Book Reviews

The Rest of Us Just Live Here : Patrick Ness

The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I used to really hate the Richard and Judy book club. Every day, after Richard and Judy talked about in television, a thousand people would come into the library and ask for a copy of the book. The book that we only had about five copies of and had already flown off the shelves by 9.03. It was the bane of my life and God I hated those books.

For some reason, that sort of feeling for me started to smudge out of the Richard and Judy space and onto the other popular books. For a long time I didn’t read Patrick Ness. Couldn’t.

I knew that I should, that these books were wildly popular and beautiful things, that the readers I spoke to couldn’t stop themselves from devouring the rest of his work, but I couldn’t – quite – manage it. I couldn’t quite get past that moment – same as with the Richard and Judy books – that we’d inevitably not have as many of them in stock as we should, as I wanted to give the reader, and then when the customer realised we didn’t have the books, we’d have a fun discussion about the deficiencies of everything, myself included. Not always, but often enough to make it into the urban folklore of that particular library. (“It’s Richard and Judy Day!” “I’ll hide in the back!” “No, I will!”)

Eventually, reader I read Ness and oh it was good. His writing is vivid and heartfelt and literary and true.

The Rest Of Us is no exception to that rule.

It tells the story of those who are on the sidelines whilst in the background, somebody else tries to save the world. The Zeppo‘s, if you will. But really, to refer to this book in such a context is to sort of disregard the quiet depth of it. Ness has written a book about the struggles of the real world; the struggles that living itself brings, and the power and grace and pain of the friends and families that see us through it.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a relatively quiet book, in comparison to the high drama going on in the background of it. Each chapter opens with a brief precis of the ‘other’ story occuring in the world: world ending, death, yadda yadda, whilst in the ‘main’ chapters, we stay with Mikey and his friends. They just want to survive through to graduation. They just want to live.

I like Ness. I like him a lot. I like writing like this that isn’t afraid of burnishing the perceived truth of life and uncovering what’s underneath that. I like his sympathy, I like the heart of this book; the love of people and the hope that that love brings. I think that’s enough to live for, and I suspect that maybe that’s the point of it all.

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Sunday catch up

Hello! Here’s some of the news and articles I came across this week from the world of children’s literature.

1. After reading the excellent and poetic Red Ink (which I then added to my books about bereavement reading list), this article in the Guardian had a lot of relevance for me. In it, the author asks whether young children should go to funerals or not. There’s also some guidance from counselling professionals in the article which is very worth a read should you be struggling with a decision of this nature. Articles and moments like this remind me why I keep my reading lists. It’s in the hope that somehow one of these books may help to mediate a child and a family through one of the darkest of moments and that’s why I keep them. Please do let me know if there’s any titles you would particularly reccommend. You can comment below or, if you’d be more comfortable, email me.

2. On the topic of diversity in children’s and YA literature, here Non Pratt from Catnip Publishing talks about “The Lack of LGBTQ YA in the UK” and here Mark McGlashan argues that LGBT inclusive texts should be utilised in primary schools. I need to look more at McGlashan’s research in order to comment more thoroughly on his findings, but it’s clear to me (and has been for some time) that children deserve a right to see themselves and their familial contexts reflected in our societal literature. I’ll let you know once I’m able to find out more on his findings.

3. Patrick Ness and Shoo Rayner had an epic, articulate and polite discussion on the ‘suitability of YA literature for ‘children”. Rayner’s blog post which sparked it all off is available here and a roundup from the Guardian is available here. I think there’s a world of issues with Rayner’s blogpost and the fact that our adult perspective is nowhere near that as a teenage or child readers. You can’t map your experience of childhood onto todays. However, as with a lot of these things, it is worth taking the time to read these posts and comments and formalising and confirming your own stance of things. If there’s one thing I’ve ever believed regarding children’s literature and the critique of it, it is that you have a voice and your opinion matters.

If you’d like to view other posts in this series, they’re available here. See you next week!

Book Reviews

2012 rewind! The best books I’ve read this year

I’m very lucky in that I have access to an amazing children’s literature library. It’s one of those places that make you skip along the shelves and want to just stroke the spine of every book on the shelf. Even the ones that have been there a little too long, those ones who have gone pale in the sun, have a peculiar appeal. It’s an addictive place to visit. It’s a place that has sourced my best reads of this year. And it’s a place that I know is going to continue to inspire me next year.

So here’s to the best reads of 2012! You’ll see not all of these books were published in 2012, but they are the best books I read this year.  I spent 2012 surrounded by books I liked, and books I loved. And some of those books bordered on utter perfection.

