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.

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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.

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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.

Book Review

Book Review: Release by Patrick Ness

Published 4th May 2017 by Walker Books.

31194576Goodreads Synopsis: Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, Release is one day in the life of Adam Thorn, 17. It’s a big day. Things go wrong. It’s intense, and all the while, weirdness approaches…
Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

My Review: Coincidentally Mrs Dalloway was near the top of my to-read pile, when I was offered this, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s book! I’m definitely going to have to go back and read it now, as I’d love to compare this contemporary re-imagining properly.

This story follows Adam, through an incredibly eventful single day, as secrets come to light and Adam navigates the complexity of losing people close to him. I’ve never read a book with such a short time span, and I found it really refreshing. It was compelling and addictive; I was completely swept up in this pivotal day in Adam’s life, reluctant to put the book down.

Alongside Adam’s story, another narrative follows the ghost of a girl recently murdered nearby. It was such a bizarre and haunting twist to the story. One that didn’t hugely make sense to me at times, but undoubtedly gave me chills. I think I need to actually reread Release and take it all in again, as the second narration and ambiguous ending has definitely stayed with me but I don’t quite know why. I finished this feeling like I missed something; maybe that’s because I read it in such a short space of time. Even if it’s only set over a few hours, it’s a book to spend time with to pick up everything.

I absolutely adored this book for the multitude of themes it discusses. The protagonist is living in a deeply religious family that won’t eventually accept him, whilst he’s navigating a complex love life, as a boy he loved is leaving the town. There’s so much more on top of that; I love how well everything is explored. It’s brutally honest about some terrifying stuff.

Patrick Ness’s books are always so unique and remarkable, and I consistently adore his characters. Again, in Release, I became so attached to Adam (and Angela) while I read. They’re incredibly memorable characters. I keep talking about the time frame of this book BUT  I think it’s incredible how in-depth the characterisation is, and how every small part of the story is explored, despite it only being based in one day. From Adam’s family religion to his friendship with Angela; everything is so memorable. It’s really stayed with me.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Release. It was inventive and unique, with some truly memorable characters and events. I really connected with the main narrative, and found the ghost story line very haunting, but I feel like I didn’t take it in properly; it felt like a story of its own. I would really like to give this another try though and enjoy it more!

 My Rating:

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

Book Review

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I’ve seen so many articles, tweets, Tumblr posts about acts of police brutality against African Americans in the US, I’ve lost count of the amount of names I’ve seen listed. It’s upsetting. It’s horrible. It shouldn’t be happening. And it’s difficult to raise awareness about it, beyond sharing something on social media – so I really want to share this book as widely as I can.

Published 6th April 2017 by Walker Books UK. 

32613366Goodreads Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.


My Review: I was so eager to read this, from the minute I learned what it was about. The Hate U Give is focused on Starr, a girl my age, who is in the car with her childhood friend when he’s killed by a police officer who had no reason at all to shoot. Grieving Starr is thrown into the most difficult situation, where she has to decide whether to stay silent or to speak out, even if it puts her life at risk.

What happens to Starr’s friend, Khalil, is frighteningly similar to so many deaths I’ve read about – and it’s frightening to think that this happens regularly. It really opened my eyes to the situation of prejudice and racism in America, as before I was aware but not aware enough, as most people sadly are.

The story is heartbreaking, and might be difficult for some to read as it touches on so many relevant themes today – but that’s why this book has to be read. It’s unflinchingly powerful and brave.

The narrative is compelling, and I grew to really love Starr throughout the novel – it’s told in her very realistic voice. She’s torn between what to do, because remaining silent about what she witnessed and raising her voice. She’s also torn between two different ‘lives’ she’s living: her hometown and the mostly-white populated private school she attends. Starr lives with so much internal conflict, and I really empathised with her because I can imagine so many people are in the same situations.

I became really attached to Starr’s family, and Thomas writes so much detail into each character that I can’t stop thinking about them. Starr’s father is one particularly well developed, unforgettable character – an ex-convict who found his way out of gang culture, determined to protect his children and also build up his life with the store he now owns. There’s something about all of the characters that’s incredibly inspiring – their stories stay with you for a long time.

The best thing about The Hate U Give is how unapologetic and real it is. I’m really excited to see how it translates into a visual story, too! The movie rights have been sold, with Amandla Stenberg to star – which is the most incredible news. I really hope this book, and a movie in the future, helps to raise awareness. Not only is this a captivating story – it’s a powerful and unforgettable message about an ongoing issue.

Overall, I obviously recommend The Hate U Give to everyone, especially if you’re not very informed on current events in America and the Black Lives Matter Movement. It’s the most memorable and moving book you’ll read this year.

My Rating:

four and a half

I received a copy of The Hate U Give from the publisher, via Lovereading4kids, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review · mini reviews

Mini Reviews: Man Up and Queer

My aim this year is to read more non-fiction – I started off the year with two great reads from Icon Books, which were both related to topics I study in school (being a sociology and media student). It’s been a while between reading these and writing about my thoughts, so enjoy these mini reviews!

