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One : Sarah Crossan

OneOne by Sarah Crossan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I admire books like this. No, I think, I admire writers and writing like this. I admire writing that is so resolutely of itself, so careful and crisps and precise and acute and heartfelt with every step it takes. I admire writing like this because it is so conscious of the space in between the words – the pauses – the breaths. Poetry is about breathing, really, at its heart (and what a pounding, emotional, life-filled heart this book holds) and this book is so very full of heart.

‘One’ is a book about love. It is a book about being both one and other; the story of conjoined twins Tippi and Grace. Friends. Sisters. A part of each other, a whole split into two and one and two and one. And Tippi and Grace must go to school.

Crossan’s style (and for those of who you haven’t experienced her work before, do look at ‘Apple and Rain’ and ‘The Weight of Water’) is such an effortless thing. I’m sure it’s not though. I’m sure that words like this, so fine and careful and clear and sharp as glass, take time to find and I applaud the skill of doing so. The chapters are, as a whole, short and intensely reader-friendly as a result. They also remind me of a question I was asked a long time ago at my university: “When you read a book, do you read the black ink or the white space around the ink?”. I’ve thought about that a lot since. It has, in a way, informed everything I think on literature and how I write personally. It is a quote with a curious applicability to this novel. You read ‘One’ and it is a book about the space in between the words and around them, as much as it is about them. Crossan is so very good at what she’s doing here. So good.

One is due out on 27th August 2015. Save the date. Read her others beforehand. Have I mentioned recently about how good we have children’s / young adult literature right now?

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Unrest : Michelle Harrison

UnrestUnrest by Michelle Harrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Elliott doesn’t sleep well. He doesn’t really sleep at all. He has out of body experiences and suffers from intermittent sleep paralysis. For Elliott, the things that go bump in the night really do go bump in the night. He sees ghosts, figures and things that are genuinely terrifying.

He gets a job at a local haunted museum. It’s one of those historical re-enactment places where the staff dress up in period costume. Whilst working there Elliott decides to discover the truth about his experiences. Is he really part of the spirit world now or is it all in his head?

Unrest is a genuinely unnerving novel. Harrison really ratchets up the unease and discomfort and produces a book which is full of chills. The whole ‘ghost’ angle is powerfully presented and it’s one of those books which you really shouldn’t read in the middle of the night with the wind howling outside. ‘Cause, trust me, you’ll get freaked.

Where this book suffers is with regards to structure. I felt it was hugely unbalanced and almost felt like a composite book at some points. There were a few too many moments where I felt invested in a plot point or development which was then dropped in a fairly rapid fashion. It felt as if there were points when Unrest became a little lost and didn’t quite know whether it wanted to be romance, horror, paranormal or angst. The last few chapters, whilst intensely thrilling and disturbing in equal measure, felt almost as if they were from another book.

Despite these structural issues, Unrest remains a distinctly unnerving and spooky book. The last few chapters are stunning and scary and disturbing and a tour de force in paranomal horror.

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Secrets, Lies and Locker 62 : Lil Chase

I picked up a proof of this at a conference I attended and I really didn’t know what to expect. Lil Chase didn’t ring a bell with me, but I decided to take a punt. And Oh My God, I’m so glad that I did.

Maya, new girl at Mount Selwyn High, is assigned Locker 62. It’s the locker of secrets. Unused for years, it’s become the repository of anything unsayable at school and everything in that locker is dynamite. And now, following a decision by the school to give her that locker, all of this is in Maya’s hands.

OOH ERRR.

(Crikey).

Secrets, Lies & Locker 62 is Clueless meets Mean Girls meets Harriet The Spy. It’s so good. I just utterly devoured this.

Chase writes with  a perceptive, funny edge and gets right to the depth of her characters. Maya’s brilliantly realistic and when she decides to Do That Spoilery Thing she does, it’s scarily accurate. This is what people do. Sometimes people behave like idiots. Maya also ends up facing big things in this story and her reaction to this is very beautifully judged. I had a total wibble at the end.

I also really loved how Chase handles friendship. Teen Girl Friendship is terrifyingly complicated and the whole Best Friend thing just adds a new level of complicated. Dealing with all that is hard; there’s the subtle social nuances of relationships and an accidental diss or a bitchy comment can just add a spark to an already combustible situation. And then, sometimes, when you’re the New Girl, it’s even harder. The dynamic between Maya and her friends is perfectly judged and again, scarily perceptive.

