Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian is a tale of darkness, oppression, and princesses who won’t be beaten down. It’s more of a political fantasy than a swords-clashing-and-people-screaming one, and I found it very captivating and full of schemers and careful plots. It features a captured country, a princess humiliated and tortured every day by her enemies as a trophy, and the complexities of needing to make a statement by killing a prince…but unfortunately falling for that prince at the same time. And isn’t that cover just stunning?!
The story follows Theodosia, who’s been a captive in her own castle after enemies torn her country apart, killed her mother, and proceeded to being a vicious reign. Theo is mocked at court, whipped for her people’s transgressions if they dare try to rebel, and given a crown of ash during festivities so everyone remembers she’s worth nothing. She’s now sixteen and desperate. And after they force her to kill the rebel who’s also her father…Theo is ready to plan ways to fight back. She is a pawn, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be a weapon in the dark — especially with the help of a childhood friend, pirates, and her downtrodden people.
The world building was the standout! It actually takes time to show us languages and cultures and built this complex world of oppression and lush beauty. I felt really drawn into the world after only a few chapters. Plus it had a lot of fantastic details so everything seemed super vivid!
The contrast of the opulent life vs the horror the conquerors deal out was so well written. Theo’s people are little more than slaves while she is a trophy, tortured daily for the crimes of her people but kept alive despite the horror she has to go through. She’s like lavished in pretty dresses and wears pretty makeup and goes to banquets and has books. Her “best friend” is one the daughter of a very powerful dude and she’s all pretty and light and flippant. To the court, Theo pretends to be satisfied with her life as a caged bird. But then in the background, we see the horror and torment the conquerors throw at their enslaved people. There are murders and brutal labour and anyone who even looks like they might be plotting something is executed. The contrast was vicious and vivid.
The magic is elemental style, but they channel it through gems which I thought was a nice deviation from the norm!
Theo herself was a character you quickly feel sorry for and root for her to get out. She’s scared to plot for her freedom, of course, but desperate to prove herself as still loyal to her people after having to fake being submissive to the enemy for 10 years. She wants to kill the evil king, but what if she has to take down people she cares about who are in the way? Like her flippant friend or the handsome prince who seems just as upset by his father’s horrific rule as Theo is? There’s lots of moral dilemmas and stretched loyalties which makes for a stressful (in a good way!) read.
It is dark, but not super so on page. The darkness is more in the backstory and eluded to, although it’s still powerful.
Ash Princess has such a stunning setting and a lot of potential as a series starter. The ending is loaded with threads to explore and questions to answer, so you’ll be desperate for book 2!
The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green is a collision of plots and wars, princesses and thieves. It’s set in a complex world that takes it’s time to set the scene, build the countries, and totally immerse you in this world of Brigant and Calidor. It also features five narrators, all teens, who somehow end up with the fate of the world in their somewhat dubious control. I am a huge fan of Sally Green’s previous Half Bad books so I was wild with excitement to try these. Full warning: This is a very different style and tone, so don’t get in expecting it to be like Half Bad! We’ve left paranormal behind and journeyed into epic fantasy and complex politics. I do think the Half Bad books suited me better, but I can definitely say it’s exciting to see authors exploring and flexing their skills in new genres.
The Smoke Thieves follows 5 people: a princess, a traitor, a soldier, a hunter, and a thief. Their stories all complexly entwine at the end, but in the beginning we’re met with Princess Catherine who’s treated horribly by her father and forced to watch an execution before she’s shunted off to an arranged marriage. But she’s in love with her guard, Ambrose, who’s affection for her will end in his death. In the enemy’s country, a servant named March comes from a forgotten and annihilated country and wants revenge, so he helps kidnap the kleptomaniac Edyon who is also the king’s bastard and estranged son. Unfortunately Edyon is winsome and lovely and March can’t help falling for him. And lastly there is Tash: demon hunter who captures smoke out of demons and sells it on the black market. But is the smoke, supposedly a “cheap thrill”, all that it seems?
The world building is a stand-out of lusciousness and detail. There’s a ton of countries mentioned and everything is woven and connected and so it felt deep, a world of luscious dimension! We don’t often get such detail in worlds in epic fantasy in YA, so this was a treat. I like how it had culture for the different countries too.
The narrators are often the downtrodden underdogs. Which did make them easy to root for! I struggled the most reading Catherine’s chapters, as her heinous father literally thinks women are commodities, and women in court are forced to learn sign-language to communicate because the men don’t like them speaking. But even so, Catherine had a beautiful character arc and ended up in a position of quietly taking power away from her enemies. Go Catherine! And Tash’s chapters of being a grubby demon-thieving orphan were particularly amazing too. I also love how we have everything from escaped soldiers to angry and rebellious slaves.
A quick look at the narrators?! In detail we have:
Catherine: She’s a princess, doomed to an arrange marriage and viewed as property. She’s demurely spicy and I did honest love seeing her arc.
Ambrose: He’s the guard in love with Catherine and very loyal/valiant.
March: He’s a slave to a prince in a different country and so hateful of his captors and jumps at the chance to side with the rebellion and kidnap his king’s lost bastard son.
Edoyn: An actual human wreck on legs, kleptomaniac and smooth little ratbag thing, that you kind of fall in love with even though he would probably hurt himself with a spoon. I loved his chapters and his voice and how he flirts so incessantly with March who has no idea what it is to be loved.
Tash: A 13-year-old demon hunter who is a piece of work and will stab anything and loves pretty shoes.
The Smoke Thieves is a methodical and detailed fantasy adventure that winds so many storylines together at the end. It’s not fast-paced but it is always interesting and I think all the characters being so complex and developed made it addictive to continue reading! Definitely a great read!
An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson is an absolutely delightful wild adventure of fae and scheming andart. I admit to being wholly in love with the scheming aspect of this plot and how you never quite know what’s coming. Add that to gorgeous writing, some laugh-out-loud banter, the whimsical and dangerous beauty of a fae world — and you have an incredible book.
The story follows Isobel, an artist hired by vain faeries to paint their portraits. In return, she gets paid in enchantments (like chickens who always lay eggs, or a house that can never be attacked) and her life is quite good with two little sisters and a loving guardian and some amicable, if not still dangerous, fae customers. Then the Autumn Prince turns up for his portrait and Isobel finds herself smitten and does the unthinkable: she paints the human emotion she sees in his eyes. For a fae, who are otherworldly and pride themselves on this, she’s committed and abomination and Rook angrily declares he’ll put her on trial. But as the two tumble headfirst into the fae world, they’re met with rotting magical creatures and courts of decrepit and deceitful beings, and hunters who just won’t stop — and maybe the two can help each other more than they think.
This particular fae world focuses on courts that are based on all the seasons! It was whimsical and gorgeous and we get to explore the Spring court mostly, but the Autumn Court and Summer Court are mentioned too. Isobel’s human world, the town of Whimsy, is caught up in an eternal summer and on her deathly adventure with Rook, she also visitsthe Spring Courts which were rotting from the inside out. I love how this gave us types of faeries who can’t feel human emotions. They’re so vapid and silly, but deeply miserable and complex.
Isobel was a winning narrator from the second she steps onto the page. She was realistic, with very relatable reactions to things! Not to mention the story actually took the time to give us a road-trip that wasn’t all daisies and flowers! Everyone ended up smelling and dirty and hungry, and the realism just made the book more heartwarming. Her love and addiction to art was also amazing to read and she has a knife-sharp sense of humour and refuses to let the faeries play their wily tricks on her.
Rook, the autumn prince, was also a thorough delight. He is actually the vainest thing, which was so hilarious. He’s a warrior, knight and prince and yet completely becomes undone with clothes he doesn’t like or the strange peculiarities of humans. (They need to sleep and eat??? He gets so confused.) Isobel totally messes with him at times too and it’s adorable. I also loved how earnest and sweet he was. Here is a prince who could be so wicked, but he was respectful and kind…and very full of himself. Ha!
The romance was an interesting exploration of lust vs love. When Isobel meets Rook to paint his portrait, she “falls in love with him”. But she doesn’t really. She has a fluttering crush on this otherworldly gorgeous boy…and she realises this. Obviously after they’re thrown into a whirlwind journey together of monsters and the Wild Hunt and rotting castles and evil kings, and they save each other and get to know each other — they do truly fall in love. And they were so winning together, with their snarky banter but inability to let the other suffer.
The artist flair of the book also made the writing just exquisite. Isobel’s love for her craft bleeds from the page. And her perspective of the world turns everything into a gorgeous huge canvas. The writing is so visual and dimensional, you don’t just read faerieland, you fall face-first into it and get entranced by the magic.
An Enchantment Of Ravens is a whimsically gorgeous tale, with vicious undertones and schemes to twist your senses upside down. It’s not to be missed.
Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody was a delightfully twisty tale of murder, magic and mayhem and I couldn’t put it down! I feel like I’ve definitely found a new all-time favourite! This book is an ode to schemes and cons, full of street lords and mysteries and the addictive love of playing a game where the stakes are: win or die. You won’t be able to stop yourself falling in love with these characters or not accidentally toppling into the City of Sin to stay.
It follows the journey of Enne Salta, who’s enter the City of Sin to find her missing mother. She’s a prim girl from a proper finishing school and tumbles head-first into this tumultuous world of casinos and street lords and backalley fights and the kind of magic where you can bet your soul in a card game and play to win or die. She meets a very young street lord named Levi Glaisyer, who’s in deep trouble from a con scheme gone wrong, and together their lives entwine as they look to find Enne’s mother and Levi hopes the reward payout will stop him dying. Except Levi’s enemies are tightening his noose fast, and despite his flashy smile and smooth card skills, they’re not playing around anymore.
It mixes magic and con artists to perfection. I see a lot of comparisons with this to Six of Crows, and yes! It works! But also this isn’t a heist book. It’s about con schemes and card games.
The world building was so detailed and exquisite, utterly flawless. It’s set in city with a 1920s vibe, so it’s all gangsters and casinos and grubby crime kids running around. But with MAGIC. Now it took me a while to get the hang of what the orbs/volts were, but I caught up. But everyone basically has talents, or two, and it’s just super cool how it’s a whole world of magicked people and how they use that. And how it affects everything. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the City of Sin and I couldn’t look away. Plus the writing is so visual and delicious that you can really see the whole thing.
The characters totally stole the show too, with their fantastic and complex personalities, plus detailed and heart-wrenching character arcs. I’m absolutely smitten with both Levi and Enne. Usually with dual-narrating books I have a favourite: but not this time. They were both a fantastically stunning mix of conniving and softhearted sweethearts. Their stories entwine so beautifully, with them using each other but then needing each other…and then a longing for more sparking between them. The book’s set over 10 days and romance is definitely not the focus, and I really loved how their relationship played out.
Levi was an absolutely precious masterpiece, a crime lord who’s gang is failing because he’s neck-deep in debt for a scheme he didn’t even want to run. He’s cursed to work for one of the biggest crime families, but what does he want? He wants to get to the top of his own game. He’s a card dealer and super smooth…but also absolutely adores his gang and is very loyal and sweet.
Enne Salta was also a fantastic delight, and her character development just swept me off my feet. She starts off as a “proper lady” but quickly develops into someone who’s witty, ruthless, and quite cunning (while still being gloriously polite!) and basically, by a few chapters in, she was an accidental badass.
