My cats are growing bigger, my days of changing nappies are now over thanks to my youngest child toilet training, and the soccer season is in full swing. It's been a whole year since The Things We Can't Undo was released! Thank you to everyone who has read it, reviewed it, recommended it to someone, or bought a copy for a friend. I've also been working on a couple of short stories and have a non-fiction article coming out shortly in The Big Issue, so keep an eye out for that. I've been reading a bit less, but I do have some quick thoughts to share about what I've read lately: A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews, Paper Cranes Don't Fly by Peter Vu, Nothing by Annie Barrows, Someone to Love by Melissa de la Cruz, and Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield. These are all YA books, but as we know by now, YA is full of great quality books that anyone can enjoy.
Protagonist and POV character Adam has spent much of his life in hospital, and he's back there for most of this book. The main focus is on Adam's friends, Tess and AJ, and his friendship with fellow sick-kid Rachel, as they all support each other through the struggles of childhood cancer treatment.
This one won the Gold Inky award last year, and was written by a teen who has firsthand experience with much of what the character goes through. I love that it focuses on friendship rather than love relationships and doesn't fall into the general "sick lit" tropes. I did find it repetitive in places and it's quite a slow-moving story (with a predictable but necessary ending), but the characters are relatable and hopeful, which is refreshing. I didn't love it, but I did like it, and certainly for a debut teen author, I think Vu has a lot of potential ahead. More importantly, while I found myself being fairly critical in parts, it's obviously a story that resonated with teens and that's what YA writing should be about.
The story of Beck - piano prodigy and composer, who is abused by his pianist mother and tries to care for his little sister Joey. He is paired with bleeding-heart vet's daughter August on a school project, and as he gets close to her, he starts to find the courage to escape his situation.
Like many in the YA online community, I was familiar with Cait Drews and love her twitter and blog. So I was excited to read her book and hoped I would love it. Sadly, I did not. This story is sad but predictable, and physical violence is detailed all throughout. The abuse that Beck suffers is pretty extreme physical abuse without the nuance of emotional abuse that so often comes with it - and despite living in a low-income area where myths abound about domestic violence and reporting standards, I simply didn't buy that in his situation, some kind of child and family services wouldn't be involved. His mother was a very one-dimensional villain, and her motivations were very simplistic too. She didn't seem to experience any love for her children at all, and there was no gaslighting or other typical abusive behaviours. Beck also didn't seem to love her at all, but he loved Joey and was afraid for her, so his unwillingness to speak out about what was going on and get help was without any of the complicated reasons that abuse victims stay. August was very much a "manic pixie dream girl" and didn't have a lot of development as a character beyond that. We know next to nothing about what her goals are for her life or why she's interested in Beck, just that she wants to save things.
This was a pretty quick and easy read, and not bad enough to warrant a full-on rant review, but all up I was disappointed and gave it two stars.
A rich girl whose Dad is running for Governor has bulimia. There's boys, friends, hobbies and future goals, but the gist is that she's sick and needs help she's not getting.
Warning: rant ahead (also, some spoilers). Ughhh. I know what it's like to struggle with an eating disorder, depression and self-doubt. It's not that the main character didn't have real problems, but geez, this was 400 pages of ANGST. I just had no desire to root for her. The misunderstandings with friends and people who treat her like jerks and stressful politics weren't necessarily badly represented, but because they're all happening to a girl who spends endless pages whining about how everyone is too good for her and she's a failure, it's hard to actually feel sorry for her. Even the ED itself felt very stereotyped to me, and seemed to be blamed on a few truly AWFUL things said to Olivia which kind of made it sound like mental illness has an obvious cause and was her brother & ex-boyfriend's "fault".
It felt like this book had ALL the YA tropes rolled into one, none of them done amazingly well. Artist aspirations that aren't taken seriously by family? Check. Love triangle with the hot guy who turns out to be a douche and the male best friend she didn't realise she wanted? Check. Fight over a misunderstanding with the bestie? Check. Temporary time with the popular crowd before they turn out to be bitches? Check.
I did a fair bit of eye rolling, too. "Being an artist is just about the noblest thing anyone can do". So pretentious. Nursing children back to health in refugee camps? Not as noble as painting! I appreciate art and think it has value in the world, I think it's worthwhile and just as much as I think pursuing writing is a valid career option, so is pursuing art. But NOBLE is a stretch. Then I got to the letter that Olivia puts in her application. She says NOTHING about herself now or what her art means, how it relates to personal experiences or overall truths she's learnt from her battles. She literally verbatim quotes a conversation that she had several weeks (months?) prior while she was drunk. NO ONE has a memory that good that they can recall every sentence *exactly* the way it was spoken that one time.
Also, alcohol is full of calories.
A book where "nothing" happens - except things do, of course, as they do in all our lives. But there's no epic tale here, just a couple of best friends going through life with teenage ups and downs, and the focus is on their friendship and how normal their lives are.
I don't have a lot to say about this one... I like the voice and found the read itself fun and light. Nothing amazing to rave about, but good quality writing with decent characters.
Fearless prankster Grace lives in a small town and participates in rivalry between two schools. But in the midst of a dangerous competition one night, she experiences something that no one can explain. As Grace's friends grow up - and apart - she is drawn into a decades-old story of a missing teenager, a dead boy and how it might all relate to the car accident that killed her mother. But Grace's obsession is unhealthy and takes over her life. Is it delayed grieving? Or are ghosts real?
My love for Vikki Wakefield grows. I was a huge fan of Friday Brown, less impressed by Inbetween Days, but this book rekindled my admiration for an excellent writer. Unreliable narration done in an expert manner, and a good modern gothic. This is a ghost story for the 21st century, where reactions to what Grace experiences are very realistic and as a reader I continued to doubt how much was in her mind right til the end. There's a mystery that is uncovered, both straightforward enough that it's believable Grace could solve it, and complex enough to not be easily predictable. All in all, I really enjoyed this book.