Quickfire mini-reviews (YA books!)


I do love reading something and immediately needing to go buy the author’s other books. This happened to me with Tanya Byrne’s For Holly, which is narrated by a teenage girl addressing letters to a mysterious ‘Holly’, explaining a situation that slowly becomes clear. Lola hates living in Paris with her horrific stepmother, and deeply misses her mother; her father doesn’t understand her and never takes her side, and all the while she just wants to escape. But when she finds out that her wicked stepmother has a secret, she plots her revenge – which we already know will have dangerous consequences. Suspense-filled and authentically teenage.

Another girl with a dark secret is Zoe – at least, that’s the name she’s chosen. Annabel Pitcher’s Ketchup Clouds is similarly structured to For Holly, told in epistolary format, but here Zoe’s writing to a stranger – a man on death row who she feels sure is the only person that could understand the horrible thing that she’s done.

This led to more Annabel Pitcher – her latest novel, Silence is Goldfish, begins with Tess planning to run away. She’s discovered that the father she’s always trying to impress is not really her dad – and she’s heart-broken to discover that he didn’t feel like her dad when she was born, either. A nuanced story about family and identity.

Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable was first published in 2005, a chilling look at how date rape looks from the point of view of the perpetrator. Keir is the golden boy, an athlete, not someone who would ever do something ‘bad’ – and yet he has. In the sequel, Irreversible (out next month in the US), he’s in his first year of college, still not having entirely confronted the reality of what he’s done and the reality of who he is, how he blames other people for his own failings. An interesting – if painful – look at the entitlement of young male athletes, while still urging some sympathy for Keir.

The prolific David Levithan has teamed up with Nina LaCour for his latest novel, You Know Me Well, depicting the friendship between a gay boy in unrequited-love with his best friend, and a lesbian artist yearning for a girl she’s only ever heard about. It offers up insights into what it is to be young and queer – taking place in San Francisco and partly during Pride – but it also leans a little too heavily on some familiar tropes in Levithan’s work, in particular the ‘one wild night’/’quirky chain of events’ idea. Very readable but not startlingly new.

YA & Mental Health

As it’s World Mental Health Day today… recommended YA reads on the topic. This list was originally published in Inis #44 (April 2015).

All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven (Penguin, 2015)
A relationship between a grief-stricken girl and a bipolar boy prompts an adventure into seeing the beauty in life, without dismissing its pain.

Wintergirls – Laurie Halse Anderson (Scholastic, 2011)
An intense and difficult journey inside an angry anorexic mind. Haunting and beautiful.

I Was Here – Gayle Forman (Simon & Schuster, 2015)
When your vibrant best friend commits suicide, there are questions that need answering.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green & David Levithan (Penguin, 2012)
Alongside zany musicals and romance, this dual-viewpoint novel explores depression.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story – Ned Vizzini (Disney, 2007)
A suicidal high-achiever finds himself in a psychiatric hospital, where he begins to recover.

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher (Penguin, 2009)
This sometimes-problematic but thought-provoking novel explores the reasons behind suicide and our responsibilities to one another.

Scarred – Julia Hoban (Piatkus, 2010)
After the loss of her parents, Willow turns to self-harm.

I don’t want to be crazy – Samantha Schutz (Scholastic, 2010)
A novel in verse relates surviving the first year of college with panic disorder.

Improper Order – Deirdre Sullivan (Little Island, 2013)
Sullivan’s second novel handles self-harm and grief with a light but sensitive touch.

Tyranny – Lesley Fairfield (Walker, 2011)
This graphic novel conveys the horrors of anorexia and the gap between perception and reality.

Book review: Another Day

David Levithan – Another Day

I adore David Levithan’s work. He writes gorgeous prose about teenagers dealing with love and other disasters, and offers up optimism and hope alongside acknowledgement of the hardness of life. In this book, the companion to Every Day, we see what it’s like to be a girl stuck in a relationship that isn’t obviously abusive but isn’t healthy, a girl who wants and needs love and support but isn’t getting it, and what happens one day when her boyfriend’s body is taken over by someone else: A.

A shifts bodies daily, never knowing whether they’re going to be male or female, black or white, gay or straight, able-bodied or disabled, or a whole range of other things. A has a unique take on the world: but is it possible to love someone just for their mind and not the body they’ve wound up in that day? And is it even fair to the people whose bodies A inhabits to try to make a connection last?

This book invites the reader to think about love, and identity, and souls, and to ponder how much of attraction is to do with the physical body. However, Every Day did all that as well, and Another Day, while a great read, doesn’t feel sufficiently different: this is territory we’ve visited before, and getting Rhiannon’s take on it doesn’t offer up anything particularly new, except perhaps at the very end. We empathised with Rhiannon in the first book, and could imagine things through her eyes; there isn’t much more than we get from the same events related to us in her voice. The opportunity to address issues around the female body isn’t really taken, either, and Rhiannon’s comfort level with A taking over her body for a day doesn’t quite ring true. I would suggest reading one or the other, rather than both: they ask many of the same questions but not enough different ones.

(There is a sequel about A coming soon, which will be interesting…)

Book-review post!

Unless we count as ‘Here Are The Young Men’ as YA, which occasional bookshops have, this is a mostly-YA-ish post.

Rob Doyle – Here Are The Young Men
I had similar feelings when reading this as I did when reading Melvin Burgess’s Doing It – which is to say that it often looks at some seriously assholeish behaviour in men, honestly and unflinchingly, which books need to, but as a female reader well used to the real-life consequences and potential dangers of such behaviour, it’s unsettling. The novel focuses on a group of male students the summer after their Leaving Cert, mostly in Dublin – lots of drinking and drugs and sex, alongside philosophical musings and a particularly psychopathic character, Kearney. The second half of the book felt a lot stronger story-wise, when it pushes into more extreme territory (oh Kearney), and I enjoyed it a lot. Dysfunctional young folk, yay!