I also just loved the writing and pacing. The writing just sweeps you up and the pacing of the book was also amazing, always luring you in deeper to the complicated plot that unwinds disasters for our favourite narrators. The plot is full of twists and turns, the foreshadowing is excellent, and it sets the scenes so well: murder card games, con schemes gone wrong, cabarets, magic and mayhem and murder, casinos and card games and gangsta hats and cherries and lush hotels and absolutely disastrous curses.
I can’t recommend Ace of Shades enough! It was everything I wanted and more, plus it included mountains of respectful and lovely diversity rep, and balanced characters you can’t help but fall in love with, plus a plot that will turn you inside out. High stakes. Magic. Wicked city schemes. Villains who never stop. And antiheroes leading the way. A fantastic adventure not to be missed!
TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW by Dana L. Davis is an incredible book that’s absolutely ladened with complex emotions and a story so filled with tension that it’s impossible to put down. This book made me very angry at times, but also I’m intensely impressed with it. I absolutely loved Tiffany like nothing else!! I raged at the bad and cheered for the good.
The story follows Tiffany Sly who’s going to live with her estranged dad after her mum died. She’s never met him in all her 16 years and, worse, didn’t even know he existed. But to complicate things, a man turns up at her front door also claiming to be her dad…and Tiffany is terribly confused. This other guy seems super nice and he definitely was dating her mum at the right time, but she’s on her way to live with the Stones and change is really eating her up inside. She has 7 days before it all collides. And when her new family turns out to be super strict and somewhat awful, she wonders if maybe the option of a different dad is a good thing?
When Tiffany moves in with the Stones, she doesn’t actually know she also has four new sisters. So it’s like, boom, she gets hit with an instant family. Her dad is an absolute jerk though, hiding in this “holier than thou” attitude but he’s controlling and terrible. He makes me so angry! He’s borderline abusive under the guise of being a “good strict parent” and will definitely have you raging. He hasn’t even met Tiffany for 5 minutes before he’s throwing rules at her and Tiffany is so not having this. My levels of frustration were extremely high and I will say trigger warning for abuse to an autistic toddler under the guise of disciplining her. It was pretty awful but just there to underline how poisonous it can be when you don’t listen or care.
However there is intense levels of character development, and I was really impressed with how it was all handled by the end!
Can I say how much I loved Tiffany!? She has anxiety and OCD and I just so felt for her, and also thought the mental health was written excellently and respectfully. There’s so much heart on every page! Tiffany just bursts off the page with her love of rock ‘n’ roll (she also plays guitar) and her cleverness, complexities, and also wants and wishes. She’s grieving but also trying to make it work with this family that horrifies her a lot. But she also kind of likes her new sisters! Wants a nice dad! She doesn’t get crushed and crumpled by the superstrictness, but it definitely torments her the entire time.
It also discusses religion and beliefs very deeply. There’s a lot of discussion about Jehovah’s Witnesses and also the kind of belief system where you are your own god. Books are about expanding your horizons, so it was interesting.
The writing absolutely kept me captivated! Perfect pacing and I never wanted to look away. Plus it just kept the emotional tension up so high. I felt engaged the whole time.
TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW is definitely the kind of contemporary that’s going to stay with you! It’s an emotional explosion, always interesting, and with characters you want to know more about!
Now we all know they say “don’t judge a book by its cover”…but honestly, who doesn’t!? Plus covers tend to give us a great idea of what the book is about, which is helpful if you’re looking for a swashbuckling pirate adventure or a cute fluffy romance with, preferably, plenty of ice cream and cuteness. So today we’re going to amiably judge some covers on YA books that feature knives and swords! It’s very popular and honestly makes for a stunning visual. And will these books deliver the tales of adventure and war that we’re longing for?! One must just read them all and find out. (Excellent life plan. Do please go for it.)
This is a fantastic YA staple, really, as it just celebrated it’s 10th anniversary! It’s a sci-fi story starring a boy who can’t kill and a girl not from this planet. It’s one of those heartbreaking ones so the knife is A+ of a visual for how your feels are going to be stabbed. I also love how it features a world where all your thoughts can be heard! Talk about freeeaky.
This is a very brand new book with a southeast Asian setting, featuring Kyra who’s a novice of a religious group who bring justice to the clans. Their knives are actually a bit sentient and tell them things, which is fascinating! Everything goes wrong for Kyra, though, when her leader is murdered, so she steals the knife and takes off to find justice.
This just came out this May (!) which is super exciting and I can attest to how stunning a book this is! Now I realise the squid thing is holding the sword at this point, but believe me: this contains pirates and princes, sirens and sea witches. It’s a fantastic dark Little Mermaid retelling about a prince who wants to kill a siren and a siren who accidentally falls for him. Hate-to-love at its finest!
This is an epic fantasy about murderous angels and vicious queens. It’s told in two parts about two women, a hundred centuries apart, and how their lives not only connect but really rely on each other to tell the tale! A queen and an assassin! With unheard of powers and strengths.
Can’t help but mention a Cassandra Clare book in the infamous Shadowhunter world! Her latest series is a whirlwind of adventure and dark magic, featuring Emma who wants to find her parents’ murderer and Julian, sole carer of his younger siblings and desperate to keep them altogether when the Clave wants to rip them apart. As they dig into the murder mystery though, things get out of hand very fast with secrets coming out that no one should ever know. Also features a swoon-worthy forbidden romance!
A purely fantastic tale of a witch’s monster, called a “Heartless”, who has no choice but to serve her mistress. Zera longs for her freedom and will do anything to get it, even when her mistress sends her to kill the crown prince and take his heart, in order to control the upcoming war. Zera, part monster with a hunger for raw organs, has no qualms doing this…until she accidentally might be falling for the prince. It’s a fairy tale gone wrong and deliciously captivating!
Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro is an incredibly powerful and neededbook. It’s also so completely applicable for 2018, the kind of book everyone needs to read because these things are happening right now. And I think this book does an excellent job at bringing awareness to #BlackLivesMatter but also encouraging kids who are going through this. It’s also so well written with amazing characters and it just sucks you right in so you’re there, experiencing this horribly unfair and frightening world of police brutality and racism…and also strong friendships and love.
This is Moss’ story, about how his father was murdered by a police officer and Moss has had to live with the anxiety, the grief, and the life-changing fear that comes with that. There was no justice for his father and Moss is just struggling to stay afloat while he battles terrible panic attacks and also a school that’s (quite literally) falling apart around him due to terrible funding. When Moss and his friends decided to do something about their school — starting with a peaceful walk-out protest — things escalate wildly. The kids get hit with unspeakable brutality, like random and rough locker and body searches + a horrible metal detector + and police stalking on campus to intimidate them in the halls. It’s hard enough to get up in the morning let alone fight this, but Moss can’t sit back this time. And even when things turn nightmarish with friends and loved ones getting brutalised, Moss puts his anger to use and fights.
Moss was such an amazing narrator! It’s written from a super personal 3rd person perspective and you really get into Moss’ head for his journey. He starts off this super anxious kid with panic attacks and he shuts down if he sees a cop. He can’t imagine a life where he won’t be ruined like this, but he also has a super supportive mum and friends. He also meets a super-cute-boy on the subway who he might have some serious feelings for. If he can trust himself to express them. But things are spiralling at school and you just ache for Moss as he watches his friends’ brutalised and knows that he could very well be next.
Also just seeing the school falling apart around them was so devastating. These kids just want to learn and do their best, but how do they stand a chance when their textbooks are photocopied and colleges overlook them instantly for submissions. And the police violence on campus was insane and mindblowing.
This book is about horrible things happening to good people and it will make your heart pound with how unfair it is.
I particularly enjoyed the close-knit relationships this book featured! Moss and his mum are so so close! It’s the sweetest thing ever, plus she supports him through his anxiety and has no qualms at all about him being gay. She supports him and Javier immediately (and absolutely teases him too, like good family should when their son catches a cutie’s eye). Moss also has a huge expanse of friends at school, and I loved the diversity of their group. There was representation from nonbinary, immigrant, black and brown kids, and also disabilities and queer kids.
Moss and Javier are also just too cute for words! You’ll absolutely ship them in a matter of seconds. They fit so well together and want to understand each other, not change each other. Plus Javier is a dork and Moss is super anxious and this is the quality kind of couple you want to read about.
It doesn’t hold back from the heartbreak either. Because this book is nothing if not showing you the non-sugar-coated version of parts of the world people often want to overlook. It does balance uplifting hope with devastation and heartbreak, though, but ohhhh if my heart wasn’t in a puddle half the time.
Don’t miss Anger Is A Gift, alright!? It’s an excellently written masterpiece that should sit right alongside books like The Hate U Give and Dear Martin! I’m glad books like this exist and hope it is another spark that will help change the world.
Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles is such a heart-wrenching (and important) read. It definitely hits hard and it’s such a vital book for everyone to be reading, especially in this day and age, where police brutality and racism are huge topics in the USA. It’s the type of story that needs to be told again and again until the world changes. Possibly stock up on some tissues and chocolate before you start though.
The story follows Marvin Johnson, who’s brother Tyler goes missing after a fateful party that neither of them would usually attend. Marvin is ruined with worry for his brother, who’d been pulling away in the weeks earlier and not sharing everything with his twin like he used to. And when the cops aren’t interested in helping much, Marvin takes the search into his own hands. With police brutality being a terrifying theme in his life, Marvin fears for the worst…and then a video is leaked online showing his brother being murdered by a cop. Tyler isn’t missing: he’s dead. And no one cares about justice unless Marvin fights tooth and nail for it.
The book focuses on police brutality, but it also delves into the “everyday” parts of racism in the USA. I cannot comprehend how it would be to live like these black teens have to live. When Marvin is going to a protest his mother literally says don’t have anything in your pockets, not even a phone, so he can’t be mistaken for being armed. And another time, Marvin and his friends are nearly arrested for buying food at a store, just because they’re black and the clerk thought they might shoplift. Being Australian, this is mind-boggling to me and a good eye-opener for what life is like for other people. I felt the devastation on every page of this book about kids who don’t deserve this blatant racism. You can really feel the author’s heart and emotions in the writing.
It does mix hope with the sadness though. I’m glad that’s in there. I can imagine this book will be so important to so many, and it’s important that it has room to cry and be angry and be encouraged. It also features a boy, Marvin, who is not afraid to cry and will be emotional…and that’s such a good dialogue to open up in YA too!
The story features so many other great things! There’s a cast of interesting and complex characters, including Marvin’s friends and a girl he meets, Faith, who helps him try to find Tyler and sticks with him when things grow dark. Marvin is also trying to get into a good college while all this is happening, and there’s a lot of talk about mental health and grief and learning to move through sadness and not lay down and give up.
Tyler Johnson Was Here is definitely the book that will leave you thinking, which is exactly what books are supposed to do. Start discussions and spark fires in people! This is a book with a tumultuous and heartbreaking journey, told in a raw and emotional voice.
An exciting thing about books is that they can cover such a variety of lengths of times! Some take place over years. Others weeks. And still, the very special and few others, just a mere days or hours. It takes talent to tell a whole story that fits into a 24 hour period, so today I want to list some Young Adult books that were written about one-day-in-the-life-of their respective protagonists!
I HAVE LOST MY WAY BY GAYLE FORMAN
This is a brand new Forman book (out just this month!) and it’s set over one day in New York City. It covers 3 protagonists who all feel like their lives are folding in and how they meet and how they support each other. Freya has just lost her voice and this is super bad news for an upcoming rising star singer. Harun is hiding the fact that he’s gay from his conservative Muslim family and he’s just broken his boyfriend’s heart. Nathaniel has been neglected all his life by unfulfilling parents and now he’s taking a last journey into the city to carry out a plan that will change him forever. The three have a fateful meeting (aka Freya falls on top of Nathaniel and knocks him out) and they set out across the city together for one fateful day of change.
