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The Secrets of Sam and Sam : Susie Day

The Secrets of Sam and SamThe Secrets of Sam and Sam by Susie Day

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m going to start this review by talking about another book. Stay with me, there’s a reason for this.

I nominated Pea’s Book of Big Dreams by Day as my pick for the Carnegie last year. The Carnegie, for those of you who don’t know it, is a big and wonderful award for children’s literature in the United Kingdom. One of the big bonuses about being a member of CILIP is that I get to pick a book. Pea’s Book of Big Dreams was my pick for last year. I chose it because, really, it’s perfect.

And I rather suspect that The Secrets of Sam and Sam might be right up there for my pick for this year.

Day is so good. Seriously. Her books are just a constant joy of humour, of emotion, of life and of living and of siblings. She’s one of my epochal authors; a writer who can give you heart and soul and Cover Important Things and biscuits and just wrap it all up in a perfect little package of just proper good bookishness. I want to cry, really, because I’ve literally just finished this book (one, which I dropped everything to read) and I want to start it all over again.

I love her books. I love The Secrets of Sam and Sam so much.

I love it because it is a coming of age story in a family that is full of adults that are not perfect, children who are trying to figure out who they are, and drooly occasionally-green dogs. Sam and Sam have previously appeared in the very wonderful Pea Books and this is their solo adventure. The Sams have two mums, one occasionally-green dog, biscuits and secrets. Lots of secrets. Growing up is hard. Sam is struggling to come to terms with hummus and heights, whilst his sister Sammie is navigating the whole deep water that is best friends in year six. Everything around them is changing and it’s time for some secrets to be told, others to be kept and basically I love this book, I love what Day does, I love that she gets that moment when you suddenly realise that you’ve become somebody but now (thank you hormones and teenager-ness) you have to be somebody else and you’re not really sure who that somebody else does. I love that her books tell you so wholeheartedly that it’s okay to be different, that it’s okay to be who you are and that yes, that journey is complicated, but you’ll get there eventually and it’ll be okay.

I’m babbling. I love this book. I was excited about it the moment I heard about it, and now I’m just rapturously in love with it. Just, I say, just. I don’t think anything could quite coherently express my admiration for the work of Day at this point.

(TL:DR? Book good. Read book).

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Fire Colour One : Jenny Valentine

Fire Colour OneFire Colour One by Jenny Valentine

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Books like Fire Colour One make me realise the inadequacy of my rating scheme. So let’s make a pact for the duration of this review: ratings do not exist. This is a book which, quite fittingly, flares and fades and sometimes – just when you find that point of stillness at the heart of the flame – this book gives you something quite wonderful. A book of contradictions? No. I think more a book that swells and lives in a way that is quite extraordinary but equally – complex.

Oh. I start and stop with this review. I am full of fragments. Perhaps then, it would be best to examine each of them on their own merit and hope that that brings some structure together for my thoughts on Fire Colour One.

One: the cover design is beautiful. Genuinely so. It is a book that pulsates with colour and life. This book looks so beautiful. It is exuberant and enticing and unusual.

Two: plot. Narrative. Story. Character. Fire Colour One has something of the Du Maurier about it; that sort of complex story of darkness and family and secrets and lies. It is a story that took me a long time to pin down – and as you can see by this review, I’m still in that process. But: Fire Colour One is life. Death. Moments of connection with family and friends and realising who and what you are going to be.

Three: Sometimes, I think, stories like this are some of the hardest to pin down from a reader’s space. I described it once as there being books which need to be read and books which don’t. Books which have a space for the reader, which need to be read in order to exist and books that do not.
And with a book like this, with its story of Iris who starts fires, her best friend who lives Art and Iris’ mother who loves and does not love, and her father who has days left to live and to rediscover the daughter he thought he’d lost, there are moments when this book does not need you. That is both a comment on the quality of life within Valentine’s narrative; the rich lyricism of her paragraphs, but also a comment on reading itself: I am a selfish reader. I want my reading to matter. It is sometimes complicated to marry that perspective to texts which are so resolutely alive without being read.