Go. Pick this up. You’ll get a fast, funny and freakishly real story that finishes (can I stuff this sentence with any more words beginning with f?) on a fabulously feel-good  (looks like I can!!)  note.

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Another Life : Keren David

I was lucky enough to pick up a proof of this at a conference I attended a few months ago and am so very pleased to report that Keren David remains ace. She’s got a peculiar brilliance at writing “lads”; lads bordering on the edge of adulthood, shifting from ferocious raw masculinity through to nervous, emotional children. It’s a rare skill and one that is most definitely David’s forte.

Another Life is the final of the trilogy of Ty Lewis books and is due out in September 2012. I reviewed it’s predecessor Almost True here. I have a lot of love for this series. It’s always a good sign when a book slides into you, hours pass, and you’re still hiding under the quilt because you’re trying to figure out how this ends.

Quite boldly Another Life has a dual focus on Archie, Ty’s cousin, and Ty himself. It took me a while to grasp a handle on this shift in narration but it becomes easier as the voices become more divergent and unique very swiftly. David does “lads” well, as I mentioned in earlier, and the story is fleshed out with a lot of perhaps incidental detail but detail that, you slowly realise, solidifies this world to the extent it almost feels like reportage.

If you’ve read the other two books, I think you’ve got to read this. There’s a tension to the story of Ty, a genuine edginess throughout all the three books, that needs resolution both for him and the nerve-shredded reader. If you’ve not read the other two books, I would reccommend that you do. There’s a lot of story here that deserves being read and you’ll be missing out on some brilliant books if you dive straight into the nervy, spikey finale Another Life provides.

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Summertime of the Dead : Gregory Hughes

Summertime of the Dead

Gregory Hughes, writer of the astoundingly good Unhooking The Moon, is back with a Kill Bill-esque tale full of darkness, revenge and love. Summertime Of The Dead, set in the streets of Tokyo, is a blinding book. It’s the story of one summer in the life of Yukio and it’s the summer where his world went wrong. His two best friends are dead following a spiral of events involving the Japanese mafia. And Yukio loved them. He loved them so much, he decides to avenge their deaths.

Because Yukio is also a master at kendo.

If there’s one thing (and there’s not, there’s several) that Hughes does really well, it’s tales where teenagers suddenly become adults. He writes those moments superbly (and incredibly sympathetically). The moments when Yukio takes his first nervous, terrified, angry, furious steps into the adult world and starts to avenge his friends, are moments which are superbly written.

Where this book gets particularly interesting is with the introduction of The Lump. This character has a lot of parallel with The Rat from Unhooking The Moon and if it were poorly done, I’d be picking Hughes up on it. But it’s not. The Lump is Yukio’s cousin and she acts sort of as his moral barometer, even when he’s lost down so very low in his darkness. She’s fascinating. And sort of utterly lovely.

Summertime Of The Dead isn’t for the squeamish. There’s a fair few explicit scenes of death and murder and a couple of graphic situations at the end and it’s got a heck of an ending that doesn’t pull any punches (no pun intended). But where I think this book shines is in the relationships between characters, and that curious awareness that people may damn you but some people can also save you.

It’s a book that is somehow full of both death and life all at once.

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The Tomorrow Series : John Marsden

I’m putting two reviews in one here, because I think it’s important to acknowledge that starting to read a new series requires a bit of faith. The first one might be amazing but the second one might be hideous and that’s the sort of stuff you need to know before going off and either spending a load of cash on them at either the bookshop or ordering them in via the library. I’ve deliberately kept the second review as spoiler-free as I can.

Rest assured, these books are really, really good.

 

Tomorrow, When the War Began (Tomorrow, #1)Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

GAH THIS BOOK.

I read this in a day, and by a day, I literally mean a day. It went everywhere with me because I could not put it down. And then, when I finished it, I immediately picked up the second. These books redefine hooked.

So, ‘Tomorrow, When the War Began’ has both a beautiful title and a beautiful premise. Several teenage friends decide for one last blow-out before the end of the school holidays. They decide to go trekking up into the bush, to a place known locally as “Hell”. It’s a perfect trip, full of all those memories that will last a lifetime.