LONG WAY DOWN BY JASON REYNOLDS
This one doesn’t just take place in one day, it actually takes place over one elevator ride downstairs! How incredible is that right?! It seems mind-bending that it could actually work, but trust me it really does! The story follows Will whose brother has just been shot and he’s taken his brother’s gun to go get revenge. But as he rides the elevator down, ghosts of his past enter and share their stories. All the people who get on the elevator have been affected by gun violence and the more they talk to Will, the more he realises this hate cycle is absolutely not going to fix anything. This book is in prose and it’s heartwrenching. An absolute must read by an acclaimed author!
SAM AND ILSA’S LAST HURRAH
This story takes place over one evening where Sam and Ilsa host a “last” dinner party to celebrate the finishing of school and how their lives are about to diverge and change forever. They’ve always hosted really interesting dinner parties (inspired by their eclectic grandma) and each invites three people and doesn’t tell the other who’s coming. Adds a lot of spice. However for this fated party, the mix of people soooo do not mesh. Sam’s ex is there as well as his new crush, a random boy he met on the subway. Ilsa’s snarky best friend comes to cause havoc and a boy Ilsa’s planning to set Sam up with…but who turns out to only speak through a sock puppet!? As lasagna fails and there are black outs and bitter secrets leaked…the twins learn a lot about each other and maybe to stop trying to meddle in each other’s wants and dreams. It’s co-written by the famed David Leviathan and also Rachel Cohn, the same duo that brought us Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares!
When My Heart Joins The Thousand by A.J. Steiger was a fantastically heartfelt story of loneliness, love, finding your place alone in the world, and autism. It has a meandering pace, a slow unfolding of Alvie’s life as an emancipated 17-year-old just trying to get through life and not make any waves. She’s haunted by her suppressed past and isolated due to her PTSD and low self-worth. She also has autism and the representation of a girl on the spectrum, with accuracy and respect to her portrayal, was so wonderful! I would definitely recommend this if you want to read a super good book that includes autism.
The story basically begins with Alvie going about her daily routine of working at the zoo, getting through tedious visits with her social worker, and just trying to survive. But barely. She’s deeply unhappy but refuses to admit it. What she doesn’t want, though, is to fail in living independently and risk her temporary freedom being revoked and then being sent to a group-home. She just has to make it to 18 or get early emancipation and then she’s free. Often she feels as trapped as the animals she works with at the zoo, particularly her favourite one-winged-hawk, Chance. But then her evening routine is interrupted by seeing a boy with a cane throw his phone and have a breakdown in the park and she tentatively returns it. Midnight e-chat conversations begin. Alvie’s scared her anxiety and autism will ruin this friendship before it starts, but what if she took the risk and made friends with this boy who’s so fragile and breakable?
I’d definitely consider this one upper-YA as it focuses more on teens out-of-home. Alvie is 17 and Stanely is 19 and in college (when he’s not in hospital because of his disability). I also totally cheer for good disability rep in books because it’s very hard to find.
The plot is a quiet one. We spend a lot of time getting lost in Alvie’s mind and world, and it’s a quiet and introspective one while she sorts through her feelings and wants and figures out how to just survive. She’s very closed off, but she’s been through such a massive trauma, and the book unveils her backstory very slowly.
The book also deals with the sadder side of autism, like the ableist views of society and how autistic individuals (especially girls) are often ignored or misdiagnosed and mistreated. There’s heartbreaking lines where Alvie, only a little girl at the time, gets told by her mother that “I know there’s a real you locked in there somewhere”…which is one of the cruelest thing an autistic individual can hear. Alvie constantly feels rejected and the need to hide her autism…until Stanley. And I just loved Alvie’s depiction of life as a girl on the spectrum! It was accurate, respectful, and full of ups and downs. Alvie is woeful at social interaction (she doesn’t really care though) and an absolute master at caring for animals. Her love and passion and feelings, expressed differently to the average person, were beautiful on every page.
Alvie and Stanley’s relationship was amazing too! They start off rushing into it, but then back off and learn about each other too. Stanley is a messy character, all in pieces just like Alvie is. He has depression because of his disability where his bones break so very easily. He’s often in a wheelchair, and if not, he uses a cane. He’s an absolute sweetheart, but also crushed with so much self-loathing due to his past as well. I love how Alvie and Stanley weren’t here to “fix” each other, but rather build each other back up.
The book also majorly references Watership Down…which I confess I don’t know! But it didn’t hinder my enjoyment!
When My Heart Joins the Thousand is one you definitely don’t want to miss. It’s a fantastic glimpse into the life of an autistic girl set against the backdrop of a quiet plot about growing up and learning to care about people. It’s full of emotional roller-coaster moments, with squishy warm parts and tragic icy devastation. I loved this journey with Alvie and Stanley!
Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann is the kind of adorable and cute book you need to brighten your life. I’ll go ahead and call it the CUTEST thing, proved by the fact that the protagonist, Alice, actually rates things on a cute scale! I mean it doesn’t get better than that. (Also it could be accused of being adorkable too.) It’s all about growing up and striking out on your own in those last years of being a teen while you tackle college. It’s about coming-out and discovery and not being ashamed of who you are. So wholesome and heart-filling!
The story follows Alice who’s in college and completely unsure what to do with her life. For more than one reason. For starters, she’s asexual and her ex-girlfriend just dumped her with accusations that Alice couldn’t really feel love. (Alice is so enraged at this lie.) And also Alice is under huge pressure from her parents to be a lawyer but…she really doesn’t want that. Then to top off the stress, her best friends are getting married and slowly forgetting about her and she just met this super-cute-boy at the library but how can she tell him her feelings?! After what her ex said, isn’t it better if Alice doesn’t let anyone know she’s asexual and just skips the pain of rejection?
I love how the book deeply tackled the topic of asexuality, which is hugely underrepresented in media. Alice doesn’t want sex, but she does love romance — the cute and cliche kind too! She wants cuddles and roses and romantic walks and kisses, but she knows for most people that isn’t enough. Her asexuality is something she’s hiding, something she has to own. I think the book did a good job of discussing the fears and complications of coming out and it also dismantled a lot of horrible stereotypes and untruths people have about asexuality meaning you have no interest in romance. For some people that might be true, but it wasn’t for Alice.
The romance is definitely a huge feature in the book! Alice meets Takumi while working at the library and her cute-meter immediately explodes. She’s scared to take it past friendship though, but these two (!!) you will absolutely root for their slowburn romance. Yes, they start off with insta-attraction and sparks, but the actual growth of their relationship is lovely and slow. Takumi himself is a total gift to this universe with how sweet and kind he is. He’s practically perfect and he fits so well with Alice…except for the part where they don’t tell each other the full truths all the time.
Seeing the world from Alice’s perspective was an adorable cuteness explosion. She is such a real and relatable character. She loves Pinterest and watching TV shows, she says “squee” and mentions tumblr. Her anxiety has her blurt out regrettable things and she believes food will cure all heartache. There is literally ONLY things to love about her.
There’s also a huge emphasis on friendship. I’m all heart eyes for friendship too, and the bond of Alice + her two BFF’s, Feenie and Ryan, will make your heart sing. too. Although there is strife amongst these three as Feenie and Ryan are preparing to marry and Alice feels pushed out. But when Alice starts spending extra time with Takumi…Feenie and Ryan feel she’s shutting them down. Their friendships are complex and intricately woven and the dynamics just leap off the page and make you wish you could watch a TV series with them and eat Chinese late at night.
The plot itself is pretty quiet and calm. It’s not a high-racing heart-pounding book…and it’s quite mellow and focuses solely on the characters. I loved reading the day-to-day things and just being truly Alice for 300 pages.
Let’s Talk About Love is the cute-fest you’ve been waiting for. It’s light and fluffy, but still talks about relatable and more serious topics, like pleasing your family, heavy expectations, and being true to yourself.
Being a bookworm, I have a huge appreciation for art. After all, books are definitely a heartfelt kind of art! But I also do enjoy the physical drawing, painting, and textile kind of artistry, which is why books featuring artists are some of my favourites. Also probably because my drawing looks like a drunk chicken scratching lines with a teaspoon. But fine. I will come to books for my art fix.
THE DANGEROUS ART OF BLENDING IN BY ANGELO SURMELIS
This is a recent new favourite of mine and features a closeted Greek boy just trying to make his way in the world and avoid confrontation with his terrible abusive mother. He’s torn between wanting to please her, to be loved, and to be true to himself and not ashamed of being gay.
He uses art as an escape from his torturous life and I loved how his notebooks were so precious to him. They were truly his favourite belongings and if he wanted you to know his heart, he’d let you see his work. Such a beautiful reminder of how an artist is part of their art.
IT LOOKS LIKE THIS BY RAFI MITTLEFEHLDT
This is also about a closeted boy who’s 14 and only just discovering his attraction to boys. Mike is honestly one of the most soft and sweet people, but his life is about being quiet and not causing waves in his uber-religious family. After a move from his childhood home, he has to fit into a new school…something he dreads until he meets Sean, a basketball star who takes a quiet interest in Mike. They end up working on a French project together and sparks begin. But it definitely doesn’t go down well with either family. Mike also loves to draw and the cover is actually a nod to the sunset he draws as his favourite memory with Sean.
YOU’RE WELCOME UNIVERSE BY WHITNEY GARDNER
This is a slightly different look at the traditional artist because…hello to graffiti art! The book is about Julia, who’s super passionate about using her voice through graffiti. She’s also deaf and struggling in a new school where people treat her differently because of her disability. Since graffiti is one of her only releases in a stressful situation, she really takes pride in what she does: until someone else starts “fixing” her work. How infuriating can you get?! She has to track down the vandal to her vandalism before it turns into graffiti war.
STARFISH BY AKEMI DAWN BOWEN
This is one of my absolute favourite contemporaries, which deals with abuse and art and heartbreak. Honestly, it’ll make your feels ache for what Kiko has to go through. Her parents have divorced and her dad is off with his “new family” while Kiko is left with two brothers who ignore her and a mother who systematically emotionally abuses her. Kiko is also biracial and Japanese, and her mother is white, and the constant barbs and disgust at Kiko’s Japanese side from her own mother is really detrimental to Kiko’s life. She’s super anxious and constantly feels abandoned. Her art is her pride and joy and all she wants is to get into an amazing art school, escape, and truly live. But then her childhood sweetheart, Jamie, returns home and possibly offers Kiko a way out.
This one is so heartfelt and perfect! The art is on every page and there are snippets of Kiko’s art described before each chapter.
The story is about Georgina Fernweh who’s on the cusp of leaving her home island to start college…and this will be the first time she’s ever left. Not to mention she’s from a family where magic is real and is passed down through the generations. (There may be tales of grandmas who’ve turned into birds, aunts who control fire, and potion makers and ones that fly.) Her own twin sister, Mary, floats, and her mother does magical things on full moons that can make anything happen. Unfortunately Georgie is 100% unmagical and her last summer on the island, By-the-Sea, is turning into a bittersweet farewell because: she has met Prue, the cutest girl, but also a tragedy has struck the island and everything threatens to collapse unless Georgie can figure it out.
On the island of By-the-sea you could always smell two things: salt and magic.
