The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

“I always said if I saw it happen to somebody I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, then I’m sure you’ve heard about The Hate U Give. At the time of writing this post, the book is celebrating its sixth week at the top of the NYT Bestseller list and is still receiving overwhelming positive reviews.

The Hate U Give is a debut novel following Starr Carter who is stuck between two worlds: she goes to a posh predominantly white school during the day but she lives in a rough neighbourhood. One night Starr witnesses her friend, Khalid, being shot by a police officer. Inspired by the black lives matter movement, this is a raw and brutally honest narrative about what it means to be on the other side of a media story; to be mourning the loss of yet another person to police gun violence in America.

Starr is an utterly compelling character, bound to keep the reader hooked through the emotions she feels after Khalid’s death and the events that follow; including the court case at which she has to testify.

Every time the police showed up in the plot I found myself staying still and even holding my breath as if somehow breaking either would have an effect on the story. It shocked me into the reality of the situation. There are groups of people out there who fell threatened by the police and see them as something to avoid, not do anything to provoke, rather than someone they can go to when they need help. And that is truth: there are people out there when The Hate U Give is their everyday lives and that is terrifying and needs to change.

Starr’s friends at her school also need their moment in the spotlight because they added extra layers to this story. Hailey is a textbook High School girl and openly makes racist comments and refuses to apologise for them. She reflects so many people I’ve come across in the past few years as I’ve opened myself up to learning about other cultures and experiences. The other friend, Maya, is Chinese and also suffers a Hailey’s sharp tongue. I feel she represents a lot of people I know personally and I related to her a lot. She’s the type of person that acknowledges bad things but stays quiet. In a world of Maya’s we need to endeavour to be a Starr.

It’s very rare that I find a Young Adult contemporary where the protagonist drives the story. The Hate U Give is the opposite. I was walking along with Starr Carter every step of the way and I will continue to carry her story in my soul.

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Under Rose-Tainted Skies – Louise Gornall

“The best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive. Am I coping? Yes, but it’s taking a monumental amount of effort to keep the dynamite inside my stomach from exploding.”

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Blurb: “Agoraphobia confines Norah to the house she shares with her mother.
For her, the outside is sky glimpsed through glass, or a gauntlet to run between home and car. But a chance encounter on the doorstep changes everything: Luke, her new neighbour. Norah is determined to be the girl she thinks Luke deserves: a ‘normal’ girl, her skies unfiltered by the lens of mental illness. Instead, her love and bravery opens a window to unexpected truths…”

In the autumn of 2014 I was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder and it felt like such a relief to finally find a doctor who believed what I was going through. I wanted to see anxiety discussed more within books, especially Young Adult, as there’s still so much stigma around mental illness. Surprisingly, it’s quite hard to find books that accurately depict what it is like living with anxiety and I was pointed in the direction of Under Rose-Tainted Skies.

The story follows a girl called Norah who has agoraphobia, OCD, Anxiety and spends her life living within the safety of her home. She frequently sees her therapist, Dr Reeves and has a mother who bends over backwards to look after her. One day, a new boy called Luke moves in next door and the story takes off from there.

I really didn’t want this to be one of those “cute boy cures mental illness” stories and from very early on it started to lean that way. Luke is a very forward boy: coming over to introduce himself, offering to drive Norah to school (after she lies that she goes to public school and accidently names the one he attends) which naturally makes her curious about getting to know him. However, over the length of the novel it didn’t feel like a realistic balance of the process of a relationship while one of the partners deals with severe anxiety. There were points in the narrative where Norah even talks about how “weird” she used to be as if the issues she faces every day have suddenly evaporated. As someone who is in a long term relationship and deals with anxiety every day, it just felt hurtful at times that she seemed to flick it off like a switch in certain situations. She uses Luke, in a way, as a goal to aim for in improving her life which is brilliant to see but falls flat in the actions.

She lays out boundaries that she doesn’t want Noah to cross but inevitably does and leads to a messy outcome which angered me. However, he did go on to fully research agoraphobia, anxiety, OCD and how to help someone you know dealing with any of those and comes back to Norah and mentions some of the things he learnt which is really good character growth.