In no particular order, we have:

My David Almond phase with a look at the incredible My Name is Mina and My Dad’s A Birdman. These two books defined the end of the year for me and have had a massive impact on me.

The other author who appears twice on my best of 2012 is Sita Brahmachari (who, if you get to hear speak, is ridiculously charming and coped very well with my geeking out in front of her – sorry Sita 😉 ) and her books Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies. Magical, evocative books both.

Patrick Ness’ multi-award winning piece of perfection A Monster Calls appears on my list and to be honest, is in a class of its own. The pairing of Patrick Ness’ spare, elegant text with Jim Kay’s illustrations is world-class.

Another award winning book that’s on my best of 2012 is The Unforgotten Coat by my book Yoda Frank Cottrell Boyce. A gorgeous, sharply heart-breaking, and beautifully produced book.

Then there’s the newcomer (to me!) Guy Bass with his reminder that good things come in small packages. The adorable Stitch Head was superb, moving, and a reminder of all that can be good in children’s books.

I came back to my other book Yoda – Michelle Magorian — and rediscovered her beyond perfect A Little Love Song. Magorian is so superbly gifted, and this book is a gift. She’s one of those effortlessly heartbreaking (and rather amazing) writers.

And finally, I read an amazing picture book and a graphic novel. Alex T Smith dazzled me with the epic and hysterical glory of Claude on Holiday. If you’ve not discovered Claude and Sir Bobblysock, hop to it because you won’t be disappointed. Graphic novel wise, I read a lot of good stuff but loved discovering the work of Gareth Hinds and his magisterial version of Beowulf in particular.

And here’s to 2013! 😀

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An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part one)

Artichoke Hearts – Sita Brahmachari

Brahmachari stormed into publication with this stunning tribute to life, love and growing up. Told in first person by the engaging Mira Levenson, Artichoke Hearts covers some difficult topics but does so with such warmth and love that it’s hard not to fall in love with this rare gem of a book.

Similar to : Itself.

Jasmine Skies – Sita Brahmachari

The sequel to Artichoke Hearts, Jasmine Skies sees Mira exploring her heritage in India. Kolkata and India are intensely drawn with a lush richness that is gorgeous to read. Mira faces some difficult decisions and, in a way, completes the ‘coming of age’ story began in the previous novel.

Similar to : Artichoke Hearts (ha, sorry but it really is!)

Who’s afraid of the big bad book – Lauren Child

Both a stunning treatise on the book as object, the act of reading and also a metatextual treatment of fairytales, this book is superb. Plus it’s really, really very funny. I adore this.

Similar to : Revolting Rhymes

Beowulf – Gareth Hinds

Adapting an epic poem into graphic novel form is no mean feat (have you seen a graphic novel version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for example?) but Hinds does it with brilliant skill. His book has dark, macabre artwork that is so vital that it practically sings from the page.

Similar to : The Odyssey (Gareth Hinds)

Unhooking the Moon – Gregory Hughes

Another book which deserves to be a classic, this is the story of Bob and his sister ‘The Rat’ on their way to New York to meet their long lost Uncle. If you’ve not read this, you’re missing out on one of the greatest female characters this century: The Rat. She’s adorable, gorgeous and heartbreaking.

Similar to : Jack Kerouac meets Willy Wonka.

A Little Love Song – Michelle Magorian

This is one of Magorian’s lesser known titles, this is the story the summer where Rose fell in love, A Little Love Song is one of – and perhaps – her greatest. Set in the middle of the second world war, and featuring the ‘holiday’ town from Goodnight Mr Tom, it is a stunning achievement.

Similar to : I Capture The Castle

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

What to say about this stunning multi-award winning book? It is devestating, stunning, and deserves to be a forever classic. Based on an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd and ultimately written by Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay, Conor faces the unfaceable in the shape of a monster who visits him at night and forces him to confront the worst things in his life.

Similar to : Neil Gaiman (His ‘Sandman’ series in particular)

Life : An Exploded Diagram – Mal Peet

Sometimes we need a book to just go giddy and revel in what it is. Life : An Exploded Diagram is such a book. Stretching majestically over countries, lives, and years, this book is vividly human and alive. Alive. It’s an interesting thing for a book to be, but this one is.

Similar to : Brideshead Revisited, Flambards, Where the Wind Blows

Claude on Holiday – Alex T Smith

This is probably one of the only books which has transferred the ‘saucy British seaside’ aesthetic into a witty, astute and very very funny picture book suitable for all ages. Claude, and his best friend Sir Bobblysock, go to the seaside and naturally hijinks ensue. This book is gorgeous.