This one is slightly more magicy than the others Leno has written, with a family living on an island who actually do downright witchy things like float and turn into birds and make potions. But all in such a chill way that you kind of can look at it without looking at it. Or that’s what the other islanders do. I absolutely loved the world. And it was all The Scorpio Races vibes mixed with every Anna-Marie McLemore and I just couldn’t put it down. Whimsical but also with a really hard-hitting underlying story to make your face kind of water.
I loved the twins, Georgie (our narrator) and Mary, who are polar opposites but deeply supportive of each other. Their bond goes through the wringer, but it’s the kind of sibling story that is equal parts relatable and fantastic to read.
And Georgie and Prue were the cutest thing. Prue is visiting the island with her birdwatching brother and Georgie (obviously) lives there and her family runs the inn. But Georgie pretends to be chill at first but ohhh the crush is just THE CUTEST. It was so soft and sweet and I just loved them and how their friendship and feelings developed. Ah! I also loved how there were solid female friendships in the background and the hint of all things mystical and maybe even sinister lurking in the shadows.
And it does have a pretty darker undertone at the end. Which I thought was addressed and handled so well.
Basically Summer of Salt will NOT disappoint! I was totally swept up in the magic of this, and the aesthetic of the quaint and weird island, and people shedding feathers and eating cake and mysteries threatening to tear their world apart. SO GOOD.
Look out for Summer of Salt coming June 5th, 2018! Preorder now!
A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen is an entirely adorable story that mixes fluff and angst until you have a book you absolutely can’t put down. I really appreciated how it hit some hard topics too, and gave me a lot to think about, in between a slow burn romance, lots of smiles, and some super cute moments to melt into. I also was absolutely keen to read this one because it features a character with Tourette’s Syndrome, and disabilities definitely need to be more prominent in YA! There is no disappointment to be had here at all.
The story follows Spencer from age 13 to 19 and beings the day he sees Hope move in next door. She’s something special (magical!) and he’s sort of half in love with her from the moment he sees her. But life isn’t a Disney film and things don’t quite go like they have in his head. But she’s not scared off by his Tourette’s and she loves the same things he does, like hiking and climbing and planning wild adventures around the world. But as Spencer and Hope grow up, things aren’t super clear cut anymore and complications arise: like older brothers swooping in to woe a girl you like, or terrible tragedies, or medication that screws you around, or trying to fit in to a world that has no interest in catering for you. Spencer draws taxonomies to try and figure everything out, but sometimes things don’t fit in boxes, do they?
I particularly loved how Tourette’s Syndrome and disabilities were handled in this book! Spencer is such a winning and relatable character, and I really loved reading about his highs and lows as he dealt with his disability. The book does discuss medication and treatments too, the good and the bad of it. Sometimes Spencer’s tics were so bad they physically hurt him, but other times his neurodiversity was a huge plus for his wrestling. And it was also refreshing and glorious that this book gives us a character with a disability where the focus of the story isn’t just Tourette’s and it never turns into Spencer’s tragedy. Neurodiverse kids deserve fluffy amazing books too, and I’m so glad this exists.
It also takes place over 7 years. Spencer starts off as a gawky 13 year old, desperate to impress Hope who just moved in next door while she has heart eyes for his older brother. It gives about 3 or so chapters to each year and fills the book with super great formatting, like some texts, letters, and lots of taxonomies drawn by Spencer. It unwinds Spencer and Hope’s relationship, which is never simple and sometimes poisonous, and it takes you on “will they, won’t they” roller coaster ride.
Spencer’s narration was absolutely the best. He’s simultaneously dorky and nerdy but a little bit of a jock with his foray into wrestling (which he’s super good at). As the book takes us through the years, we watch him grow up and his voice on the page matures and changes too to reflect this. It’s so well written. The message of “being different sometimes sucks, but it is also cool when you find your people and can just find a place to fit into the world in your own way” was so lovingly and respectfully woven through the pages. It just makes your heart feel full to read.
A Taxonomy of Love is definitely going on your to-be-read list. It’s a lovely story, but also hits some tough subjects like grief, discrimination, and ableism, and it does everything so well. It’s about messy people who make mistakes and second (or third or fourth) chances. Plus it’s an addictive and fun read. What more could you want?!
SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE by Lindsay Champion was an absolute excellent and heart shredding book. All I knew going in was it’s about music, and being a musician who writes about music and also spent my entire teenagerdom listening to Beethoven on repeat…oh hello there book. You are mine. It absolutely didn’t disappoint and I was so teary at the end. It balanced emotion and complex characters and had such tight pacing that I couldn’t stop reading. I could feel myself speeding up with the book, like a classical piece just going faster and faster, until the string snaps at the end.
The story follows two teens, Ben and Dominique, who meet at a Carnegie Hall concert and a spark is lit. They both have their passions, music and dancing respectively, but connecting proves difficult as they go their separate ways without knowing even each other’s names. But finally they find each other again and Dom spins some impressive lies, thinking famous-music-prodigy-Ben won’t like her if he knows she’s super poor and works at her mum’s laundromat. And Ben’s obsessive need to conquer a Beethoven piece is breaking him into pieces, as much as he denies it. Their lives tangle and splinter as secrets and obsessions collide.
It’s about music and mental illness and wanting more. I think the music aspect was done nicely and felt authentic enough even though the author wasn’t a musician. I loved the parts where Ben was so into his music that nothing else mattered, because I really felt THERE with him. Even though I also ached for how unhealthy his obsession was and wanting someone to help him.
It’s dual narrated by Ben and Dominique. Ben is a rich musical prodigy and Dom is super poor and watching her mum struggle to run a laundromat and has had to give up her dream of being a dancer due to money. (She’s also half Ecuadorian.) Dom and Ben meet at a concert and then — SPARKS. Their get-together-story was super cute and I loved how they had to find each other with no information. It wasn’t instalove at all, but insta-connection, and it was perfectly done. They were also both equally winning, although Ben was a bit conceited (but there are reasons for that) and I rooted for Dom to have a better life and for Ben and her to work out.
I also loved the writing! It had a lot of cute and fun dialogue, some banter, some excellent side-characters (Cass was great and I hope he has a wonderful life too!) and how real it all felt. The details made the settings leap off the page. And every character felt real and complex, even if they weren’t mentioned very often.
Honestly SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE is amazing and I totally loved the combination of music and #meetcutes and two teens who just want more from their life. I’m just sitting here with heart eyes. It’s definitely the kind of story that is quick to read but stays with you long after you finish the last page.
Boomerang by Helene Dunbar was one of those beautifully written books that sort of creeps up on you. I can’t even stop thinking about it! It was actually also quite stressful, because there’s lots of complicated relationships going on here and you can’t help but panic a little hoping it all works out. It’s about messy kids and messy feelings and the heartfelt angst of brokenness. Definitely a book I’d recommend in a heartbeat!
The story is about Sean Woodhouse who’s returning home after 5 years of being “kidnapped”. Except he wasn’t kidnapped…he ran away from a neglectful mum and found an old loving couple who took him in and kept him safe. He fell in love with the boy nextdoor and he liked his new life. But something happens and Sean realises he has to go home. He’s #1 goal is to see if he can get use of his college fund and then leave again, but things get messy as his mother has changed and is a good person now and his whole town treats him like this poor rescued child. He’s torn between staying and going. Staying may be the “right” thing to do, but there will be brutally heartbreaking consequences if he doesn’t go.
The tension is the top thing I’ll rave about for this one! It had me so hooked I couldn’t do anything but keep reading. You just desperately want to know if Sean will stay or go, and as things escalate with the boy he left behind, Trip, who has a terrible life and needs Sean to come back…you just don’t know what the right choice will be.
I also liked that it was this “missing child” story, but with a twist. Admittedly I have read this twist before, but not for a while! And it was done SO well. And it was bittersweet knowing how much Sean needed to be loved, and that’s why he ran, but all the while his true family and childhood friends thought he’d been murdered. Imagine living with that?!
I also adored the love interest, Trip Marchette. He’s the boy next door and Sean’s childhood crush, but it’s complicated. It’s messy and their feelings for each other are unnamed and sometimes their relationship is downright poisonous. Trip’s abused by his uncle, but won’t leave. And Sean gets caught up in his own self-righteousness of not understanding the situation. I got hair-tearingly frustrated at BOTH of them. But madly wanted it to work out.
There is a little love triangle, which I found a huge drawback, except that it was really well written! Sean, back at home now, meets Emery who is absolutely lovely and dynamic and complex. It was hard to be mad at her for stealing Sean’s attention, when she was a fantastic person! It added another layer of tension to the story too, wondering if their relationship would unfold or if Sean wouldn’t lose focus of what he came home to do.
I also appreciated the diversity! There’s no labels, but most of the characters would probably identify as queer, plus Trip has dyslexia and it was portrayed so well.
Boomerang is seriously the kind of book you can’t put down! It’s complex and really unpacks thoughts about consequences and actions, what love means, and the difference between selflessness and selfishness. The pacing will keep you glued to the page and the characters will make and break your heart.
Stalking Jack The Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco was a fabulous story full of science and cadavers and a spot o’ tea, which is such a nice compilation. I just need a moment to shout out to the finale where Audrey Rose tries to calm everyone down by getting them all to have tea…and she is the only sensible person around. But that aside! It was just epic to see a book centring around the infamous murderer, Jack the Ripper, and also covering topics of feminism and female scientists back in an era where that wasn’t acceptable. Audrey Rose is a fantastic heroine!
The story follows Audrey Rose who is desperate to become a forensic doctor, dissecting corpses to ascertain the cause of death. She wants to solve crimes and help people…but it’s unheard of for a lady of her station to even attempt it. She works (secretly) as her uncle’s student, but things get complicated when a serial killer is on the loose, attacking girls very close to home. And her uncle also has a very cocky and extremely clever new assistant, Thomas, who is as insufferable as he is distracting. The two together start unravelling the mystery while Audrey Rose’s home life falls apart around her and the killer closes in.
I really enjoyed the look at forensic doctors in the 1900s here! It was such a new thing that most police didn’t even take the job seriously and Audrey Rose’s uncle’s love of cutting up corpses was just seen as disturbing, instead of helpful to science and crime solving. The book does get a little gruesome in these parts, but you learn so much! And I loved that it wasn’t afraid to share details of how injuries can tell the story of the crime.
It’s also completely feminist, which was so refreshing. Obviously sexism is stampeding through the streets because it’s women are “too delicate” to do anything but cross-stitch. It was annoying to read, but also fascinating as Audrey . Rose dismantled those notions and kept on just being herself. I also appreciated that femininity wasn’t aligned with weakness, with Audrey Rose fully embracing makeup and pretty clothes as well as wanting to be a forensic doctor. She wants to go to medical school and wear lipstick. And why is that anyone’s business but her own?! The whole book was very refreshing!
The love interest, Thomas Cresswell, just turned out to be a sassy-mouthed gift to this world. He comes across as arrogant and vain, but he has a secretly huge crush on Audrey Rose and their antagonism turns to banter and then to something more. It was obviously bound to happen, but satisfying the whole way!
The plot is a combination of avoided tea parties, family strain, dead corpses, and a murderer running about. Which obviously doesn’t leave you much room for napping. I loved the pacing and how it felt balanced between quieter chapters and full-on exciting scenes.
Basically if you’re looking for a book about medicine and murder, look no further!Stalking Jack The Ripper is fabulously entertaining with great banter and a plot with a dark side. It also left me seriously indignant that I didn’t have book 2 on hand to start straight away. Must rectify that!