The other characters I really liked were, as mentioned earlier, the mother who has quit several jobs in order to be flexible so that she can look after her daughter. Good mothers are something I feel is rarely seen in Young Adult so it was great to see a YA novel showcasing a mother who really does want the best for their child. The therapist, Dr Reeves, was wonderful, insightful, and understanding; even going as far as to conduct a therapy session in a car outside the building because Norah is too afraid to leave it.

I came out of this reading experience feeling depleted. So many other bloggers had recommended this book to me and sung its praises that I felt almost as if I’d missed the point. But I couldn’t get past the message that in some aspects it showed that maybe your mental health problems can be solved simply by meeting a boy.

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Radio Silence – Alice Oseman

“If nobody is listening to my voice, am I making any sound at all?”

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Blurb: “Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.
But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken.

The story follows a girl called Frances who is very much a model student: she’s the head girl, has really good grades and is on track to securing a place at Cambridge University. On the side she is a devoted fan to a YouTube based podcast called Universe City and spends the gaps between studying not only listening to the show but also creating fan-art for it. When she is approached by the creator to make official art for the show it feels like a dream come true and she finally learns the identity of the person behind Universe City and they become close friends but things quickly turn sour within her beloved online community.

I was reccomended this book on the basis of it having a bisexual character. Frances identifies as bisexual and unlike many books which claim to have one but is never stated, Frances outright says that she identifies so and the way in which it was portrayed felt very authentic; it was just another layer to the story rather than being the main focus.

This is a novel that any reader can relate to: from the stress of exams, choosing universities and even in some cases questioning whether your choice of degree is actually something you want to. Radio Silence does a fantastic job or depicting what it feels like to be young and facing big choices that are intended to set your life on a certain path. I also really like that Oseman showed how university isn’t for everyone.

In a modern age where so many people are connecting via online communities based around something they love, the podcast side of it is very relevent today and shows just how quickly things can become toxic when select members start to stir things.

While there were many elements I liked and appreciated within the plot, overall the story just fell flat for me. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and, honestly, I haven’t really thought about it since I put it down.

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Margot & Me – Juno Dawson

“I wonder, when writing diary entries such as this one, if we in some way hope they’ll be found.”

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Blurb: “Fliss’s mum needs peace and quiet to recuperate from a long illness, so they both move to the countryside to live with Margot, Fliss’ stern and bullying grandmother. Life on the farm is tough and life at school is even tougher, so when Fliss unearths Margot’s wartime diary she sees an opportunity to get her own back. But Fliss soon discovers Margot’s life during the evacuation was full of adventure, mystery… and even passion. What’s more, she learns a terrible secret that could tear her whole family apart…”

The story is centred on a girl called Felicity (Fliss for short) who is uprooted from her life in London and moved to a farm in Wales where her mother is suffering from cancer. The plan is to stay there temporarily until her mother recovers from the illness which would be much easier to deal with if Fliss didn’t have to put up with her horrid grandma called Margot.  During Fliss’s exploration of her new home she comes across a diary that belonged to Margot during World War II and decides to start reading.

When I pick up a new book from an author I consistently read, I always look for improvements in the quality and writing. Juno Dawson does not disappoint. This book was just on a new level to anything she’s ever written and really did have a Hollow Pike feel to it. Unlike a lot of Young Adult books, Fliss really did feel like a teenager and a lot of the comments she made about things, including Margot, had me out-loud laughing at times. There was a really good balance between the past and present and it didn’t feel like you were lingering too long in the present world or the diary world. It was nice to see the barriers between Fliss and Margot slowly start to dismantle as the story progressed.

This book is a perfect example of how we may dismiss someone because they’re a polar opposite to us only to learn that actually we have a lot more in common than we originally thought.

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Coral And Bone – Tiffany Daune

“Every day is filled with impossibility, until you have chosen to see the possible. Once you make the shift to see, life is a less frightening journey.”

