Still playing review catchup. YA titles, with a bit of kidlit thrown in.
Louise O’Neill – Only Ever Yours
freida and isabel (whose names deserve no capitalisation in this world) are eves, bred to be either companions, concubines or chastities – and in their final year at school, isabel pulls away, with a secret she can’t or won’t reveal to her best friend. This book is along the lines of The Handmaid’s Tale, but in a girls’ boarding school, and with a sharpness and specificity in the ways that teenage girls are nasty to each other, and oh god just read it. I’ve been recommending this all over the place – it’s one of the best dystopian novels I have ever read, with so many moments that shed a light on contemporary society without it ever feeling too forced. The writing is elegant and precise, and the focus on female friendships – though there is still the obligatory male love interest – sets this apart from other recent YA dystopias. I can’t wait to see what O’Neill does next.
Veronica Roth – Allegiant
I held off on reading this third and final Divergent book on account of hearing it was not so great (the ‘shock’ ending didn’t deter me), and while I did like it more than I thought I would, there is something frustrating about the reveals of previous books being constantly undermined. In an attempt to create tension and drama there’s a sense that things are being made up anew every book, which I don’t think is the case, but it can feel like it. The reveal about the world of this trilogy was both satisfying (it makes sense now, with the factions and all!) and disappointing (oh, haven’t we seen this kind of scenario before?). The dual viewpoints – Tris and Four – also sometimes blur a little close together; their voices are very similar. Not fabulous, but I’m really interested to see what Roth does next.
Stephanie Perkins – Isla and the Happily Ever After
Speaking of trilogies. The one thing that bothered me about this book – which is set in a Parisian boarding school, so wins many points for that straight away – is that it feels like there’s too much of an attempt to link it to previous Perkins books; Isla thinks a lot about Josh’s old group of friends and about how pretty Anna is and how great St Clair is, and it just feels a little forced. All the characters – including Lola and Cricket – reappear towards the end, and I’m not crazy about that moment, either. But. All that aside. Perkins writes romance and friendship really well – the tiny moments that matter, the things that add up to something, the overthinking and analysing and worrying and being insecure, the sheer thrill of being with someone. And this is how it is with Isla and Josh – who get together early on and then are separated by distance and later tensions and fears. I’d have liked to seen more of Isla’s insecurities and feelings of unlovability, but all in all it’s a lovely, sweet, heart-melting read.
Sarah Crossan – Apple and Rain
Apple’s mother turns up after eleven years away, sweeping in dramatically and taking fourteen-year-old Apple to live with her, away from her strict grandmother. What she hasn’t told Apple is that she has a younger sister, Rain – a girl who carries around a doll and insists it’s a real baby, and who isn’t the least bit happy to have competition for their mother’s affections. It becomes clear that their mother – prioritising acting auditions and large glasses of wine over childminding – can’t quite handle taking care of them, but Apple isn’t sure who she can turn to. Alongside her first-person narration are the poetry assignments her new teacher has given out – both the ‘official’ versions she hands in and the real ones that express how she’s feeling. Very much in the vein of The Weight of Water, and makes me hope for more novels-in-verse from Crossan.
R.J. Palacio – Wonder: The Julian Chapter
This novella features a ‘missing chapter’ from Wonder, from the bully’s point of view, and it does that very worn-out thing of having a story about the Nazis be told to the character so that he can Learn A Lesson. I had issues with Wonder, in which Auggie is presented as saint-like simply by virtue of his difference, but I suspect those who adored it may like this bonus scene. For me it was even more didactic than the book. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.