Warcross by Marie Lu is the rainbow explosion of gaming, bounty hunting, and secret identities that you’ve all been waitingfor. I’ve read a few Marie Lu books but I feel this is my new favourite! I picked it up on impulse and devoured it a day, so if that doesn’t say something, what does?!
The story follows Emika Chen, a bounty-hunter who’s absolutely broke and looking at eviction and a life of nothing since she’s been a convicted criminal. Oh joy. She lives in a world in the not-so-distant future where everyone is obsessed with this nation-wide phenomenon game called Warcross. It’s a virtual reality that you can tap into with just a pair of glasses and it changes lives and worlds. Plus it was created by a genius teenager, who also happens to be Emika’s idol. But all that is far away in her life, when just surviving day-to-day equals eating packaged noodles and hunting for criminals the cops can’t quite catch…except that all changes when Emika accidentally hacks into Warcross and draws the attention of the billionaire genius creator himself: Hideo Tanaka.
Hideo ends up hiring her to catch a rogue player in his virtual reality Warcross game, and she travels to Japan to compete in the championships. But the things she uncovers while poking about behind-the-scenes of the company and game…well, wow. That’s not what she expected.
The settings and the descriptions were really the stand-out highlights for this book for me! For starters, I loved getting to “see” Japan, and it was made a little more incredible by the sci-fi elements thrown in. When wearing the Warcross glasses, you can see another reality on top of this one, so it could just make everything a bit more surreal and special. Emika goes from being dirt poor to having anything she could want while working for Hideo and those rags-to-riches stories are always captivating.
Plus of course we know there’s going to be a little something between Emika and Hideo. He’s been her idol forever, but now she’s met him, she can see the stressed teen side that he has to hide from the media. His life isn’t as golden as it seems and I loved these dimensions of Hideo that we got to find out! The romance is also sweet and light and doesn’t draw away from Emika’s struggle to find an attacker hidden inside a computer game while not giving herself away.
However the gaming aspect didn’t really light up my world...which, I mean, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the book?! But I’m not a gamer! And I also struggled to believe that, in this future, 90% of the world would be playing a virtual reality game…I feel like there’d be more people who wouldn’t be interested in it? But maybe that’s just me who’s always had my nose in a book instead of gaming! Still I think this’ll really excite gamer-bookworms.
Emika was also a hopeless do-gooder with a badass side and rainbow dyed hair. I mean how awesome is that all together?! She was definitely the smart and capable heroine you want to root for, and with Hideo’s complex and interesting backstory and actions, the two make a plot you don’t want to look away from.
Basically Warcross is the kind of book that should definitely be on your radar! It’s clever and fast-paced, with a futuristic Tokyo of gorgeous colours, technology and the dark side that comes with a world that’s mostly online.
The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis was equal parts heartbreaking, hopeful, and brutal. I knew it was going to be an emotional one from the start, but it really has you feeling all of the things from the very first page. It’s so heartfelt that I couldn’t even put it down while I watched Evan’s complicated and ruined life unfold. This isn’t easy or lighthearted YA, but it’s so so needful. It’s full of art and abuse and the agony of hiding your true self from the world after people who should love you prove they don’t. Get yourself some chocolate before reading this, trust me.
The story centres around Evan Panos: son of Greek parents, artist, anxious and shy nerd, and very gay. Which is completely unacceptable to his family. He can’t even show them his art, let alone tell them he likes boys, and his life is a maze of trying to avoid confrontation with his abusive mother and his father who won’t step in. It’s all Evan can do to stay afloat, even though the boy he’s always loved could help him. Or ruin him if things got out. Either Evan loses the truest and best parts of himself in an effort to appease his terrible mother, or he finds a way to fight back.
The domestic violence parts are so heartbreaking, but very well written. Evan’s mother engages in a lot of psychological abuse too, leaving Evan feeling worthless as she calls him “wicked and sinful” for doing anything from not being the perfect Greek son, to doing art, to having his hair wrong. He truly does believe he’s unworthy and ugly and evil…until he gets a friend who refuses to let Evan think like that. Which I think is really important! The book steered away from any “love cures and saves” tropes, but it did underline the importance of being told again and again that you are worth something and that’s crucial for Evan believing in himself enough to fight back.
Evan is honestly the sweetest boy too. He’s an artist, but has a very low opinion of his work, and he always draws back from attention. But he’s just so unfailingly sweet and kind and the way he lights up when people are nice to him is beyond heartbreaking. I told you. Prepare to have your feels ruined. Also it’s really important that the book also showed the effects of a lifetime of abuse for Evan. He’s anxious and depressed and has PTSD and the book really highlights those aspects.
Evan’s relationship with Henry is also super sweet. Slow at first! And then tumbling into something faster. I do wish Henry had just had a little more deepness as a character, because we’re introduced to him as Evan’s childhood BFF, so they have history and we don’t “learn” as much about Henry as I’d have liked. But they were supportive and great together. Bless.
Also I appreciated the delving into Greek culture. The author is Greek and you can really tell as the writing covers Greek food and religion and family dynamics.
The pacing isn’t super fast, but in a good way! You can get see Evan’s life and it makes you feel like you’re in the story — from visiting his school to getting donuts with his dad, to the heart-in-the-mouth feeling of watching Evan try to avoid a run in with his unstable and horrible mother.
Basically The Dangerous Art of Blending In is an excellent story you really need to get your clammy paws on. It takes a very personal and #ownvoices look at what it’s like to be a closeted gay Greek teenager and it’s full of brittle agony and fragile hope.
Everless by Sara Holland is a gorgeous fantasy where time is, literally, money. And you know what really captivated me?! The plot twists! Holy wow they did not stop coming and I was constantly surprised, which is exactly what I want from a novel. The imagination behind this book is superb and I will definitely keep my eye on this author in the future!
The story centres around Jules Ember, who lives in Sempera where you can draw blood and turn it into coins that count as money. Ergo the rich can live forever and the poor die so young. (It’s such a fascinating world!) Jules father is one of the unlucky ones caught deep in debt and poverty, his life nearly drained just trying to stay alive, so Jules decides to go work in the Everless estate, which is run by the infamous and filthy rich Gerling family. Fun part? She used to work there as a child but she and her father were forced to run away after an accident no one can know about. But if Jules goes back, hopefully no one will recognise her and she can earn enough to keep her father alive. But Jules ends up discovering her family is more entwined with the Gerlings than she knew, plus she stumbles over her childhood crush…now betrothed to a princess. But even putting her feelings aside, Jules knows there’s more to herself, this princess, and the gnarly old queen then meets the eye. And she’s running out of time to find out why.
I totally loved the premise, with time-turning-to-money! It’s clever (although I have seen it in the movie In Time) and interesting to read about people who can measure their life spans and what they choose to do with that information. I also loved how the world building was really caught up around this, with lots of the language translating to time-references, and society functioning more on blood coins. It was super impressive how beautifully the world was crafted.
Jules was a very admirable heroine. She wasn’t my favourite person ever just because she was very very GOOD. But I still loved her curious streak and how she wouldn’t let other people tell her “what was best”. Jules took charge of her own fate and THAT is what I love to read about in YA!
The plot twists at the end just came so thick and fast. The villain reveals were so very good. It’s brimming with morally grey characters and mind twisters and I love ending a book feeling betrayed and elated at being successfully tricked!
It actually had a marvellous focus on female friendship too. Which is something that I’m sorely in need of. Jules befriends a ton of the other servants at Everless, and ends up working for the queen-to-be, who treats her so well and they actually end up being epic friends, despite the class difference. Seeing complex females on every page just made my day.
The romance is very very slight, too, in case you enjoy books that focus on mysteries over romance. I think it was well done, but Jules was not here to be distracted by a boy. (Go her.) Her childhood sweetheart was charismatic but clueless and Jules was also shadowed by his older brother, Liam, who her father’s always told her to steer clear of. And Jules has an excellent reason to hate him, as you’ll find out.
Basically Everless is definitely the fantasy you don’t want to let slip through your fingers! It’s built on an interesting and wonderfully crafted world and full of characters you’ll definitely root for. Some of the tropes are a little overdone in there, but it still brings epicness to the table.
Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu is an intensely brutal story about the aftermath of being a kidnapping victim. This is not a light read by any means, but I appreciated the book tackling the topic with care and respect and aimed at a Young Adult audience. Epically done. And it is absolutely and definitely here to make your heart bleed a little. It also felt really true to teen voices and experiences and I was super impressed by that.
The story follows two narrators, Caroline and Ethan, and how their lives are accidentally entwined over a kidnapping. Ethan was stolen when he was just a little boy and then years latter, Caroline’s autistic little brother Dylan was taken as well. But it didn’t last long and both boys were rescued soon after. Yet Dylan is still completely traumatised and Ethan has years of abuse to work through. He and Caroline only meet because of their connection to Dylan…but something sparks between them. Caroline wants to know exactly what happened to Dylan and Ethan would love a friend who doesn’t treat him differently. They start playing music together as the look for healing and answers…or revenge.
It really delves into a lot of psychological aspects of trauma and recovery. I totally appreciated how it explored how the mind will work and respond to these things, with selective amnesia for instance. It made the book seem extremely real and the writing was perfect around it. We only get the barest few flashbacks of the time Ethan spent kidnapped, which packs a serious emotional punch. (And also keeps the book non-graphic, which I understand since it’s geared at a teen audience.)
The storyline focuses mostly on characters than actual plot. Ethan is extremely smothered by his newly-reunited loving family and he’s absolutely chaffing at it, but also feels so guilty for it. He wants to find out what normal means, but he has no idea how to even start. He feels so deeply broken by what happened to him too. The story was slow as they went to and from therapy sessions and Ethan worked at a froyo place, and Carolin and Ethan built a tentative friendship around playing music in the garage. But the emotional layer is what you’re here for.
It is dual narrated by both Ethan and Caroline. They both had fantastic and very different voices which was amazing! Caroline’s so complex and kind of the “bad girl” because her home life is pits. But she is secretly sweet and caring and the absolute loveliest to her little brother. She’s definitely the “bad girl with a heart of gold” trope and I couldn’t get enough. Ethan is completely sad and tragic and I ached for him and his conflicted emotions and feelings. He’s extremely traumatised and his character development is amazing, but painful. Caroline’s little brother, Dylan, doesn’t get as much page time but I loved that they represented his autism really well (although unfortunately there were undercurrents about calling Dylan “broken” because of his autism that was completely unnecessary.) I loved how fiercely Carolyn loved and helped Dylan though!
The whole story was really addictive, kind of like watching a flaming plate spin out the sky and hit you. It’s a quite book, though, but there’s a constant undertone of sick dread that makes you desperate to know how these characters end up. I also loved the focus on friendship instead of romance, because wow, these characters all needed to heal.
Afterward was definitely an amazing, but quiet book. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking and realistic which made for a deeply amazing story, even with the horror of what happened to these kids.
The Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson is such a unique book and I couldn’t stop readingit! I want to say “couldn’t put it down” but I actually read the audiobook, and I thoroughly recommend that too because the narration was awesome. But it was so addictive because it spun so many questions with a hint of a sci-fi flavour. The whole time I had no idea if things were real or not and the book crafted and handled the story so well!