That is until one night where a load of planes pass overhead.

Disturbed, the kids return back to their hometown and discover that it’s deserted. And then, they discover, that they’ve been invaded.

Australia is at war.

OH MY GOD. This book is brilliant. It’s basically geurilla warfare in the middle of the Australian bush and it’s all so ridiculously real. You can feel this happening as Ellie (the central narrator) recounts it to you. It’s like an Australian version of Vietnam with the teenagers acting as a rural Aussie bush version of the Vietcong. It’s them sneaking out from the shadows and fighting for their homes and their families. It’s them stepping up and making a difference.

This book is so superbly good. There’s very few war stories out there in YA literature that work as well and I think one of the reasons why Tomorrow, When The War Began does work is that it’s ferociously real. It fairly spits with Australian colour and feel, and it feels like it could happen which is one of the scariest parts.

Read. This. Book.

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The Dead of Night (Tomorrow, #2)The Dead of Night by John Marsden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second in John Marsden’s ‘Tomorrow’ series, this is a story of growth for our geurilla teens. Ellie, still the central narrator, details their story and how they handle their increasing outlaw status. There’s a point in this book where they run into another ‘operation’, similar to their own but run by militarised adults. However not everything is as it seems, and soon Ellie and co. are forced to decide their own fate again.

The shift in pace in The Dead Of Night is palpable; it’s a book about settling in and making decisions for the long-haul. It’s less breakneck than Tomorrow When The War Began and allows us to explore a lot more psychologically. Certain characters even have discussions about life, love and whether unprotected sex at this point in their lives really is a good idea.

There’s also more of a focus placed on actions having consequences. The first book was more about the reaction following the invasion and how the characters had to make a choice. This book allows us to dwell on the ramifications of making that choice.

I think I may be addicted to this epic epic series. The central premise is simply so good and I love how coloured it is by the location. You can feel the bush closing in, the tension of stepping out into a darkness blacker than you’ve ever seen before, and you can almost see the land starting to reclaim its own.

I devoured this book and really want to know how it all ends. Like now.

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Ibarajo Road : Harry Allen

 Ibarajo Road from debut author Harry Allen is a darkly haunting story full of riches. Charlie, a rich white kid (an oyinbo), goes out on the town with his mates. It’s meant to be the best night ever. It really isn’t.

That night is where everything starts to go wrong and, as penance, Charlie opts to work in a refuge. The refuge provides a place for the homeless, sick, and any orphan children in the neighbourhood. Worlds apart.  And Charlie’s time there changes his life forever.

I was really intrigued by the description of this novel and hopefully I can review it without going all Gap Yah on you. I’ve worked in Ghana as a volunteer English teacher. Africa is the strangest place. It sears you with memories, both good and bad, and I still remember it with a lot of love.

Allen himself grew up in Nigeria during his teenage years and a lot of this is blatantly evident. Although the book is nominally set in ‘Sengharia’, the patois and the overall feel of the book is intensely vivid and read to me as Nigeria under a pseudonym. But I digress. It’s a book full of colour, and heat, and dense contradiction. And I think it’s a book about choices. It’s about reaching the crossroads in your life and making the right choice.

Ibarajo Road is written in a quietly, haunting style. You go with Charlie on his journey from rich kid to ‘other’ kid, one who’s seen the world and seen the darkness it can hold. And there’s a lot of darkness in this book – some which is genuinely very disturbing and upsetting to read. Allen works his text well though, making it non-judgemental and quiet throughout.

If I were to pull this book up on anything, it would be that it feels slightly over-worked in places. There are a few too many neat endings to too many chapters and a few too many stylistically aware moments that just all feel a little over-written. And, although it may be that I’m simply hanging around with the wrong teenage boys, I am yet to hear one of them refer to a girl’s ‘obsidian’ eyes.

Ibarajo Road is a dark, haunting, and actually really rather poignant novel. A very solid 4/5.

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Dads, Geeks and Blue Haired Freaks : Ellie Phillips

Dads, Geeks and Blue Haired FreaksDads, Geeks and Blue Haired Freaks by Ellie Phillips

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s Sadie’s 15th birthday and, as you do on every birthday, she’s got cards. The small problem is that one of these cards comes from her Dad.