Four: Ratings. Good. Bad. Fire Colour One is an intriguingly complex experience; edible, joyful paragraphs, wild lines, and yet I struggled with it at times. It is a slow, fast read. It took me a few attempts to ‘get’ it; and I don’t think I have, yet.

Five: It is a book that feels like new space for both Valentine and young adult literature and that I welcome most hugely. This feels like a statement album book, a concept piece, a marker on the world, and I wonder (and can’t wait) as to what’s coming next.

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Black Dove, White Raven : Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove, White RavenBlack Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I read into this, and slid myself into yet another one of Wein’s richly textured and imagined landscapes, I was thinking about how I felt about her work. One of the words that sung out to me then and still does now, is the idea of trust. Following the great heights of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, I trust Wein so much. I would go with her wherever she wanted to go.

And so to two women, stunt pilots and mothers, and their children Em and Teo. Black Dove, White Raven. Teo’s mother is killed during an accident and so Em’s mother, the wild and vivid Rhoda, decides to take him to Ethiopia. A country where he won’t be discriminated against because of the colour of his skin. A country where Em won’t be discriminated against because of her gender. A country where this family can live in peace.

But then war, and the end of all good things.

Black Dove, White Raven is a difficult book to rate and talk about for me primarily because of how it swings on that last rapid and intense third of its story. Before then, it is slow. It is rich and coloured and beautifully written but oh, in the same breath, it is so slow and heavy and dense. Structurally, it’s told in a patchwork of stories and voices, and there’s an odd sense of disconnect between all of them which impacted heavily upon my reading. I was not invested.

But then, in that last third, then I was. So much. It’s here that Wein slides into doing what she does best and bringing all these strands that have been laid beforehand into play and she does so with great ease and great skill. Her canvas, I think, is upheaval. It is emotions and tension and love and loss and hope. And I would have welcomed more space being trimmed for that movement, for that great crashing of chords at the end of the piece.

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Arsenic for Tea : Robin Stevens

Arsenic for Tea (Wells and Wong, #2)Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was a little in awe of Stevens’ debut in this series, the rather glorious and as good as Christmas Murder Most Unladylike, and so when Arsenic For Tea came onto NetGalley, I did a tiny shriek of joy. And by tiny, I mean rather substantial.

Arsenic For Tea is a joy. A multi-layered sandwich cake of joy. There’s really very little else to be said other than this book is gorgeous and it’s something rather special.

It is the second in the Wells and Wong series; Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, schoolgirl detectives, are at Daisy’s house for the holiday and as it’s Daisy’s birthday, the whole family and a couple of extras are invited along for a birthday tea of splendid proportions. However – it’s a birthday party that somebody won’t see the end of.

A closed house mystery; a party of people, all with their reasons for doing the deed, stuck in the house together due to bad weather. Somebody has something to confess – and it’s down to the Detective Society to solve their second case before something very bad happens.

Glorious, really, a book where the stakes are high and the mystery wraps around them a little tighter with each step taken. Daisy and Hazel remain a delight (Hazel’s little revealing one-liners are a joy), and the supporting cast remains ineffably perfect (Lord Hastings – Daisy’s father, Felix and Miss Alston all provide particular highs).

Sometimes, with a second book in a series, there’s always that risk of ‘second book syndrome’. Will it be as good? Will you still like it as much as you did the first time round? Will the characters have grown or will it be a pale rehash of the first?

Arsenic For Tea feels stronger, somehow, and deeper too. It’s glorious and worth cancelling everything for. Stevens feels like she’s settled more into her groove and that groove is producing stylish, charming, witty and delightful stories. I am a fan of this series and a fan of her work and I think this is again a title that feels a little bit like Christmas.

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Department 19 – Zero Hour : Will Hill

Zero Hour (Department 19, #4)Zero Hour by Will Hill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This wildly vivid and intense addition to the Zero Hour series by Will Hill basically re-defines nerve-shredding.

