like snapshots lining my walls, from different points of my life, a huge collection of memories.

I decided a few weeks ago that I needed to try again, because the situation in my room was quite frankly ridiculous. In addition to the shelves lining one wall (and the two in the hallway…) I had stacks of books strewn across the floor, and proof copies piled beneath my bed so much so that they were practically holding it up. It had to change! I give in – sometimes, there *is* such a thing as having too many books. I needed some space. 

I didn’t even let myself think about what I was doing. My “to-read pile” is actually three “to-read-bookshelves” and although I would love to get around to reading everything, it’s unlikely I ever will. Studying is intense, my interests are changing, and I just don’t have the time. Some of these books were simply collecting dust, unloved, and I realised someone else could be enjoying them. 

Over the course of two hours, I had seven bags of books to shift. What?! Here’s where they’ve gone off to, and why I decided to take them there:

  • WeBuyBooks: there are lots of companies that will buy books from you, such as Ziffit, but I found this app to be the most accessible. Simply download it to your phone and use the camera to scan barcodes; it’ll tell you if they’ll accept it, and if so how much for. Prices can range from about 20p to £3.00, so if you’re looking for some extra money, it’s a great option, especially when you’re culling a lot of books. I totalled just £10 on here, which isn’t a massive amount, but I mean, it’s pretty good for half an hour of zapping books!
  • The train station: stations around me often have shelves inside, where second hand books are left for other commuters. I really like how these circulate. Books can end up anywhere! Someone might pick one up just to flick through on a commute and leave it somewhere else, or another person might discover it and fall in love. So if you’re near a station, why not drop some off?

(also: book culling was a great way to get some use out of my many bookish tote bags)

  • My school library: libraries across the country are lacking in funding, and school ones hardly get any budget. Yet they’re thriving places that would greatly value new books to inspire teenagers’ reading. Five of my seven bags are headed for my school’s library, and I’ve made sure those bags include the newest titles I’ve decided to part with. I hope children in the years below me enjoy them; maybe they’ll find their new favourite book. It’s especially a good idea to donate to school libraries in areas where not a lot of children read. From my time at school, I know that the majority of the year groups don’t read for fun. It’s important to inspire that. 
  • Charity shops: none of my books this time around went here, but it’s worth a mention for all the other times I’ve chosen these places. Living near a high street with a countless number of them, charity shops are easy to donate to and often willing to take new books. And of course, you’re helping another good cause! Good on you. 

Thinking of getting rid of some books? Here’s some other ideas:

  • leave them on trains, buses and benches with notes
  • Donate to community centres and local schools, especially for fundraisers
  • Recommend some to friends or family members who might be interested
  • Sell them online, through eBay or sites like Ziffit
  • Give them away, through your blog, Twitter or Instagram

And if you’re wondering? I got rid of about 200 books, yet my shelves are still full. I DON’T KNOW HOW EITHER. I better do another book cull soon.