The story is centred around Ozzie who believes the universe is shrinking after his boyfriend disappeared. And not “ran away”…his boyfriend is 100% gone from the town, from everyone’s memories, and from Ozzie’s entire life. Even his journal entries are rewriting themselves to cut out Tommy’s entire existence. Obviously this is devastating for Ozzie because not only is he facing the heartbreak of his best friend and boyfriend disappearing — no one believes him. Plus he’s graduating school and stuck working on a project with the class’s most messed up kid, Calvin, who most definitely has deep problems going on. And Ozzie knows the universe is shrinking because as the galaxies disappear everyone denies they ever existed. The real question: what the heck is going on? And how can he get Tommy back?
Honestly I’ve never read a book or premise like this! I was captured from the very first page because I wanted to know if the universe was shrinking, or was Ozzie having a mental breakdown? Did Tommy ever exist or did Ozzie make him up to deal with the stress of his parents’ divorce, his brother entering the army, and his best friend Lua leaving town to carve a life without Ozzie in it. Ozzie ended up going to a ton of therapists and, since no one believed him about the universe shrinking or his missing boyfriend, I am a bit surprised he wasn’t being diagnosed as delusional. But he managed to keep his life together by a few threads while trying to figure out what was going on.
I loved the secondary character cast too!! Calvin is a complex and absolutely adorable darling, who has some seriously dark secrets about abuse in his life and is very wary to let anyone in. His and Ozzie’s friendship isn’t smooth and isn’t always healthy, but I thought it was super realistic.
I also loved Lua, Ozzie’s genderfluid BFF, who’s an amazing rock singer looking to make it big after highschool. Lua was seriously dynamic and I liked how the story showed their insecurities as well as highs.
Also shout out to how diverse it was! This is an #ownvoices book for Ozzie’s lgbt narration, and there’s also genderfluid and asexual and people of different races making up the strong supporting cast. It’s always so refreshing when books acknowledge the whole world and give minorities a voice!
There is also a lot of serious topics dealt with in this book. So don’t go in expecting a light fluffy read. It’s pretty confronting and at times devastating, but I think all the series issues were handled with care and respect.
I did like the style too! The writing was simple and clear and I did wish it had a bit more emotion, but Ozzie was a fabulous narrator to share the journey with. He was super selfish at times, but I loved his arc and how he grew over the course of the book.
The Edge of the Universe is such an interesting story, stuffed with questions and theories. I’m so here for this contemporary / sci-fi mashup and I’d love to read more books like this! Calvin was the light of the book, honestly, and I loved how Ozzie matured. And the ending?! I will say no more: but it was pretty satisfying.
One of the best parts of a new year is all the delicious new book releases it brings! Who needs to save money anyway, pfft, you’d rather fill your house with books and never see the floor. Of course sometimes it’s hard to keep up with what’s new and what’s coming up, so I have an extremely handy list for you today on some super exciting books that are nearly upon us or have just arrived!
I’m featuring Young Adult books and a ton of magic and probably you adding to that infamous To Be Read pile that’s getting to the size of Mount Everest. And yes! You’re most welcome.
This one is about twin sisters, Adina and Tovah, with big ambitions: Adina is a violist and plans to be a famous soloist, and Tovah wants to start a career as a surgeon. Then they learn that their family has Huntington’s disease and one of the twins tests positive…and that totally puts their friendship under fire. I think this one is going to be super feelsy and heartbreaking! Also it’s nice to see music featured!
Alice’s grandmother is a writer of a seriously dark fairy tale series and when she dies, Alice and her mother head off to her estate. then Alice’s mother disappears and life starts getting a little too supernatural — like maybe the fairy tales aren’t stories and the mythical Hazel Wood is more real than Alice would like to think. I absolutely love dark stories mixed with fairy tales and I think this one has the potential to be super magical!
This is an #ownvoices story about a Muslim Indian-American teen who dreams of being a filmmaker…except her parents definitely have other ideas. Maya’s also in love with the wrong boy and has the wrong dream, and when a terrorist attack brings hate crimes on her innocent and peaceful family — she’s facing the reality that she may never achieve any of her passions in life. This one is such a poignant and topical story, written with a lot of heart.
This is an epic fantasy adventure about a kingdom where when a noble dies, necromancers can just bring them back. Odessa is one such necromancer who fights monsters in the death realms and brings back the king whenever he dies. But when monster attacks start getting weirdly structured and terrifyingly dangerous, Odessa realises someone is controlling them. The dead aren’t exactly doing what they’re told anymore. This one is so exciting and super diverse, set in a world were straight and white aren’t the normal. It’s so refreshing!
Spencer’s life isn’t completely easy, with a big brother who constantly outdoes him and his Tourette’s syndrome complicating things. Then his relationship with Hope, his ultimate best childhood friend, starts getting messy and growing up fairly sucks. Spencer’s goal ends up being to neatly map out life with his trusty system of taxonomy … but life is rarely that predictable. This one looks like a really poignant tale with plenty of complex sibling relationships and heartbreak and disability representation!
Batman Nightwalker by Marie Lu is the second in the DC Icon superheroseries! I really love what these authors are doing with this books…they’re all famous and amazing YA authors who are each taking a turn writing a teenage-centric story about our favourite DC superheroes origins stories. And since Batman is one of my favourite ever heroes, I was really excited to see what Marie Lu would do! I was a bit surprised it wasn’t more focused on Batman himself, but this is about the world’s most famous teenage billionaire: Bruce Wayne.
The story basically begins with Bruce accidentally getting involved in a highspeed car chase to catch a criminal. Only problem is: he’s a civilian and absolutely not supposed to do that. He’s charged with preventing justice and has to serve community service. Bruce is a little disenchanted with life at the moment, feeling lost now that he’s officially 18 and has come into his fortune and misses his parents a lot. He wants the world they envisioned but he doesn’t know how to get there. (Basically he has a total heart of gold.) Then he gets stuffed into Arkham Asylum to serve his community service…as a janitor. But it’s there that he meets Madeline, member of the infamous Nightwalker murderer gang. They target billionaires and Bruce could very well be next on their list.
The story is definitely pre-Batman, so it wasn’t a nod to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy — but more a story woven all it’s own. It has references to everyone you love from the originals, of course, but it’s also a very sold standalone.
It also features a bit of a mystery plot, with Bruce trying to figure out what the Nightwalker gang are up to. Madeline, refusing to talk and constantly locked in a cell in the asylum, gradually warms up to Bruce and they begin having a conversation. She was a stunning antihero, full of complex values and a good dash of danger. You can’t tell if she’s manipulating Bruce or she really cares about him. He ends up caring quite fiercely about her, despite knowing she’s part of a murder-gang. Because is she everything she appears to be?
Bruce himself was was a winning character that you definitely want to root for. Although, I’ll be honest, he’s basically a textbook Gryffindor, full of reckless bravery and a hunger for justice and fairness. He’s completely in love with the idea that the world can be better, but he goes about doing it in usually the wrong way. Which is great! Because that’s the teenage life! He like sees a person and he just gotta save ’em. He’s obviously extremely privileged and rich but he also was keen to not let that have him lead a spoiled or blinded life.
I liked seeing familiar names appear. Like Harvey Dent is in there and Gorden is mentioned. And then there’s Alfred, the light of the world. He’s the perfect mix of father, butler, and teacher with a side-dish of tea and British disapproval. He tells Bruce to slow down while driving and makes him breakfast and says he has 0% sympathy when Bruce does something stupid. Alfred is amazing!
Batman Nightwalker is definitely a fun addition to this DC Icon series! It’s not super dark, but it has a lot of twists and it’s great seeing how Bruce would grow up to be the man bat he is today.
THE FALCONER by Elizabeth May was a pure delight to read, full of stabbing, dark faeries and murderous girls and the occasional explosion. I was absolutely in love the whole time and totally infatuated with this steampunk Scottish series. I definitely want more books ASAP. It also featured sass and engineering inventions and beautiful and dangerous faerie powers that were so intriguing.
The story follows Aileana who is part time lord’s daughter and part time faerie slayer. She has to keep both lives seperate and it’s exhausting, but she’ll do anything to avenge her mother who was slain by a horrifying faerie. Aileana teams up with a rogue fey boy, Kiaran, and together they train and hunt to avenge Aileana’s mother…but complications are thrown in when strange faeries start crawling out of the ground and Kiaran reveals he has more secrets than Aileana could ever have imagined.
Although I have to admit the ending really got me!! It was the wildest and worst cliffhanger in the world and I immediately want book 2.
I really loved Aileana, our badass faerie killer. I loved how Aileana chaffed at her “proper” life as a lord’s daughter and doing the balls and dresses etc etc…but she didn’t diss them. Makes such a difference. And she was elegant and also badass and she was an engineer with all these murderous inventions to kill faeries. I mean, can she get any more awesome?! This is the kind of female heroine I love reading about!
Also I appreciated how heavily this book features PTSD. I often find with fantasy we like skip over the “effects” and just focus on the battle. But this goes into the actual mental health side!! Aileana’s mother was murdered in front of her (when she was little) and that absolutely messes with her all the time and the book really delves into the “cause and effect” reactions fo war.
Dark feral faeries are also my favourite. Kiaran was very mysterious and also extremely powerful, but he and Aileana train to kill faeries. Aka Kairan is killing his own kind. But why? He has so many dark secrets and we only catch snippets and honestly it just makes the book ridiculously hard to put down.
I just really like how dangerous and wild all the faeries are. Everyone gets stabbed and bitten and poisoned. It’s exciting and exhilarating to read a book that so grabs you!
I also loved the writing! It was really detailed and the added layer of describing all the smells made it really leap off the page. I thought the pacing was excellent and it interspersed things like balls and tea with lords and earls with huge action scenes, sassy faerie quips, and inventions of explosions and unravellings of mysteries that could end with the whole world in trouble.
THE FALCONERis a fantastic surprise and one I’ll not be forgetting. It’s full of dark faeries in a steampunk Scottish setting with a badass, engineering, and emotional heroine I absolutely want to read more about. It totally captured my imagination!
2018 is looking to be an extremely exciting year for YA book-to-movie adaptions! Of course these adaptions always come with their fair share of nail biting and high expectations, because how can a film properly capture our favourite books?! But we can live in hope, right?!
Here are some YA books that are being adapted for 2018 and I’m pretty excited for these! The important thing to do is to remember the word: adaption. They’re never scene-for-scene recounts, but as long as they capture the heart of the book, then they’re on the right track!
This one is actually being changed to the title of “Love, Simon” which is super cute and really captures the essence of the book, which is full of a boy’s emails to his secret lover. Except he gets busted for it at school and a fellow classmate blackmails him with the email info. Why? Because Simon is gay but not out yet and not ready to be out and now that power has been taken from him.
One reason I’m super excited for this movie is how much the author seems happy with the adaption! And also for the fact it stars a gay protagonist in a mainstream movie. About time!
A Wrinkle In Time has been adapted before, but this latest version looks absolutely phenomenal with an all-star cast that includes Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling! The trailers are so stunning the visual effects look amazing. Plus it’s nice to see the older cult-classic books coming back to hit a new generation with their amazingness, right!?
Sci-fi and magic collide when Meg’s father goes missing and she bends time to find him and bring him home.
This is the final movie in the Maze Runner trilogy! There was a bit of a wait between movies #2 and #3 due to an accident and injury of the star (which is pretty sad, but seems to have worked alright!?) so we finally are going to see how the books conclude this absolutely epic YA dystopian trilogy. The trailers look really epic and include huge cities and lots of shootouts and high-tech weapons and that feared zombie virus.