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Blurb: “Halen knows the sparks igniting under her fingertips are dangerous. She has spent her entire life trying to quell the tingly feelings that make her destroy things, but now that she is back in Rockaway Beach, where she watched her father drown, the flames have become impossible to tame. Halen is trying to hold on, but when she is thrust into a mysterious new world, the underwater realm of Elosia, she unravels the secrets of her past and can’t help but ignite.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Coral and Bone follows a girl called Halen who moved back to Rockaway Beach a few years after the death of her father. Halen’s mother hopes returning will bring them solace and the strength to move on with their lives, but Halen has started hearing things that no one else can and the ability to produce sparks from her fingers. When a stranger rescues Halen from a swarm of mermaids, she learns more about her life than she never knew possible.

There are many books I read where the characters outweigh the plot and this is one of them. While the plot is fascinating and unravelled in ways I never could’ve predicted, Halen is very much the driving force of this novel. At the start of the books there is an illustration of her which just made the character feel more real in my mind. The actions and choices she made throughout the story felt like ones a real person would make and I found it so incredibly easy to latch onto her along this adventure.

The world and backstories were delivered through dialogue which stopped the book from falling into info-dump territory which happens all too easily in fantasy/folklore based novels. Also I am a complete sucker for the “training trope” so when there were scenes where Halen was learning to control and harness her powers I was practically jumping up and down with excitement.

The only downside is that frankly the mermaids weren’t around often enough. I would have loved to see more of them.

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Wing Jones – Katherine Webber

“But when I’m running, I don’t feel like an idiot. I feel free, like anything is possible. Like I’m not running from something, but for something.”

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Blurb: “With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing’s speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants.”

Wing Jones was a book that initially didn’t interest me despite the incredibly hype surrounding it and it wasn’t until streams of positive reviews flooded in that I decided to put aside my preconceived notions about YA Contemporaries aside and give it a chance to change my mind.

The story follows a bi-racial teen called Wing Jones who struggles with fitting in, and nobody at her school tries to make it easier for her. When her brother is involved in a car accident leaving many dead, Wing finds herself being blamed for the actions of her brother all while having to deal with the negative coverage in the media. Looking for a way to cope with her feelings, she ends up running only to discover she’s actually very talented at it.

There are elements of magical realism in the form of the lioness and a dragon that seem to accompany Wing throughout this traumatic period of time like a sort of Mary Poppins “I’ll be there until you no longer need me” way. I found this addition to be really interesting.

Despite all the glowing reviews, this book fell flat for me. It didn’t feel like much happened or that the story ever really got going and the ending just left me feeling incredibly underwhelmed, almost as if I’d wasted time reading it. And sadly this is becoming a theme with a lot of the new releases I’ve delved into so far this year.

I will say that I loved how the events of this story led to Wing finding a positive outlook for her to focus on and work out her emotions through, rather than it falling to something easily more negative. It really shows that we may all have some secret hidden talent that we haven’t unlocked yet.

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History Is All You Left Me -Adam Silvera

“If bringing up the past annoys you now – as I know it did when you left New York for California – know that I’m sorry, but please don’t be mad at me for reliving all of it. History is all you left me.”

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Blurb: “When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.”

Adam Silvera is another author who’s quite popular within the book community but I’d never read before. The reason for that is, in part, due to the fact that his  debut More Happy Than Not is actually available in the UK. I started to hear about History Is All You Left Me frequently as the hype for his new book started to bubble. However, I wasn’t really sold on it until he posted a video on his YouTube channel where he read the first chapter of the book. After that, the book sat patiently on my “to read” list as the release date drew closer.

The story follows a boy called Griffin who is about to attend the funeral of his ex-boyfriend Theo and the narrative flits between the past and present, building up a picture of their lives together from friendship to their relationship,  what happened after they split up and then, inevitably, how Theo died. Griffin speaks directly to Theo throughout the book almost like a long letter that he will never get to read and that aspect added extra emotion and heartbreak to the story, especially when Griffin comes face to face with Jackson; Theo’s current boyfriend.

