Book Review: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future
Glory O’Brien: seventeen, recent high school graduate, haunted by her mother’s suicide and her father’s inability to use a real oven so that everything tastes of radiation and death. Her best friend Ellie lives in a possibly-cultish commune across the road, and one day they drink the remains of a mummified bat mixed with beer and receive transmissions from the past and future every time they look at someone. For Glory, this means flashes of a world where new restrictive laws are passed against women, where a new civil war splits America apart, and where something terrible will happen in a tunnel years from now.
All this makes this novel sound like an action-packed sci-fi thriller, maybe a little too zany for its own good, but it is mostly a gorgeously-observed, thoughtful coming-of-age story about a girl on the brink of her future, a girl who’s never been entirely sure if she even has one. As she pieces together her ‘history of the future’ and discovers her mother’s darkroom and photographic secrets, that uncertainty of almost-adulthood comes through beautifully, and while there’s weird stuff happening it still feels incredibly real.
I loved A S King’s Ask The Passengers and this one is even better – a novel about feminism that never lectures, a story about a girl dealing with grief without getting sentimental. Highly recommended to readers both teen and adult.
Nothing tastes as good as shiny covers feel
Ireland: May 26.
UK: July 14.
Design: Nick Stearn
Illustrator: Leo Nickolls
Some early yay-ness for Nothing Tastes As Good
So the proofs are out in the world and there are a few nice (but non-spoiler-y, hurray!) thoughts up on the twitters and Goodreads. In the meantime, a save-the-date for Dubliners: Ireland is getting an early launch, on Thursday May 26th, 6.30pm, Dept 51, Eason’s O’Connell St (eeep!).
Book Review: The Way I Used To Be
“You’re drunk, Edy. You’re really drunk and that guy was trying to take advantage of you! You’re lucky I came in when I did,” he says, dead serious, as if getting taken advantage of would be the worst thing that could happen, as if that wasn’t something that happens to girls on a daily basis.
This debut from Amber Smith begins in the immediate aftermath of fourteen-year-old Eden’s rape by her brother’s best friend. From the very start, Smith will break your heart – there are so many gorgeous, tiny details and insights that are spot on, like Eden’s mother seeing her daughter with blood on her sheets and assuming it’s her period, instead of really seeing what’s just happened. As we follow Eden through all four years of high school, we see her slide from ‘good girl’ into ‘troubled’ – not just as a result of being assaulted, but as someone who hasn’t been able to tell her parents, her friends or her beloved brother about what happened. Friendships splinter, relationships rise and fall, and we witness not just Eden but her friends as they change over the four years – I really loved that the time span let us see how the awkward kids develop as they edge closer to adulthood. Eden is sad, angry and some might say unlikeable – but she’s a very real character whose behaviour, even at its most self-destructive, is also very relatable. One of my favourite YA books of 2016 so far.
Banshee & other things
Here’s some advice on editing, and here’s a shiny literary journal open for submissions all this month. Issue #2 is also available to purchase now.
The new term of creative writing workshops starts at the Big Smoke Writing Factory next week, including my Commit To Your First Draft workshop for people working on novels and a new round of Dublin Young Authors (for talented teen writers).
Here’s a piece I wrote about eating disorder narratives in memoir and YA fiction, which probably explains a lot about where Nothing Tastes As Good came from. Speaking of which, people are actually starting to read it (early review/proof copies) and it’s just a tad nerve-wracking. I really hope people like it, and Annabel, and Julia. I also know I have no control over it now, the book’s done, etc etc, but still. Still. Writerly neuroses forever!
Book Review: Radio Silence
There’s this moment in the first episode of Girls where Lena Dunham’s character says she could be the voice of her generation – or at least a voice . . . of a generation . . . before sliding off her chair. Alice Oseman, 21 and just about to finish an English degree at Durham that she publicly regrets starting, isn’t necessarily the ultimate voice of young people everywhere, the definitive authority on the Tumblr generation, but she’s an important one. No matter how much empathy you have, there are certain key details about growing up at a particular time that can only be understood by people who’ve lived through it.
Frances, the narrator of Oseman’s second novel, Radio Silence, has grown up with podcast-love and tumblr fanart and the accessibility of creators on twitter. Despite being Head Girl of her school, on track for Cambridge, her true love is creating fanart for her favourite podcast, Universe City. When she discovers that the creator – The Creator, in fandom-parlance – is someone she actually knows (and whose sister she used to be friends with before she ran away), it kicks off a series of events that leads to her reconsidering everything she thought she knew and wanted.
And no, they don’t end up happily together – this we learn early on. This is a friendship between two queer teenagers that doesn’t end with kisses and heteronormativity – between people who know the difference between bisexuality and asexuality and demisexuality. It’s also a story about academic pressure and finding what makes you happy – which sounds a lot cheesier than is fair to this novel. The one thing I was sceptical about was the ease in which one character found decently-paid work in London without any qualifications – the anti-university vibe of the novel felt a little naïve at times. And even saying that makes me feel old, which is maybe the point: this is a YA novel that doesn’t need to please adults, after all.