See, Sadie doesn’t know who her Dad is. He’s a sperm-donor who her mum found on the internet, back in the dawn of the online world. And now Sadie’s got a card from him.

I really loved this. With a unique, and sympathetic point of view, Phillips tells the story of how Sadie discovers who her father is. It’s a bit Mamma Mia if Mamma Mia were set in Hackney and featured a very funny and food obsessed family. There’s a brilliant bit in it which had me in stitches (you’ll know it when you get there, it’s the bit where Sadie starts yelling the food menu!)

It also deals with an unusual subject and does so very nicely. Sadie’s search for identity leads her down several blind-allies and these are funny, sharp, and painful in equal measure. What’s quite lovely is that Phillips doesn’t forget the adults in this situation and writes a world of reactions that are understandable, moving and acutely painful.

I bawled at the ending because it was really very lovely. It was satisfying, and it was all heart-warming, and it was just right.

The only problem is that now, because I can never do my hair without six days worth of notice, I have major hair envy of Sadie’s ability.

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The Probability of Miracles : Wendy Wunder

The Probability of MiraclesThe Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very, very gorgeous book. It’s painful too, teary-eyed and clutching it in the middle of the night painful, and it’s very very life-affirming.

I loved The Probability of Miracles. The UK edition (published July by Penguin) has a very luscious cover which I like a lot more than the pink one for the US edition.

description

The Probability of Miracles is the summer of Cam. Campbell is seventeen. She’s got cancer and she’s a little beyond miracles now. She’s cynical, smart and very Juno-esque. But her mum and her sister believe and they drag her to Promise, Maine, a bizarre little town where magical things happen.

It sounds a little hokey but it’s not. It’s very very lovely. The blurb has it down as Before I Die meets Juno which is very apt but there’s also a lot of The Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind in it as well. The way that this story is layered equally in cold hard fact and then in maybe-magical moments, is kind of beguiling.

I loved this. It’s the sort of book that reminds you what to believe in.

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A Brighter Fear : Kerry Drewery

A Brighter FearA Brighter Fear by Kerry Drewery

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Brighter Fear by Kerry Drewery is, I think, the first piece of British children’s literature to directly address the war in Iraq. (Please do correct me if I’m wrong!). A while back on my blog I wrote about the necessity of children’s literature addressing war here and would particularly reccommend Lydia Kokkola’s Representing the Holocaust in Children’s Literature to those who wish to learn more.

A Brighter Fear is a groundbreaking book in many ways and one that’s also very very curious. It’s the story of Lina; teenager, Christian, female – and Iraqi. She’s growing up in the most difficult circumstances possible and it’s not easy. Growing up never is.

Drewery creates a convincing and believable character in Lina. She’s palpably sad, and tense, and fragile. Every word she says has the sensation of being very deliberately chosen for this point in time. Here, though, is where the book gets quite curiously intriguing. It’s told in first person past tense style: I said, I believed, I watched etc. The other key signifier of Drewery’s writing here is a preponderance for sentences that begin with “And” or “But”. There’s a lot of them here.

Now usually I’d be picking up on these stylistic tendencies because reading a lot of sentences that look the same is a tiring experience. You become used to the shape of the word, of the paragraph, and as such start to slowly disengage from the text. A Brighter Fear manages to become a book that doesn’t really lend itself to be read – it’s one that you engage with. Time and time again I found myself reading sections out loud, feeling the words on my tongue and picking up on the inherent rhythms of the text. It combines to produce quite a spooky, unnerving affect and being all in past tense gives it a very definitive feel of uncertainty. It seems to say this is Lina’s moment, this is where it all changed, and the Lina that’s telling you this might not be the same one who’s in the story.

This is a book that’s very near to the bone in many places. There’s a subplot with Lina’s mother which is incredibly painful to read. It needs to be read with an awareness of the recent nature of these events for if A Brighter Fear is something, it is very quietly provocative and disturbing.

The more I read A Brighter Fear, the more I felt uncomfortable and the more I became wrapped up in what happens to Lina. It’s a big, brave story to try and tell and I sort of think that Drewery does succeed in the whole. She presents a novel full of pain, and beauty, and tear-filled moments and when she writes her big moments, she writes them very beautifully.