Although this trilogy has deviated quite a bit from the books, it’s still super exciting to see how they’ve interpreted it. And of course cast is freaking awesome with Dylan O’Brien starring, with Kayla Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster.
OTHERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
These ones don’t have trailers yet, but they’re reportedly coming out in 2018 and we are EXCITED for this line up! All The Bright Places promises to be an emotional roller coaster and The Darkest Minds (starring Amandla Stenberg) will be a superpower / dystopian action film that’s definitely going to awe us! And also Every Day by bestselling author David Leviathan, which features a teen who wakes up every day in a different body!
Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl is a gorgeous story set in France about bookworms, French bakeries, and autism. There was so much to love while reading it and it was super easy to be immersed in the detailed setting, so it wasn’t like reading a book — more like living in it. Plus the narrator, Martin, is an utter book lover and how relatable is that?!
The story is about Martin who’s living abroad in France for a while as his mother directs a film. He’s supposed to go to school and just enjoy the culture and life there, but things are complicated since change is very hard for him. Martin’s on the autism spectrum and his greatest focus in life is a super old book that he’s obsessed with. Even when he attends the local high school, he meets a girl who he thinks is straight out of his novel…although of course she isn’t so this is a bit of a problem. It’s a story of accepting differences and realising there’s no “one way” to exist and lead a good life.
I really enjoyed the French setting! I’ve always wanted to see France (Paris specifically) for no really good reason, just shh, I’d like to go. The book totally captures the magic of a small French town, with bakeries and gardens and little cottages. I also believe the author has lived in France, so you could really see the authenticity shining through in the writing. Plus it actually delved into talking about the differences in learning to speak “classroom French” to actually being out and about with local people and discovering the slang and mannerisms.
Martin is a fantastically admirable and relatable character. He’s adorable and winning and extremely thoughtful, and, bonus! He loves to cook! He enjoyed preparing complex meals with lots of different ingredients and one of his top favourite things was staring into the bakery windows at the delicately made madeleine cakes. So so with you there, Martin. I would like 1 or 9 of them too. And the foodie descriptions?! There was all this rhubarb jam and croissants! Actually I take it all back. This is a huge problem. I ended the book so hungry!
I did love his infatuation with this old French book, In Search of Lost Time, although when he started to make references to it, I got a bit lost since I hadn’t read the book. But the bookworm love really shines through, and what’s more relatable to us readers, right?!
I also appreciated the autism representation! It was really accurately written and lovingly done. Stereotypes weren’t misused and Martin was complex and deep and really leapt off the page. Plus I loved the inclusion of echolalia, which is a common autism trait but not one I’ve ever seen in books until now. This book wasn’t interested in writing a caricature or making fun of any aspects of autism — it was so respectfully done.
Kids Like Us is a fantastic and beautifully told story that explores autism and what it is to accept yourself. Definite must read!
UNEARTHED by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner is a completely fun space adventure, featuring codes, puzzles, aliens, ancient tombs, and some epic gun fights! I’ve heard it pitched as “Indiana Jones in space” and you know what? That is not wrong. It could also be called a YA book version of the iPhone game Temple Run. So that’s exciting. It’s such a fun story, not super deep or scary but with plenty of twists and booby traps and the occasional burst of witty snark.
The story follows two dual narrators, Jules and Amelia, who end up stuck together on a wild adventure to find an alien temple even though they kind of hate each other. They have very very different goals. Amelia needs to steal some alien tech to sell so she can rescue her sister. And Jules is a studious genius scholar child who needs to prove his father wasn’t wrong about the aliens and get him out of prison. They’re such opposites, but after running for their lives from bloodthirsty raiders, they end up tangled in the complex puzzles of the alien temple. Are the puzzles here to save them or kill them?
I loved the raiders and scavengers in space story line! It was really different for me, ergo exciting. We totally have that moment where the geeks are like: “OH AN ANCIENT AMAZING TEMPLE.” And the raiders follow up with: “wow sorry ok but I just blew it up.” This is so true to the heart of Indiana Jones. See something precious and archeological? Ruin it. Such a human thing to do.
There was also that “learning how to survive” curve since Jules is a nerdy academic and tries to go on an action adventure and bring everything (including the kitchen stove) and also probably irons his pants. Amelia has a lot to sort out with him.
Both our narrators were super winning. It was really easy to root for them, even though their goals clashed so much. There’s a lot of lies and sneaking about as each tries to manipulate the other. I particularly loved Jules who was the kind of guy who knew how to spice up boring ration food because, yes, he brought spices with him. He kept his clothes neat and was forever scribbling in his notebook while trying to solve alien puzzles. He’s a super genius and super dork.
Amelia was hilarious and clever. She was kickass but also had emotion and wry humour and even though we never meet the little sister she’s trying to save in this volume, I really cared about both these sisters and the fact that Amelia will literally go to a strange planet with dubious amounts of air to breathe to get money to save her family?! Amelia is best.
The dialogue and banter were fantastic! I do wish there’d been more because there was quite a lot of monologuing and description, but it was still great to get into both characters’ thought processes.
The entire plot was pretty wild. We get everything from gun battles to running-for-your-life-through-an-uncharted-temple to booby trapped rooms where if you don’t think fast, you’ll end up dead. Not to mention add in spaceships and forgotten civilisations. I loved that old musty vibe of the tomb-like temple. The plot was forever pushed forward too by the enemy raiders who would almost definitely not hesitate to dump a couple of kids down a ravine. It’s a highstakes adrenaline race!
UNEARTHEDis a really fantastic start to a new sci-fi series that’ll make you foam at the mouth a little in anticipation for the sequel. It’s from the same duo who gave us the These Broken Stars duology too!
Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore is the most magical and richly lush story ever! The gorgeousness of the cover does not lie I tell you, absolutely not. This book is aesthetically stunning inside and out and it’s a story of magical gardens and families of women with curses and a dirt and dark secrets and missing people. I was absolutely swallowed whole by the magical and ethereal tones and honestly it’s the kind of book you do not want to miss.
The story is about the Nomeolvides women who live in a garden they can never leave. Or basically they’ll hack up a lung. It’s not great. The five girl cousins are all in love with the unattainable granddaughter of the estate, but they try to be careful about showing it because there seems to be a curse that whoever a Nomeolvides women loves — they’ll go missing. Sure enough, the girls’ beloved Bee disappears and in her place, they dig a mysterious boy out of the soil. He has no memory and no idea what’s going on. The gardens are under threat, dark secrets are rising, and they need to solve the mystery of this strange boy’s past and what it means. It might be their saving or their tragedy.
I can’t even sum up all the things I loved about this tale! It’s complicated and interesting, the plot never letting you down for a second. There are secrets fairly popping up like daisies. It features a cast of completely complex and strong women who you just admire from the first page. The gardens are MAGICAL and, I mean, they dug a boy out of the soil. What more do you want from a book?
Honestly the writing is what absolutely captured my heart. It really hones in on the details. It’s not going to say “she grew a flower”. It will say “she grew a midnight blue rose” or similar, and it just absolutely captivated me with luscious description and carefully designed details. Everything leapt off the pages. I felt like I fell into this magical fairy tale garden of mystery and sadness and utter beauty. The style is thick and luscious. This isn’t the kind of book you skim because it’s like a very rich chocolate cake.
Actually speaking of food: the food descriptions in here are fantastic. Plus the boy they pull out of the garden sees all the women are sad so he cooks food for them. Quality lad.
It’s absolutely FULL of complex and interesting women! The Nomeolvides women all live in this garden that the can never leave (or they die; super fun times) and they grow flowers and tend it etc. etc. Most people think they are witches. 3 generations of women live in the house, 5 grandmas, 5 mothers, and 5 daughters. The 5 cousins basically function as sisters and this pleases me so so much! The girls all love pretty things and they love being feminine, whcih was so refreshing. I loved the Latina culture and how most of the characters fit onto the lgbtqia+ spectrum too.
The book is mainly from the pov of Estrella and Fel. Fel is the boy they dig out of the garden who is quiet and tragic and somewhat confused at everything. Estrella falls in love with him. They are so beautiful, both of them.
Ultimately? Wild Beauty is, in a word: GORGEOUS. It is a celebration of magic and flowers and how beautiful things can often cover up deep suffering.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi was so good and also a little bit like running face-first into a brick wall of emotions. I’n not even sure what to do with myself right now. It’s a really powerful story of immigration and poverty and family. It’s brutal and messy and the ending left me reeling.
It follows the story of Fabiola who’s immigrated from Haiti to be with her cousins in America. Her mother gets detained at customs and then sent to a detention centre while Fabiola, born in America, is allowed to proceed. She’s absolutely freaked out for her mother, but slowly has to make a life for herself with her extended family. She attends school and ends up caught up with a boy who truly wants to make her happy. However the street they live on isn’t the clean and safe haven Fabiola always imagined. She quickly gets caught up in drug rings and loan sharks and maybe will have to compromise her own safety to work with the police so they’ll help get her mother back. But if that means betraying people she loves, would she do it?
The emphasis on family was the best. This is not a “nice” family particularly, but I loved how complex they all were! Fabiola is basically just THROWN into American culture and I felt for her so much. Her three cousins are all around her age, and they immediately just adopt her as their 4th sister. But they do live in a poor part of town and they’re mixed up in a lot of stuff. Donna’s boyfriend is like Such Bad News and hits her and Pri is closet queer and Chantal has stuff going on and like their aunt is usually “sick” or hidden away in her room. Fabiola is attending school and trying to figure out how the American life works, plus find a way to help get her mother free.
Fabiola is also really precious and sweet! I was worried she’d be a passive character because of that but she’s not. I also loved how she really wanted to make America her home, But she didn’t give up her Haitian heritage. There’s a bit of magic in the book, because she firmly believes in Vodou and her culture is woven into everything she does. It’s so good!! (Also the author’s note says this is all out of her own experiences too! It makes a book so special and true when you know the experiences behind it are woven with an #ownvoices narrative.) I really loved that Fabiola wasn’t going to be pushed around, but at the same time voiced her insecurities and definitely didn’t always make good decisions.
I basically couldn’t stop reading! And the story just got more brutal and twisted as it went along. Like the plot is really tight and I loved how it woven things together at the end. It’s definitely the kind of book you’re going to want to put aside a full afternoon to just devour…constantly. Until it’s done and you’re a bit of a wide-eyed mess.
American Streetis purely excellent #ownvoices story that doesn’t shy away from showing how complicated and brutal life can be. It’s not an “easy” read (although it is quite fast!) and there were so many times I was raging with Fabiola. Her situation is often a trainwreck but I loved her character arc and also her love of her culture. Definite recommend!
Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody was dark and murderous and magical. So basically everything a good book should be. I’m in absolute awe of the world building, the dynamic characters, and the finale plot twist that totally caught me off guard! This was just incredible and I highly recommend it!
Why aren’t all books full of murder and magic. I ask.
The story is set in a moving carnival called the Gomorrah Festival. It features Sorina who is an illusionist and “freak” because she was born with no eyes but instead has magical powers. Her illusions are so real that they can basically have lives of their own and she calls them her family. Then one gets murdered which, as you can imagine, shouldn’t be possible for a person who isn’t even real. Sorina teams up with the local charming but cocky gossip-worker named Luca to try and solve the mystery, that might be more deeply imbedded in the festival’s history than she originally thought.
The setting was so exquisitely described and detailed! I totally felt I could see and taste and smell Gomorrah. It explodes off the page with kettle corn and liquorice cherries and smoke from the permanently burning and walking city. It’s definitely the kind of setting I’d love to visit.
