Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski
Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom
The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
The Gulf by Anna Spargo-Ryan
Have you read any of these books? What did you think?
This was a fairly light read involving teens who develop ESP as a strange side effect of a flu vaccine. There’s the expected drama - couples discovering who cheated, friends discovering who likes who, parents hiding stuff from their kids - plus the practicalities of knowing they can’t keep secrets from each other and trying to watch their own thoughts, as well as attempt to keep their new ability secret from the rest of the world. There’s quite a lot of characters to keep track of but it’s an enjoyable read, nothing mind blowing but I was glad to open it after a few heavier stories. Note that it’s the first of a series.
I’m Christian, and have read a fair few of books of apologetics as well as thinly veiled fiction and books from the “other” side (Dawkins, Hitchens and the like), so when I was gifted this book and I read the title and back cover, I was expecting something designed to push readers towards God in some way. That's not the case. It’s a return to the style and overarching theme of Tuesdays With Morrie, this time following Albom’s relationships with and life lessons from both his childhood rabbi and a Detroit Christian pastor. Given that it’s about men of two different faiths, it’s obviously not a book trying to convert anyone to a particular religion, but I also found it was less about God (although there are some musings on spiritual matters) and more about people and relationships. Albom reflects a lot about the communities that are found in religions and how people from the same church or temple know and treat one another. He looks at what motivated the two men to devote their lives to their faith and the very different paths they took to get there. There were parts that seemed overly sentimental, but in general, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it.
If anyone tells you women writers are not as “serious” or important as men, after you’ve slapped them, hand them a few Jodi Picoults. I used to be a huge fan, then stopped reading her as I began to tire of the courtroom-drama-with-a-twist-at-the-end formula, but I’ve always admired and respected the depth of the moral questions she’s willing to tackle, and the shades of grey she writes with. This book is a turn away from the courtroom setting, instead following a young woman, Sage, who befriends an old man only to learn that he was once an S.S. soldier. Sage was born into a Jewish family (although she herself doesn’t identify as Jewish) and has a grandmother who personally knew and suffered under this man during the Holocaust. A long section in the middle - probably close to half the book - is devoted to Sage’s grandmother’s story, which is as much heartbreak and resilience as any other story of holocaust survival I’ve read. It’s such an ugly period of history, and when you read it in individual, human stories like this, getting to know a character and following them through things that actually happened to someone, it sometimes becomes hard to believe. Which then makes Picoult’s central question much more tangible: are there limits to what forgiveness can be earned, begged or given? I didn’t really care for the supernatural short story which was also woven in, it felt a bit heavy-handed and unnecessary to me. But I did very much like this book; it’s a thoughtful look at a difficult question, with strong characters and story.
This book has received a lot of attention, and I've been in a bit of a reading slump lately where nothing has wowed me much, so I was hoping this might pull me out of it. It didn't, but it was still a decent read - yet another to add to my "4 stars but not quite 5" list. As the title implies, the story follows three girls (each written by a different author, which of course gives them distinct voices) who attend the same private school and have each been humiliated by a gossip site called Psst. The main story arc revolves around them discovering who is behind Psst and taking it down, but honestly that was the least interesting part for me. These stories are important, of course - I wouldn't have written about #metoo and sexism and cyberbullying if I didn't think so - but I preferred the depictions of the girls' growing friendships, the different complexities of their home lives, and the personal challenges they face such as Kate's decisions about her future and Clem's boyfriend drama. There's a lot of very realistic teen moments in this book, the kinds of decisions and regrets and first impressions that a lot of us go through, but none of it felt cliched (with the exception of Kate & Oliver's very predictable change in attitudes towards one another). In general, I enjoyed it and would recommend.
Another book that was given to me as a gift, and I have not previously read any by this author. I did read a couple of goodreads reviews before opening it, and didn’t have particularly high expectations as they were divided into two categories: gushing 5-star praise-singing and much, much less glowing reviews that indicated it was a lot of politics-wrapped-in-fiction. Regardless, I liked the characters and found the story pleasant if a little slow. It alternates between two families living in crumbling houses on the same block of land, generations apart, each navigating through a time period of change and resistance. The present day story uses clashing family members including a racist dying grandfather and a green activist daughter to debate areas like economics, climate change, waste and Trump-era politics. The kinds of arguments you’ve read a hundred times on social media. I feel like the people who would pick up a book like this already have reasonably strong left-wing opinions and will only really be wowed by it if they are a choir that enjoy being preached to. I found the sections set in the past to be more interesting, because I already know the outcome of the “Darwin vs Decency” debate in the wider world, so to see the huge opposition that Thatcher faces and the way he is treated by his town (& wife) are a reminder that most history is made and society changed over decades, not weeks. All in all it was an ok read, a bit preachy but with well-written characters that help bring it back into the realm of fiction.
I’ve followed Anna Spargo-Ryan on social media for some time now and read several of her shorter non-fiction pieces which I really admire. I like her a lot as a person, and feel a bit guilty that it’s taken me this long to get to one of her books. As someone who reads a lot of YA, and has commented in the past about where the line is between “upper YA fiction” and “adult fiction with a teen protagonist”, I began reading this wondering if it might have been well suited to being marketed as YA instead - I do think it will appeal to fans of Eleni Hale's Stone Girl, for instance. The story is told from the perspective of 16 year old Skye, who hates her mother's new boyfriend and even more so when she and her little brother have to leave their home in Adelaide to live with him in Port Flinders. Much like an abusive relationship, the horrific incidents that began as infrequent, subtly hinted towards, and followed by periods of calm and happiness within the story, gradually become more common, graphic and brutal until things hit a breaking point. It’s very well written with characters who I connected with and emotions that I really felt - which often translated to feeling sick for Skye and wanting to run away with her. Definitely not a light read, and now that I’ve finished it I think it was placed on the right shelf. Trigger warnings for sexual assault, child abuse, animal abuse, drug use and domestic violence. But if you can handle those themes, I recommend it, because it’s a good book with strong characters, descriptions and a realistic yet redemptive ending.