Department 19 is standing against the darkness. The problem is that the thin red line that they provide is getting thinner by the day and now that the Big Bad is making itself known, things are getting very scary indeed. It’s time for Department 19 to face Zero Hour.

Zero Hour is part four of a series and whilst there are elements of the plot and characters which won’t make much sense if you’ve not read the others, I have to applaud Hill’s skill in making this book accessible to new readers. He weaves in detail and backstory so solidly and never once resorts to the great and awkward technique of “So what did you do last Summer?” “Well, thank you for asking mysterious stranger, this is exactly what I did.”

Mythology wise this is good and great stuff. It’s a dark weaving of tapestry; of blood sodden story and painful pasts and it all just fits. What Hill does with his Big Bad in this book is just perfectly awful. He fits. It works. There’s very little to say other than this book features one of the darkest characters I’ve ever read in young adult literature and yet I couldn’t not read him. I wanted to. I was bound to those pages and did the terribly cliche thing of sort of forgetting to breathe just a little.

One thing to quickly note is that there are some intensely graphic moments of violence in this book. They are all really well handled (I’m oddly amused by my turn of phrase there), and it’s a credit to Hill that they all feel part of this text and not gratuitous nor sensationalist in anyway. The violence in this book is narratorially (that’s not a word but go with me?) and textually deserved. As ever my suggestion is if working with children or recommending this to them, read the book and trust your instincts in how you handle this and work with this book.

What I love about books like this is when they remember that despite all the strangeness, the weirdness, the werewolves and the vampires, is that underneath it all, people are people. Still. Always. Hill gets that, I think, and his people are joyous. Idiotic. Brave. Loving. Passionate. Real.

Every time I think back to Zero Hour, I just exhale a little bit and go “Ooof. That was a good book.”

My thanks to HarperCollins for letting me have a look at this via NetGalley.

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Belzhar : Meg Wolitzer

BelzharBelzhar by Meg Wolitzer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s difficult for me this book, and it’s one that I’ve put aside for a good few days before writing this review. My feelings are complicated and I hope to understand the complexities and tensions of that response through this review.

So, let’s begin at the beginning. Belzhar appealed to me greatly through the premise: the heroine, Jam Gallahue, has experienced the grievous death of her boyfriend and as a result has been sent to study at a somewhat alternative boarding school. The Wooden Barn is part therapy, part school, and is a place for teens to deal with what has happened in their lives. Whilst at this school, Jam is asked to join a special English class where they will be studying Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’. As part of this class, each inhabitant is given a journal where they need to write their thoughts and it is the journal that ultimately provides Jam with a ticket to ‘Belzhar’ – a place where she can be with her boyfriend once more.

Complicated, yes, but I think this narrative works. I think it works better if you have read some Sylvia Plath, I think you gain some thickness to the allusions in Wolitzer’s text and the great impact of Plath herself, but I do think it works well by itself. There are some moments whereby you do require a healthy suspension of cynicism and I think this is perhaps something missing in the packaging of the book. It’s not a novel of hard and definite edges and don’t expect that upon going in. What it is is a book of softness, of grey, pained edges, and of misty spaces where things can be something both good can be bad.

That’s what Belzhar does well, that graceful smudging of space and reality and of truth and heartbreak, but I think it struggles a little in holding its own voice. In situating the novel so firmly amidst the experience of the Bell Jar and of Plath’s work in general, I think it loses a little bit of its own identity. Whilst that is a gloriously metatextual thing at one point (and something that I rather admire), it’s not something that I feel helps Belzhar. Even that title makes me wince a little bit, the allusions of it, the artfulness of it. It doesn’t feel right for what this book is.

Remember where I said my feelings about it were complicated? I hope that you’re getting that as I circle back and forth in this review and try to figure out where I stand. And that’s something I try to do with every book I review. I try to see a space for it. I try to think of the readers I’d recommend this for and where I’d shelve it in the library. And here’s the thing. I do see a place for this book, I see it in that space where people are reading Plath and want more, in that space where people are discovering their own voices and wanting to define and redefine them. And that’s a good thing. That’s a great thing, really, but it’s a limiting thing in the same breath. There’s a tension in that statement, because it rules out a whole host of other readers for me.