But I think where A Brighter Fear perhaps succeeds more is when it forgets the bombs, the terror, and the sad sad resignation of the populace. It is in the quieter moments; the moments where people just talk or think or love. After all, it’s people who make conflict – and it’s people who will solve it.

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Hollow Pike : James Dawson

Hollow PikeHollow Pike by James Dawson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Debut YA author James Dawson has written a sort of surprising novel here. Initially I read Hollow Pike with a horrendously blase attitude. Witches. Yawn.

But then, it so got me. Dawson’s produced a sexy (that front cover is very indicative of the style within) and dark novel which had me laughing out loud with glee at the simple audacity of the Big Twist. I won’t even attempt to spoil it but the eventual location for the Big Bad? Genius.

It’s written from the perspective of teenager Lis London who’s just moved to Hollow Pike following bullying at her old school, and Lis swiftly makes friends at her new school. I actually really enjoyed how ‘non-sterotypical’ these teens were and how they actually existed as characters instead of just foils for Lis. (God knows if non-stereotypical is a word but I’m sticking with it).

There are elements of everything here: Scooby-Doo mysteries, The Craft, Scream, and a heavy dose of Mean Girls. And then it takes it all and flings it up North in a desperately weird little town full of Wait, Did I Just See That Or Did I Imagine It moments. Ace.

The attitude that I started this book with? Wrong.

The attitude I finished this book with? Curled under the quilt at midnight, “just reading a few pages more”?

So very right.

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Heart-Shaped Bruise : Tanya Byrne

Heart-Shaped BruiseHeart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Emily Koll is – well – she’s –

she’s here.

She’s brittle, broken. But she’s here.

She’s here after –

(well, after everything she did, after everything that’s been printed about her, after all the words that have been said)

She’s telling her story for the first time. And oh – what a story. Emily is a glass-edged, vivid narrator full of fragile braggadocio and vicious, vicious pain.

Heart-Shaped Bruise is massively out of my comfort zone and I found it a little hard to get in to at first. It felt a bit too artful for what I was expecting. But then, once I was in there – it was good. Almost voyeuristically good. What Byrne does is, she gives heart to the heartless. Emily’s one of those people who’s done awful things and we shouldn’t love her.

(But we sort of do. We sort of root for her to come back from this place she’s in and pull herself out of the darkness).

Heart-Shaped Bruise is a massive book because, I think, it poses so many more questions than it can ever answer. Revenge. Love. Loss. Everything. It’s big.

Emily Koll is bigger. There was one moment that leapt out of the sky at me. One of the characters asks Emily what she wants when she dies. Her reply? “When I go, I want to punch a hole in the sky.”

That’s it. That longing to make a mark – to just – just matter.

Tanya Byrne makes Emily matter.

Heart-Shaped Bruise is kind of spectacular.

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Unravelling : Elizabeth Norris

UnravelingUnraveling by Elizabeth Norris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Janelle Turner should have died. She was hit, head-on, by a pick up truck thundering out of nowhere. She should have died.

But she didn’t. Somebody heals her broken body, and starts her stopped heart. Somebody brings her back. In the process of discovering who – and why – they did this, Janelle uncovers the worst sort of problem. A sort of potentially world-ending problem. And she’s only got twenty three days to solve it.

I love how this is put together. Short, gaspy, 24-esque chapters with a time stamp and a punchy image before moving onto the next moment. I felt it worked a lot better in the second half of the book when Things Got Explained and Janelle had a bit of purpose rather than going ‘Hey-ho the world’s about to die but I’d better go to class first and crack on this hot looking lad next to me’. To be frank I struggled with the first half of the book. The second was amazing but the first just felt like wading through mud.

I think that first half confused me a lot about this book. It was heavy when I was expecting pace. It wandered off to explore X and Y when I was just wanting to know more about the whole world-ending thing. I appreciate there’s a level of world-building necessary but sometimes I felt the central urgency of the story was lost.

But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. There were moments in the first (and pretty much all of the second) half which made me keep on turning those pages. Norris phrases her chapters in an almost serial format – finishing most of them with one of those moments of ‘well, now I’ve read that line I sort of really have to keep on going don’t I?’

Unravelling confused me greatly. I shifted from rampant ambivalence through to post-midnight page turning and back and forth a thousand times.

It’s good.

(I think).

Note: the front cover above comes from the US edition. The front cover for the UK edition is ridiculous brilliant.

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