Man Up by Jack Urwin

Published 2nd June 2016 by Icon Books.

29611402Goodreads Synopsis: Jack Urwin’s father died just before he turned 10. Being male, he never really learned to talk about this with any kind of sincerity. His grief stayed with him through his teens, slowly becoming depression.
Now 24 and a journalist whose recent Vice article A Stiff Upper Lip is Killing British Men – described as ‘fabulous’ by Irvine Welsh – became a viral sensation, Urwin explores what it means to be a man now.
He traces crises of masculinity from our grandfathers’ inability to deal with the horrors of war, to the mob mentality of football terraces or Fight Club, and the disturbing rise of mental health problems among men today.

My Review: Do you ever read something, and even before you’ve finished, you want to yell about it from the rooftops and push it into everyone’s hands? Well, that’s how I was with Man Up. This title is absolutely fantastic.

The social construct of masculinity is something that’s interested me a lot, as someone who is dedicated to discussing issues about gender and equality. It’s very hard to talk about, especially when there’s so much misinformation about the topic, and how it intersects with feminism (heads up: feminism is about gender equality. It requires focus on all genders). This is where Urwin’s book comes in; books like this are rare.

Urwin himself has felt the impact of masculinity; his father suffered in silence with an illness, and the writer himself struggled to cope with this because boys aren’t encouraged to be open about their feelings. Following the writer’s viral VICE article, this book explores gender in great depth, from historical events that have constructed how we view masculinity today, to the issue of male mental health and the alarming rates of men committing suicide. Books like this, topics like this, are more important ever, and I know Man Up will help to open up a conversation about it.

Urwin’s writing is what makes this book so memorable. He writes so clearly about such a complex issue, with a hint of wit sometimes and the right emotions in all the right places. This book is so accessible; it can be read and understood by people without much prior knowledge of the topic of gender, and that’s why I’m so grateful for it. I’ll be recommending this endlessly, in the hopes it encourages readers of all genders to become more engaged in the conversation.

My Rating:

five

Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele

Published 8th September 2016 by Icon Books.

28957268Goodreads Synopsis: From identity politics and gender roles to privilege and exclusion, Queer explores how we came to view sex, gender and sexuality in the ways that we do; how these ideas get tangled up with our culture and our understanding of biology, psychology and sexology; and how these views have been disputed and challenged.
Along the way we look at key landmarks which shift our perspective of what’s ‘normal’ – Alfred Kinsey’s view of sexuality as a spectrum, Judith Butler’s view of gendered behaviour as a performance, the play Wicked, or moments in Casino Royale when we’re invited to view James Bond with the kind of desiring gaze usually directed at female bodies in mainstream media.

My Review: I absolutely adored this! I own a few Graphic Guides on my A Level subjects, and haven’t actually gotten around to them yet – but Queer went to the top of my to-read pile as soon as I knew about it. I’m currently studying sociology, and I’m really interested in learning about sociological theories – queer theory is totally overlooked in my school’s course, which is saddening. I was really excited to use this as some wider reading, and it was such a brilliant read!

It’s so easy to devour this in one sitting, but I think I need to re-read it to fully digest all of the information that’s packed into it. The graphic element of it kept me engaged and interested with every chapter; the illustrations are fantastic, often witty, always useful in providing visuals for theories. Queer explores many key theorists and concepts across history, in great detail, despite sections being quite brief. I didn’t actually realise how fact-heavy this would be, and I’ll admit I didn’t take in as much as I thought I would – but that’s why I’m really looking forward to reading this again. It’s also a fantastic resource for, well, all things queer. I’m excited to use it as a reference in the future, as I’m hoping to write an extended project on queer theory next year.

My Rating:

four

I received both books from the publisher. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

 

Book Review

Book Review: Waking in Time by Angie Stanton

Published March 1st 2017 by Curious Fox Books.

27919161Goodreads Synopsis: Still mourning the loss of her beloved grandmother and shaken by her mysterious, dying request to “find the baby,” Abbi has just arrived at UW Madison for her freshman year. But on her second day, she wakes up to a different world: 1983. That is just the first stop on Abbi’s journey backward through time. Will is a charming college freshman from 1927 who travels forward through time. When Abbi and Will meet in the middle, love adds another complication to their lives. Communicating across time through a buried time capsule, they try to decode the mystery of their travel, find the lost baby, and plead with their champion, a kindly physics professor, to help them find each other again … even though the professor gets younger each time Abbi meets him. This page-turning story full of romance, twists, and delightful details about campus life then and now will stay with readers long after the book’s satisfying end.


My Review: Being a massive Doctor Who fan, I love anything time-travel based, but I read sadly little of this kind of thing. So when this arrived, I was super excited about it! Waking in Time has such an intriguing premise, and a beautiful cover to match.