I think that’s the thing about Belzhar. There are such tensions in this book and whilst some of them are tensions that I’m rather spectacularly admiring of, they are tensions nonetheless which require acknowledging and some sort of attempt at understanding. But again, after saying that, I think of that metatextual edge of Belzhar, of that self-referential nature of it, and I think I am rather in admiration of it. I’m not sure I like it though. I’m not sure of that at all.

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Boy In The Tower : Polly Ho-Yen

Boy In The TowerBoy In The Tower by Polly Ho-Yen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Boy In The Tower appealed to me mainly through that instantly evocative title. It’s a rich one that, and one which speaks a lot about the instant power of titles. Note the lack of a ‘The’. It’s not The Boy In The Tower. It’s ‘Boy’. And I liked that. That sort of ‘woah, wait, this could be any boy’ feel in this tower. That sort of global tension of the title straight away, before I’ve even read the book.

So what to make of Boy In The Tower? If I were to tell you that it’s reminiscent of Attack The Block, and War of the Worlds then that would sum it up well. It is the debut novel of Ho-Yen and it is, I think a book that is not without issues, but it is also a book that made me devour it and realise how much I loved it. It’s a contradictory experience, so I think what I’m going to do now is tell you more about this dreamy, odd, almost fairy-tale book and what it does (and by the way, what it does, it does really well).

Ade lives at the top of a tower block. And he loves it, he really does, because he can see the world spilt out beneath him and remind himself that he’s part of this world. He needs to do this last part, because his mother’s ill. She spends most days sleeping now, and doesn’t go outside. It’s not safe. And when the strange triffid-esque plants (nicknamed Bluchers) appear, and the towers around them start to fall down, the world becomes very unsafe. Everyone starts to leave. Ade’s best friend leaves, but Ade can’t. He won’t abandon his mother. He can’t. And so we begin on this story of seige, with plants that can bring a tower block down and kill, and a boy who thinks he’s very much alone.

It’s a brilliant premise and once Ho-Yen hits her stride, it’s delivered with a strong and rich skill that bodes very well. I found the first third of the story a little difficult and ‘scene-setting-y’ (so not a word, but you know what I mean) but when the story kicks into gear, it kicks in high and hard and fast.

I loved this book when it worked and in a way I loved it even when it didn’t fully grab me. Ho-Yen’s strengths, for me, lie in people and the dynamics of character and relationship. And it’s when those relationships are placed in immediate and vivid peril, that she shines.

I’d recommend this for confident readers starting to hunger for something big and tense but still within their reach. I’d also maybe read this as a lead in towards authors like Jules Verne or HG Wells.

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Landline : Rainbow Rowell

LandlineLandline by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I rather love Rainbow Rowell. I love the graceful quirks of her characters, and the way her literature is resolutely of itself. There is a palpable Rowell-ness (?) about her work, and I am falling in love with it more with every book I read. So I wondered about how to review Landline, bearing in mind that I mainly review children’s literature, and I realised that it is authors like Rowell who are perfect for that moment when you’re shifting from ‘children’s’ books through to adult. The whole concept of children’s vs adults is something that I’m not going to go into here, but suffice to say that she is one of those authors who I think you will grow with as you grow, and you will come back to her work with fresh eyes and renewed love, depending on where you are in your life and what is happening to you.

And so we come to Landline, a book which is defiantly truthful and halted and pained, in parts, but full of a sort of stubborn beauty and faith and love in love itself, and I think it is something quite gorgeous. It took me a long time to slide into it, for I think I was after something like the fervent joy I experienced with Fangirl, but when I did find myself in Landline, I was rooted into it and I was slowly, and inexorably knotted into the painful and deep layers of Landline.