History Is All You Left Me is an incredibly bittersweet story. The reader gets the joys of seeing the relationship between these two characters form, the duo coming out to each other, first dates, first time having sex (which is very realistic and positive might I add) and there’s even an incredibly awkward scene where they buy condoms together only to bump into someone they know in the store. There are segments where Griffin discusses his OCD and how Theo helps him and discussions of Theo’s bisexuality (I really feel like 2017 is finally going to be the year for more bisexual characters) and relationship issues are really dealt with rather than being left to fester. It’s all truly wonderful and heart-warming to read until you’re hit in the face with a present day chapter and you, along with Griffin, remember that Theo is no longer alive.

Something I found rather unexpected was Griffin and Jackson finding solace in each other, despite having been previous quite averse to each other. They both share that loss of love even though they have different memories of Theo and Griffin even expresses that he feels Jackson is the only one who truly knows what he’s going through; how big of an imprint Theo has left on their lives.

I couldn’t work out whether I liked Griffin or not. Through his narrative you can really feel how much he cared for this other person, even after Theo had moved on to someone else. Griffin made a lot of sacrifices for Theo and that loss ran so deep and it’s really gut-wrenching to read in the present chapters. However, he made some choices out of spite and ignorance to sort of “get back” at Theo which I didn’t like and he treated a lot of other characters badly, but maybe that was just part of his healing process.

I did find the book to be very slow moving at points but that’s to be expected as this is a story not just about reliving memories, but the process of moving on and adapting to a part of life where there won’t be new memories created with the person no longer alive.

This week I’m going to end on a heart-breaking quote from the book:

“I don’t know what will be left of me if love and grief can’t bring you back.”

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Doing It – Hannah Witton

“I want this book to educate you, I want this book to feel like your friend gossiping with you. I want this book to make you feel normal, comfortable, empowered and in control of your body.”

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Blurb: “Figuring out how to build and maintain healthy relationships – with your family, friends, romantically and with yourself – is a crucial part of being a teen. It’s not easy though, particularly in a digital age where information and advice are so forthcoming it can be hard to know who or what to believe or trust. Porn is everywhere, sexting is the norm and messages about body image are highly mixed. Hannah combats this by tackling subjects ranging from masturbation and puberty to slut shaming and consent in an accessible, relatable and extremely honest way.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

When I first saw the announcement for this book I have to admit I was disheartened. There’s an endless stream of “YouTuber books” dominating the shelves and most of them feel unwarranted when they’re autobiographies from people who are the same age as me. It felt like Hannah was the newest addition to this money train but when she started to explain what her book was going to be about, it couldn’t have been a more perfect fit.

I have been subscribed to Hannah Witton on YouTube for a very long time and one thing I’ve always loved about her content is that she’s honest. Whether it’s her “drunk advice” or – more recently – the “hormone diaries” videos, Hannah is not afraid to bare all (pardon the pun) when talking about situations that are still seen as a taboo in our society. Even though I’m a twenty-three year old woman, I still find myself learning things about sex (mainly from Hannah) that I had never learnt in a classroom. This book is, as Hannah states in the introduction, something the reader should “dip in and out of for advice” rather than read cover to cover, but for the sake of this review, I read every single page.

Doing It covers everything from…well… “doing it” to the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, the time she lost her virginity, birth control, puberty and periods, porn and masturbation, the importance of consent and why it’s okay to wait; anything you can think of regarding sex and relationships is most likely in this book. But another thing I really admired about this book is that Hannah leaves it to certain experiences she hasn’t had to other contributors for whom they are a reality. For example, Riley Dennis has written a chapter about what it’s like dating when you’re trans, Amelia Morris has written about being asexual, Riki Poynter talks about what it’s like to have a sexual relationship when you’re deaf.

I was really educated on what is and isn’t true when it comes to the human body and sex (again even at my age) when Hannah would present a myth and then proceed to explain if it was true or not. For example: the hymen breaking during your first time having sex.

Books like this are bittersweet because Doing It is a book I really could have used when I was a teenager. Even though I didn’t lose my virginity until I was twenty. But it’s such a great thing that books like this and This book Is Gay by Juno Dawson exist to help any struggles that teenagers are going through where they may want to avoid talking to a family member.