I really did adore the concept for the book – Abbi, the protagonist, moves into college whilst still grieving for her grandmother. After falling asleep in her dorm bed, she wakes in the wrong year. And it keeps happening – but are the dates she’s travelling to connected, and why is she the one travelling?

It’s a brilliant idea, and executed pretty well. I really enjoyed how Stanton sets up each new decade Abbi appears in, with all of the cultural references and the changes in settings. I loved envisioning it. The story unfolds really cleverly, as Abbi’s time travel is linked to a huge event that ties lots of aspects of her life together. I felt her frustration as travelling backwards, where the people she knows know less about the story, whilst she’s starting the piece together the mystery – and was really eager to see how the mystery unfolded. It was such a strange ending, one I definitely didn’t see coming!

As with every time travel story, there are inevitably some strange things that don’t quite add up, and some things that seemed a little too convenient. But the main thing I couldn’t really get on with in this book was the love story, between Abbi and Will – without giving anything away, he’s the other time traveller she encounters. They’re travelling in opposite directions, but are in love, and I just… nope. No thanks. I didn’t really understand it, and the romance seemed a little forced and it didn’t have a clear connection to the rest of the plot. The two characters become infatuated with one another within a few meetings, and I just didn’t understand why!

However, I didn’t have a problem with the protagonist, and I adored how the story is strongly centred around her grandma – the plot plays out really cleverly. It’s so hard to talk about without spoiling it, so I’ll just say that it’s really intricate and in-depth, which I loved.

Overall, Waking in Time is certainly a must if you’re into complex mysteries. It certainly wasn’t what I’d expected. To me, some events seemed a little too convenient or forced, but then again – the book plays with the idea of fate and history, so I guess it’s quite cleverly done! It’s certainly a fun read you can become completely absorbed in.


My Rating:

three

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

Book Review

Book Review: Fish boy by Chloe Daykin

Published February 28th 2017 by Faber & Faber.

32490590Goodreads Synopsis: Billy is a lonely boy. He’s obsessed with swimming in the sea, which is where he goes to wash his problems far, far away. Thanks to his mum’s mystery illness, his dad has been forced to work extra hours to make ends meet, so Billy locks himself away with David Attenborough films, and ponders the magic of nature. Meanwhile at school, bullies mercilessly seize on Billy’s ‘otherness’ and make his life as miserable as possible – but then new boy Patrick Green, with “fingers like steel, strength of a bear”, joins Billy’s class. And when a mackerel swims up to Billy’s face, blows bubbles into his Vista Clear Mask goggles and says: Fish Boy – Billy’s whole world changes.


My Review: A lot of people know I’m totally one to judge a book by its cover – this is a prime example! I loved the gorgeous cover artwork for this book, and it intrigued me about the story – so I eagerly requested to review it. I’m really glad I did – it’s nice to dip back into Middle Grade fiction again, and this was great.

Fish Boy follows Billy, a boy estranged from other children his age, who bully him. Between that and his mother’s illness, his only solace is swimming in the sea – and that’s where he meets the fish that starts talking to him, which opens him up to a strange new world with his new friend.

What I found really unique, and perhaps the best bit about Fish Boy, is the ambiguity of the whole story. Is it literal – does Billy really find talking fish, who talk to him and seemingly become his new friends? Or is Billy’s surreal swimming experience his brain’s coping mechanism; a distraction from the world around him? I really loved trying to read between the lines of this book. It’s a very layered story, and that’s why I think readers of all ages can enjoy it – they can take away whatever message they want.

Fish Boy combines some heartbreaking, relatable issues with a touch of magical realism that makes for a very unique story. It touches on bullying, how it feels to be different, and also the experience of having a parent who is ill, and what that entails for your family. I found it really touching and moving in places, particularly with the family themes. I loved the close family Daykin has constructed at the centre of this book – they’re wonderful to read about.

Billy’s voice is strong and authentic, and I really enjoyed his perspective while reading. I think it was especially a great narrative to explore family issues through. The friendship between the protagonist and a later character, Patrick, is very bizarre and entertaining – their dynamic was really fun and something that I’m sure readers will adore.

Fish Boy is a bizarre book. There is no avoiding that. It did take me a few pages to get into it, and I can’t say I was a hundred percent engaged in it the whole way through. It’s incredibly weird at points! A couple of things didn’t make much sense to me – it took me a lot of thought after reading to understand what the magical fish thing was about – but I do think it’s still a book with a lot of appeal to those who like similar things – who says that strange is a bad thing?

Overall, I definitely recommend this, especially to middle grade readers who are looking to read something new, with echoes of David Almond and Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls (except this one is a bit less sad!). Fish Boy, albeit a bizarre story, is imaginative and incredibly original. It touches on themes of family, friendship and what it means to be human, with just the right amount of surrealism.

My Rating:

three

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