So what is Landline itself? It is a book for adults, a more adult audience than before, but a book I think also for those on the cusp of adulthood, searching to find themselves and understand who they are, and for anyone, really, who is trying to figure that out. It is a book about relationships, about people, and about love, quite vividly so, and it is a book about figuring out what you want, I think, and how you get that. And it is a book about being shattered and being remade, which is, maybe something that all of us experience, teenagers, adults, children alike.

I like Landline. I like Rowell. I like what she does. I like her identity and I like the thickness of her text, the way she lets the story form around her characters simply through letting them exist and be. There’s a part of me that suspects the Landline might get compartmentalised under genre labels, and I am reluctant to label it as chick-lit, or YA, or adult, or whatever, really, when it comes down to it. I think I will label Landline as story, resolute and beautiful and painful story. And I will label myself as a Rowell fan.

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Hi So Much : Laura Dockrill

Hi So Much (Darcy Burdock, #2)Hi So Much by Laura Dockrill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I keep coming across books which make me convinced that British children’s literature is experiencing a little bit of a golden age right now. Hi So Much, the second in the Darcy Burdock series, helped confirm that feeling. Vivid with voice and full of a sort of spikey vibrant texture, it’s a gorgeous book and also one that I think may translate well to being read out loud due to the aural loveliness of it. You can’t help but ‘hear’ it as you read, the voice is so strong in this one (apologies for the slight Yoda-ism, but I hope you get what I mean).

So who is Darcy Burdock? She’s a very lovely creation and in this book, she’s about to go to Big School. Now we all know Big School is terrifying, right? I remember being told by my brother that all new first years got thrown into the pond so obviously I was terrified from the moment I sidled in through the doorway and the realisation that this didn’t actually happen, was both a relief and a slight let-down. Darcy’s first days at Big School are full of an intense terror and wonder as she tried to figure out what’s going to happen to her best friend-ship with Will and what’s going to happen to herself?

It’s so vivid this one and I think those who are fans of the Alice-Miranda at School books may find a similar sort of joy in Darcy.

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Only Remembered : Michael Morpurgo

Only Remembered: Powerful Words and Pictures About the War That Changed our WorldOnly Remembered: Powerful Words and Pictures About the War That Changed our World by Michael Morpurgo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are a lot of books out at the moment to do with the first world war. I’ve been privileged to review several of them, and when I saw this on NetGalley I was very keen to take a look.

It’s a powerful, precise collection this, drawing together viewpoints from a diverse range of public figures including Raymond Briggs, Miranda Hart, Jacqueline Wilson and Shami Chakrabarti. These and many more figures pick out elements ranging from poetry to comics through to newspaper extracts that mean something to them and tell something unique about the war. And they do, these extracts, they are moving and funny and piercingly exact at points (this war, any war, it happens to people, people like you and I, and it is sometimes so easy to forget that).

What’s also very lovely about this is the mixture of sources and how there’s some outstanding poetry (Dulce et Decorum Est, anyone?)coupled with sources such as a comic strip. I like the mixture of primary and secondary sources from a variety of media, and thought it could quite easily inspire exercises in creating similar scrapbooks. There’s a lot here in these pages, and there’s a lot here which pays tribute, loud and long, to the people who were there. A beautiful, eloquent book.

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Remembrance : Theresa Breslin

RemembranceRemembrance by Theresa Breslin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book, this graceful slow burn of a book is rather glorious in how it creeps up on you. It is the story of two families and how their fortunes intertwine during the first world war. And it is a story of doubt, I think, of doubt and of fear and of the odd tremor that comes when you find out that this is who you are and this is the world that you now live in.

And this is what you can do.

You can go to war, burning with the need to defend your country, or you stay at home, lost in your shades of grey, unable to understand the madness that has gripped the world. You can step out from the shadows of class and the restrictions of society, and you can, at last, choose who you are going to be.

You have a choice now, even if your choice is a decision thrust upon you by events and action. Growing up is hard. It has and will always be hard. But it is now additionally (and quite literally) a matter of life and death.