Similar to : That postcard your Nan sent you from Southend

Dead Man’s Cove – Lauren St John

Laura Marlin deserves to be on the national curriculum. A funny, brave, Buffy-esque heroine (without the actual violence!), she’s sent to the seaside to live with her mysterious Uncle and rapidly discovers there’s mysteries in her new home.

Similar to : Nancy Drew meets the Famous Five

Tune in next time for part two! It’ll be a picture book / graphic novel special 🙂

Book Reviews

A Monster Calls : Patrick Ness

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Monster Calls is, quite simply, extraordinary. The original idea came from Siobhan Dowd and following her untimely death was carried to fruition by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay.

Ness is outstanding. It is so awfully beautifully written. A Monster Calls has an unreal feeling of being ahead of its time and a classic in the making. It is superb. Ness writes with a sympathetic, warm, dagger-sharp clarity and it is a joy – a near privilege – to be able to read this book.

Visually, A Monster Calls is beyond magnificent. It is painfully perfect. The illustrations by Jim Kay are stunning and add so much to this story. Frankly a good amount of them, if not all, can be described as genuinely breath-taking. Sometimes with a heavily illustrated book, the use of illustrations can be somewhat arbitrary and lose their impact. That’s not the case here. A Monster Calls has the strange, almost elemental quality of word and images which seem to come from the story and are not “imported” to it. It’s hard to define what I mean. I think the best analogy I can give is if you consider something like the Mona Lisa. It’s an image we’re able to see pretty much anywhere – postcards, tea-towels whatever – and accept it. The imagery in A Monster Calls is so palpably connected to the text that you can almost see its umbilical cord. The two of them are symbiotic. They need each other to live.

Books like this are not easy to read. Thematically A Monster Calls goes hard and it goes deep. When you read this, and the illustrations take you, and the prose breaks you, and you fall inside this awful brilliant book, you realise just how outstanding children’s literature can be. If this book does not live for years upon years then it will be a travesty.

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Patrick Ness wins the Carnegie!

Patrick Ness has won the Carnegie Prize for Monsters of Men, the final book of The Chaos Walking trilogy. Which is nutso amazing. I talk about the Knife of Never Letting Go here and how my irrational fear of the popular books almost put me off it. Good job it didn’t as it’s a blinder.

The entire trilogy is outstandingly good. It’s massively competent, a world created with fear and love and complex moral issues that make you read two thirds of the book and realise you have no idea who you want to ‘win’ because you can’t with any sense of veracity choose the morally right side to root for. It’s complicated, harrowing and a piece of just massive writing.

Good lad.

And oh gosh but it was a stonker of an acceptance speech:

Book Reviews

The Knife of Never Letting Go : In praise of the sneaky books

Dear Patrick.

I’d tried with The Knife Of Never Letting Go before. I’d tried and got stuck within a few pages. Didn’t really kick into gear for me. I struggled with the language and the sheer denseness of what I was reading.

So I put it down. Stepped away. Put it back on the shelf.

But then I kept hearing good things about it. Not like a quiet comment of oh that book’s alright, but THIS BOOK IS GOOD and YOU SHOULD READ THIS and THIS BOOK IS BRILLIANT.

This annoyed me. I have an irrational fear of the book everyone loves. I think that this won’t be the same for me. I think that I won’t ever be able to translate the intensely personal joy of reading into something larger and more impersonal. I don’t ever want my reading experience to be lost in the crowd. For this reason I tend to stay away from the bold and the beautiful books of the moment. It’s irrational, I know, but it’s based on a fear that I might not love the book as much as I should or can or could.

But then there was you and The Knife Of Never Letting Go. And I need to apologise.

Because I misjudged this book – misjudged it hugely and awfully and horrendously and thank God I came back to it.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is really really good. I didn’t even work out what genre it was until it crept up on me and revealed itself, coy, shy, smug in the knowledge that I’d come in from work and dropped everything just to read some more of this awkward compelling brilliant narrative.

So now I’m half-way through The Ask and The Answer and I love it. I’m entrapped in a series I couldn’t stand first time round.

This was a moment when the sneaky books win. The books that hide their brilliance and make you work for it. The ones who start quietly, or softly, and you don’t figure out what’s happening until you’re two-thirds of the way through and you realise you’ve forgotten to eat and you don’t want to sleep because you need to know you just need to know what happens.

So thank you Patrick. Thank you for writing one of the most sneaky pieces of brilliance I’ve read. I’m loving every page of it. And somehow tonight I’ve got to apologise to my company because I’ll be reading it again and savouring every second.


I mean it.