“Just remember that whatever your gender, or sexuality, you are wonderful and deserve as much as the next person.”

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The Upside Of Unrequited – Becky Albertalli

“Certain nights have this kind of electricity. Certain nights carry you to a different place from where you started. I think tonight was one of the special ones.”

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Blurb: “Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.
Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.
There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.
Right?”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

When I finished Becky Albertalli’s debut novel Simon Vs The Homosapiens Agenda, I knew that she was going to be an “auto-buy” author for me. As known if you keep up date with me on my various social media channels, I am not always the biggest fan for contemporaries but that one spoke to me in a way not many books too. So when I got wind of a new book from her, you bet I was dancing around to kill the time until I could have it in my hands.

The Upside of Unrequited follows a girl called Molly who really wants a boyfriend and feels that she is quickly falling behind her peers (including her twin sister Cassie) who seem to find mutual love easy to obtain and are having sex or already in relationships whereas she is yet to experience any of those “firsts” that are so important to a teenager. The only experience she has is her list of 26 unrequited loves; one of which includes Lin Manuel Miranda. When she bumps into a Korean-American girl called Mina in the toilets of a nightclub she has no idea how much this girl will change things.

This book does a fantastic job of depicting what it really feels like to be a teenager from the concerns about lack of experience, to those constant buzzing questions when you do find someone attractive, to body image. Whatever you can think of, it’s covered and it isn’t glossed over either. Each topic is addressed with the right amount of time paid to it. Even the heart-breaking ones such as Molly being concerned that her weight will be a turn-off and how big girls don’t get boyfriends or have sex unless it’s a joke and she doesn’t want to be one. It all adds a layer of authenticity to the story because, as we all know, problems don’t disappear straight away.

The sexual diversity in this book is a breath of fresh air with characters identifying as straight, pansexual and bisexual which are all presented in positive and healthy ways. I’ve already spoken to the author about my thoughts but I am going to share them here too: I’ve spoken out in the past about the lack of bisexuals in YA, let alone female bisexuals and this book made me cry in the best way possible: because I was happy. Becky Albertalli included a female bisexual character and I felt valid. Representation is so important.

At times it felt almost as if I was reading an old diary from my teenage years because it captured certain experience so well and I am sure everyone will be able to find something that reminds them of a moment when they were a teenager (even if it’s a memory that is best forgotten). Becky Albertalli does not miss the mark with this one and not picking up a copy should be considered a crime.

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A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

“You be as angry as you need to be,” she said. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Not your Grandma, not your Dad, no one. And if you need to break things, then by God, you break them good and hard.”

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Blurb: “The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…
This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.”

A Monster Calls is an original idea from author Siobhan Dowd who sadly died before she got the chance to write it. Leaving behind some of the framework and a beginning, Patrick Ness took the project on board as a tribute to her, adding his own flare in the process. Accompanied by illustrations from Jim Kay (illustrator for the illustrated Harry Potter editions) any reader who picks up this book is in for an emotional rollercoaster.

The story follows a thirteen-year-old boy called Conor who is struggling to cope with his mother’s illness. One night, a monster shows up at his house and says that he will tell Conor three stories and, once he is finished, Conor must reveal a story of truth in return.

At its core, this is a story about grief, sorrow and denial. Conor floats through the story, isolated from his peers at school and having to endure constant sympathy from his teachers, all while having to deal with one fundamental fact that he can’t admit to himself: his mother isn’t getting better.

The contents of this novel will resonate with anyone who’s experienced losing a loved one and while some of the writing can feel simplistic at times given the subject matter, it really does pack a punch and the addition of the illustration feels like someone has reached into your chest and began twisting your heart. It’s impossible not to sympathise with, and understand, Conor’s intentions and his actions, especially when the only friend he has to turn to is a monster disguised as a tree in his garden.

A Monster Calls is a fundamentally heart-breaking, tender and complex book and by gosh it’s one you should read.

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