Remembrance reminded me so much of A Little Love Song by the peerless Michelle Magorian that I became quite breathless with love for it. It is a moving book, a slow book which almost turned me off in the first few pages, but is one that is worth staying with. It pays off. It pays off so much.

All of the characters appeal, but Maggie made me love her more with every chapter. I loved her. A shopgirl at the start of the war, and something quite different by the end of it, she is the fat glorious heart of this book.

I loved this. And I loved the amount of additional material provided both at the start and end of the book. There is sometimes something quite context-less about books set in historical periods. It’s hard to hook yourself into these worlds that are so alien from your own. And what Breslin does here, through her poignant little introduction, and through her research notes, is help to bridge that gap. This is an excellent and beautifully produced book. Timely, too, what with the anniversary of the start of the war being this year. Read this and then read Stories of World War One, and you will not go wrong.

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Murder Most Unladylike : Robin Stevens

Murder Most Unladylike (Wells and Wong, #1)Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You may know by now that I have a thing for school stories. School stories are one of the great joys of children’s literature in that they do what they do so well. They tell a story in a frame which is familiar to the majority of children, and they do it with a sort of glorious constancy irrespective of date of publication. There is a part of me that wants to see Murder Most Unladylike read with books like The Princess of the Chalet School or Beswitched because it fits so comfortably and solidly into the genre. Because it is, quite possibly, the start of a very new and very lovely and very contemporary spin on the school story, despite the setting of 1930s England and tea houses and pashes.

Murder Most Unladylike is a (Daisy) Wells and (Hazel) Wong story. It’s a sort of hybrid of Angela Brazil meets Agatha Christie all mixed up with some Sherlockian tips and winks that made me snuggle down and read with a contented smile. It is a jacket potato on a winters day book; warm, satisfying, filling.

And can I tell you what I loved most about it? What made me actually adore and fall in love with it? It is Stevens’ kind and funny and lovely writing which features references to pashes and to Angela Brazil, but does it with a sort of love and respect and belief in the genre and what it can do when it’s done well (which it is here, very much so).

This is such a glorious book and it is one which has reinterpreted the school story for the contemporary reader and opened it up with a swift moving and accessible plot line. In Star Trek terms, it is the next generation as compared to the original series. It is very, very gorgeous. Daisy is glorious. Hazel is awesome. I want more, please. It’s as simple as that.

Murder Most Unladylike is published on June 5th by Random House, I would suggest we all save the date, yeah? I think that Wells and Wong are very definitely worth keeping an eye on.

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A Daughter of Smoke and Bone : Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1)Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Daughter of Smoke & Bone is spectacularly not within my frame of reference, and yet, there is something so beguiling about its grace and artful, painterly writing, that it is one to read regardless of genre, regardless of feelings about fantasy and to be honest regardless of things. There are certain books within the genre of children’s (I’m being very catch-all here with my terminology, forgive me) literature that sort of start to write themselves in a way. That their quality of prose and the stylistics of that prose are so ineffably theirs that they will come to define things in the near future, and to create an almost-genre of their very own.

Taylor writes good, y’all.

The layered, edible richness of the worlds of A Daughter and Smoke and Bone are extraordinary. Karou is an art student who is thought by her friends to be an eccentric soul, drawing imaginary beasts and mythical creatures. She is not eccentric. They are real. And Karou lives in the shfiting spaces between the worlds, running errangs and hunting for teeth for her benefactor (her family).

Until the arrival of Akiva.

Until the arrival of Karou’s truth.

This isn’t my genre at all, but putting all of that aside, I was caught by some moments of the prose to the extent that I barely remembered to breathe. It is a very, very beautiful book. There are difficulties for me still with it, very personal ones I hasten to add which are wrapped around the sterotypes and standbys of the genre (and the latter ones are ones that I think Taylor could do well to ignore for her writing is strong, so strong, that she does not need to be commonplace with her plotting). Even with those reservations, vast and as complicated as they are for me, I cannot ignore such an artistic and gracefully written book. I do not want to.