Amy Zhang – Falling Into Place
Liz seems to have the perfect life – so when she drives her car into a tree one day, everyone is curious about why. The omniscient narrator works well at delving inside a number of different heads as well as giving us insight into what’s been going on with Liz over the past months and years, and it explores the difficulties of adolescence in a compelling way. One of my favourite YA reads of 2014.

Vanessa Barneveld – This Is Your Afterlife
Keira never knew she could see ghosts – until her crush, the star of the football team, turns up in her bedroom. He can’t remember his death but is sure he’s been murdered – and it’s up to Keira to help him solve this mystery. A quick read.

David Levithan – Two Boys Kissing
The Greek chorus narrative style of this works really well, as over the course of two boys – who are friends but also exes – trying to set a world record for the longest kiss, several couples and individuals have their own stuff going on. There are new relationships, old ones, secrets, loneliness… all handled beautifully. A gorgeous read about LGBTQ youth and history, as well as love, identity and adolescence.

Book-review post!

Oh, so much catching up to do on books I have read in the last… several months. Let’s get started!

Anne-Marie Conway – Forbidden Friends
For 9-12s, this is a story about two girls whose families are bound together by an accident that happened years ago. When they meet on holidays, they have no idea of the secrets they’re about to uncover… cue ominous music. Told from dual perspectives, it does a good job at getting inside both their heads and exploring their concerns. Would be interested to read her other books.

Meg Rosoff – Picture Me Gone
Latest Meg Rosoff is dreamy and quirky, focusing on a watchful and precocious twelve-year-old girl on a road trip with her father to find a friend of his. The adult world is filtered through her sensibilities and it does that very unusual thing in YA of being about a younger character who benefits from being read by an older reader (see also: Emma Donoghue’s Room and John Boyne’s The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, which are not YA but work in a similar fashion). Not much happens, but it is a lovely read.

K.A. Tucker – Ten Tiny Breaths
New adult. Kacey’s haunted by the deaths of her parents in a car crash, and has run away with her younger sister – she’s old enough now to take care of them both. She’s tough – for which read: dysfunctional – and she doesn’t let anyone in. So why does hot new neighbour Trent get to her so much? And as they get closer, it becomes clear he has secrets of his own… (dun dun DUN!)
This was a good read, but formulaic enough – I have yet to be wowed by NA.

David Levithan & Jonathan Farmer – Every You, Every Me
Oh David Levithan, how you love the collaborations. This is a blend of text and photo and it’s about this girl who is no longer around, and we’re left wondering why…
Shocking confession: I was not mad about this. Obviously there are gorgeous bits in it, it being a Levithan book, and there are some cool typographical things done that work really well, but there was nothing overly surprising in there and it lacked some of the loveliness of his other books.

Julie Halpern – Have A Nice Day
Sequel to Get Well Soon, which I adored. Anna’s just out of the psychiatric hospital and back in the real world, dealing with all the issues there – I loved this thematically but was less adoring of its execution.

Maureen Johnson, John Green & Lauren Myracle – Let It Snow
Three novellas by three YA writers of joy. I’d read work from all these writers before. I was underwhelmed in the extreme. They’re fluffy holiday stories – competent but not ‘wow’ worthy in the way that I’d expect from these guys. And also no redeeming cheerleaders whatsoever. Meh.

Right. Next book-review post I promise there will be something gush-worthy instead of ‘ah yeah, sure it’s grand’. 🙂

Book-review post!

All YA this time around, including two I read a while back for the CBI Bookfest Recommended Reads, so held off on posting here ’til that came out. Print reviews are in italics, extra comments are… extra.

David Levithan – Every Day
Every day, A wakes up in a different body. For sixteen years, that’s all A has ever known – shifting from one person to another, taking over their body and life and trying not to do too much damage. But today A meets Rhiannon – the mistreated girlfriend of Justin, whose body A is inhabiting. And today A falls in love. What happens next is fascinating and wise and thoughtful and pretty much everything you would expect from a David Levithan novel. Despite the fantastical element, it’s still very much grounded in our world, with lots of musings on identity and love. Well worth reading.

Laura Jarratt – Skin Deep
Fourteen-year-old Jenna is scarred, psychologically and physically, from the car accident eight months ago that left her best friend dead. When Ryan arrives into town with his New Age traveller mother, he’s the one person who treats Jenna like she’s normal. He’s also the one the police suspect when a body is found. Jenna and Ryan’s burgeoning relationship is moving while still being realistic; the murder and its amplification of the town’s post-crash tensions make this debut novel completely gripping.
This is so very good. Told in alternating viewpoints, we see two vividly-realised characters and a love story that is both about connecting emotionally and being attracted to someone physically (really well handled). One of my favourite YA books of the year.

Natasha Farrant – The Things We Did For Love
A teenage love story unfolds against the backdrop of a small village in Nazi-occupied France. The war has not left Luc and Arianne untouched, but their blossoming romance is enchantingly hopeful. World War Two tearjerkers are not uncommon, but the elegance of the writing here and the lack of sentimentality make this a haunting and memorable read.
This is gorgeous. I don’t want to say too much but it is worth reading, and also worth reading without reading anything about what prompted the author to write it. So stylishly written. If you like Eva Ibbotson’s YA/adult novels, or Meg Rosoff’s books, or Adele Geras’s YA novels, this one is likely to appeal.