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Over The Rainbow: Brian Rowe

Over the RainbowOver the Rainbow by Brian Rowe

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Following LGBTQ YA month over on Once Upon A Bookcase, and the realisation that I too wanted to increase the amount of titles I read with LGBTQ protagonists, I found Over The Rainbow on Netgalley and became instantly intrigued. Any book that came across as a hybrid of The Wizard Of Oz, Jurassic Park and Lost was either going to be outstanding – or not.

It’s not.

Rowe is a solid enough writer, and his style is strongly approachable, but what I think fails Over The Rainbow is the haphazard nature of the story. Writing can be great, fine, but when the story itself is lacking both in structure and an underpinning truth, that’s when I start to disengage. Because it doesn’t matter how good your writing is when the protagonist (Zippy) zips (badumtish) herself up in a suitcase, survives being put through baggage handling on an airport, survives being thrown into an aircraft hold, survives the crash of the airplane when everyone else (except for a guy in the toilets) disappears because of The RAPTURE , survives a road trip involving encounters with dinosaurs, manages to convince her father of the wrongness of his ways (her devoutly Christian father who previously was going to send her to ‘straight-camp’), and ultimately lives happily ever after.

I can believe a lot in books; lord knows, one of my favourite books in the entire world involves a boy who chats to dead saints, but when a book is so devoutly lacking in believability as this, it undercuts any sort of tension in its world and therefore undercuts the experience for the reader. My fantasy needs a little bit of fact, other than that it’s just floating in the wind.

From the LGBTQ perspective, I commend Rowe for writing a strong and passionate relationship between the two heroines. I do acknowledge though that I had substantial issues with the semantics of this relationship, and in particular the relationship between Zippy and her father which was full of difficulties for me. I would not actively recommend this book due to these difficulties.
 
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Speechless : Hannah Harrington

SpeechlessSpeechless by Hannah Harrington

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Troublesome and yet, somehow appealing, Speechless is a book that left me in two camps.

Chelsea Knot is a gossip. And then, she spills the wrong secret. People get hurt, badly, and she ends up as a social pariah. She decides to take a vow of silence, keeping her mouth shut to make sure she doesn’t say anything and this doesn’t go without being noticed. Her school life swiftly becomes hell and it’s only through the support of some new and unexpected friends that she’s surviving. What’s going to happen when or if Chelsea starts to speak again?

I liked this, and I disliked it in pretty much equal measure. I had difficulties because, for at least a good third of it, I found Chelsea amazingly unappealing. I thought of Mean Girls a lot with this book, and I think that Mean Girls works because we enter the scenario with a sympathetic character – Cady. Chelsea’s not sympathetic. Frankly I couldn’t have cared less if she spoke or not for the first part of this book, because of what she’d done.

That’s hard to come back from, setting your character off by having her do a resolutely hideous thing and expecting the reader to care about her journey from that point, but strangely enough Harrington manages it. And I think a lot of that’s because, when Chelsea shuts up, she starts to discover the cool people around her – and see the value in them. Her new group are really lovely; cool, funny and quirky.

Ultimately Speechless turned out to be a bit of a cool book, likeable, self-reflective and very sardonic at points. I liked where it ended up, and how it got there. In a way I think Harrington writes very, very realistically and doesn’t sugarcoat the negative side of her characters. And by getting inside Chelsea’s head, we see how she grows but every now and then a little aside makes you remember the girl she was. I found her resolutely unlikeable for a substantial part of this book and yet I still, sort of, liked her.

What is excellent about this edition is the question and answer sessions at the end. These open the book out into a discussion upon the question of bullying, homophobic bullying and the impact of words. This is a really useful and brilliant thing to have in the book, and it’s one that I applaud wholeheartedly. There’s also an interview with Harrington about how and why she wrote the book, and this is again something that could definitely be used to incite discussion.

So, to sum up, you’ll love this or you’ll hate this depending on how you see Chelsea and how you view what she did. But you’ll definitely keep reading, and that’s a good thing. There’s a lot in this to take away and to talk about.

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