The plot was deliciously twisty and rich. There are conspiracy theories and murder mysteries! I loved the sort of genre mash-up of having an epic fantasy setting, but mixed with mysteries and whodunnit vibes, not to mention there’s religious tension in the background and people with wicked magical skills. And of course you have all the carnival and performance shenanigans and dramas. Exciting.
But the characters absolutely stole the show. (Har har, excuse the pun.) I adored them all. Sorina was amazing! She’s an illusionist, adopted by the proprietor of the carnival, and she is so incredibly powerful. Imagine making people up and then having them come to life and actually function as people. She loved her little made up “freak” family so much. I also loved how relatable Sorina was with her dedication to her family, her want to please her father and become Gomorrah’s next master, and her panic attacks and tears that made her so human.
And Luca was equally magnificent. He was entirely snarky and wore horrendous waistcoats that Sorina never let him live down and he trades in gossip and mysteries. He also asexual which was so refreshing to see on page! I loved how devious and cunning he was, and their relationship was slow burn and fraught with uncertainty.
The writing was also a piece of marvel. I couldn’t put the book down! Plus it really utilised the five-senses to make visually stunning words and paragraphs.
Basically if you are looking for a deliciously wicked story of magic, mystery, and mayhem…Daughter Of The Burning City is for you. It’ll totally capture your heart and your imagination and probably make you crave popcorn, but where exactly is the downside in that.
Books about sisters are absolutely fantastic things! Especially if they manage to capture the complexities of having a sister…AKA you love them and also sometimes want to strangle them. It’s all incredibly good times. I particularly like it when books dive into the complexities of family and siblings, so today I want to list a few YA books that feature sister relationships.
THREE DARK CROWNS
This is a very twisty and dark story about three triplet sisters who have to fight for the throne. These aren’t the kind of sisters you should probably model your life on…but they are super interesting to read about! One is a poisoner, one is an elementalist, and one controls animals. The story follows their journey after their 16th birthday when the time comes to start the battle to claim the throne. Except maybe they’re not what each other expects.
This story not only features two sisters, but it’s also a Little Red Riding Hood retelling! Except instead of little girls skipping through the woods to find Grandma’s house…these sisters are actually hunters of werewolves. So be prepared for axes and blood.
And some super loving girls who dearly adore each other but are so intent on protecting each other they end up causing some catastrophic riffs.
Ramona feels pretty stifled by her small town and her life that seems way out of her control. She really loves her older sister who’s also pregnant with a dead-beat teen husband and…honestly Ramona struggles to support her sister. She feels she can’t leave to have her own life when her sister and the soon-to-be-born baby are going to need her. This is definitely a loving but messy sisterly-bond, but full of support and girls who are there for each other!
Now this one is a little different because Em’s little sister isn’t present for a lot of the book, BUT Em’s #1 goal in life is to get her sister out of prison! It’s set in a fantasy world were two warring people are trying to wipe each other out. Em disguises as one of the enemy in order to “marry” the enemy prince and sabotage them from the inside. This book is so so amazing, clever, plot twisty, and also downright hilarious. You know you’re going to love the “evil” prince when it turns out he only trusts people who love cheese bread as much as he does. #Relatable Also the sequel, Avenged, features sisters Em and Olivia in full catastrophic glory.
THINGS I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN
This story features Chloe, who is a the local Popular And Perfect girl at school and who also has an autistic older sister named, Ivy. The girls are super close and lovely together and Chloe realises that Ivy is pretty lonely and would love a boyfriend but her disability leaves her unsure how to actually go about doing this. So Chloe decides to help out. She ends up setting Ivy up with another autistic boy from Ivy’s school…which means Chloe ends up spending a lot of time with the boy’s older brother — also Chloe’s enemy. Except he’s not so bad the more they hang out and maybe Chloe’s matchmaking is going to take a different turn.
The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo is a collection of reimagined fairy tales. And can I just say it’s the best fairy tale collection I’ve ever read?! It was beautiful beautiful and clever and feminist. This aren’t stories where the princess is just waiting for a prince! They’re full of plot twists but with a darkness that nods to traditional Grimm tales. You might recognise threads of traditional fairy tales (like the Nutcracker and The Little Mermaid) but they’re so different and unique I didn’t want it to end!
There are six tales! They do fit into the Grishaverse, which is a fantasy world created by Leigh Bardugo that began with the Shadow & Bone trilogy and continued in the spin-off duology Six of Crows. However if you haven’t ever read a Grisha book, you would still love these six fairy tales and they’d make perfect sense. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is why you haven’t read them yet. Come on now.
Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.
I honestly felt like I fell into the dark witch’s wood of magic! I am literally bursting with love and appreciation for the clever writing, the beautiful characters, and the magical depths. It feels like a midnight snack of fairy tales, the kind you can’t possibly put down. And often the characters in the stories also told stories, so the book-within-a-book feeling was strong here.
I did love picking out the threads of the traditional fairy tales amongst these reimagined ones! I could see Little Mermaid influences and the Nutcracker and Hansel and Gretel. But these are actually very different and quite dark. I really enjoyed the darker twists with monsters under castles and mermaids doing magic and evil men getting comeuppance for their horrible ways. And the best part? They were full of plot twists. No irritating or tedious fairy tale tropes here with damsels or falling for the first prince you meet or every step-mother being evil. Beauty isn’t everything. Princes suck. The beast is actually kind. Here is the sea witch’s origin story. The dark woods are not the only problem here. And on it goes!
It captivated me on every page with how amazing it was. The writing was detailed and clever too.
The actual physical book itself is also a pure delight to look at. The pages are illustrated and they add such depth to the story. There are some panels in the borders that change as the book goes on, so if you flip the pages really fast, it’s a stop-motion image of darkness covering a princess! Some of the double-page spreads were just so amazing and the style is simple but so emotional and lovely.
The Language of Thorns is full of fairy tales as they should be. They’re dark and feminist and empowering and filled with women who can be good or evil or morally grey or just seriously complex. There are monsters and wooden dolls with identity crises and queer girls and endless endless magic that just inspires me. You’ll fill so full of magic when you finish this!
All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater is about magic, darkness, and fighting your inner demons. I’m a huge fan of all of Stiefvater’s work, so I went in with excited expectations and wasn’t disappointed! It’s incredibly heartfelt and written in such a whimsical style that you can’t help being addicted to every page.
The story follows three cousins who live on a ranch, Bicho Raro, in Colorado, where their family gives out miracles. The trouble with miracles is that you have to accept your darkness to deal with it, and it often comes out in strange ways. Their world is populated by the weird and wonderful and magical, on a backdrop of deserts in the 1960s. The three teens are: Beatriz, who claim she has no feelings. Then Daniel, who is the resident saint, at 19, and used to be a pure child brat. And then Joaquin is the youngest and he runs an illegal radio station under the name Diablo Diablo (um, don’t tell his family, he’ll be in super big trouble). They watch pilgrims get their miracles all the time, but what happens when Daniel, the only saint who can help them, goes missing?
I loved how magical it was! The miracles are portrayed so interestingly. The Sorias family saints give the miracle and the trick is you have to deal with it yourself. If they help — everything will get dark and worse. Often pilgrims get stuck and are just living on the ranch for months trying to put themselves back together. It’s just accepted that everyone is freaking weird and magical here. Like there are girls entwined with snakes, a giant, someone who gets rained on all the time etc. etc. And everyone is chill with that.
It is written in an omnipresent style, which isn’t typically my favourite, but I loved how it transformed this book into a mythological fairy tale sort of vibe! Weget dozens of POVs and perspectives, from the Sorias to the pilgrims. I really loved how beautiful, whimsical, and melodic the writing was. It felt so rich and extravagantly magical and the extra perspectives actually made it feel juicy and deep. The story is about miracles, not just the Saints and not just the Pilgrims.
The setting was gorgeous too. I could totally see the ranch and the desert and the box truck. You could taste the dust and see the owls and tumbleweeds!
The characters are just so amazing and complex and different. They are odd little tumble weeds and I loved them. I adored the three Soria cousins and their illegal radio station and their inner darkness. I loved Beatriz who was very firmly convinced she had no feelings and Joaquin who loved his hair and Daniel, the childhood-devil-turned-saint. I loved Pete who loved to work (what the heck is wrong with him though) and was so earnest and pure. And I loved the dogs who wanted to eat everyone alive. #relatable
All The Crooked Saints the kind of story that definitely leaves you wanting more, which is amazing. It’s whimsical and bizarre and addictive. This book is a bit like being told wild dusty folklore stories with black roses and owls with strange eyes and strange box trucks and girls who like boys’ elbows. It’s unusual and it’s slow and it’s pretty and there are SAINTS. It’s every scoop of magic you need in your life.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone is a poignant pocket of powerful writing that tackles racism and coming-of-age in a way that’s so needed! It’s a brutal narrative and it’s written with such care and love and emotion — you can feel the emotion so deeply on every page of the narrative it’s just incredible. This is both a #BlackLivesMatter and #OwnVoices novel, so you know you’re going into a story told by the viewpoint of someone who knows. It’s also a really small book, so it’s a powerpacket of strong words and feeling and plot twists.
The story follows Justyce McAllister who’s a straight A student at a prestigious school and he’s on his way to Yale and life of achieving what he sets out to achieve. His single-mother has sacrificed a lot to get him into the good school, and he hardly ever sees her, so he often feels really alone. His best-friend Manny is his only black friend in the school and while they get on famously, Manny’s choice of friends all dish out microagressive racism and challenge Justyce for being too “sensitive” if he has had enough of it. When he tries to help his girlfriend get home one night because she’s super drunk yet trying to drive, he’s attacked by police officers and put in cuffs without explanation. Justyce writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about his life and confusions and wanting to be a great person, but how in a world that’s so set against you?
I love the quote in the author’s note says the book is: “…an attempt to examine current affairs through the lens of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings.” Which is such a good summary.
The story also is told in an interesting style, feature letters to Martin (of course! Title reference!) and the normal book-style-prose you’d expect, and also script-style scenes so you just get the meat of the dialogue without distractions. I liked how it switched things up constantly because it kept the attention riveted and also made the book really unique on the page!
Justyce was such an amazing protagonist! He’s super smart and facing a lot of struggles most teens can relate to: including what to do about his on-again-off-again girlfriend, grades, school bullies, and what his future holds. On top of that, after his arrest, he has PTSD from the experience and feels really lost. He’s on the brink of graduating highschool but he feels like his world is coming apart. He also has a crush on his long-time debate partner, SJ, but their racial differences are an obstacle.
The book, of course, is not an “easy” story. It’s meant to be eye-opening and make you think, and it tackles difficulties head on. As an Australian, some of the culture and slang was lost on me and while racism is prevalent in all countries, it looks a little different from place to place. (Australia doesn’t have shootings, for starters.) So it was good, confronting, and important to learn about what it’s like to be black in America.
I also loved how intelligent the writing and plot are! There’s a court scene that just had me go WOW WOAH WAIT while the dialogue turned you on your head. And the story is very complexly weaved in a way you don’t even realise until that scene! So full applause to the author for her writing style! It’s such an intelligent book with a lot of heart.
Dear Martin is an important narrative that can’t be talked about enough. This is powerful and full of emotion and also weaves messages of strength and hope.
“You ever consider that maybe you not supposed to ‘fit’? People who make history rarely do.”
Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman is a beautiful book about art and anxiety and dealing with poisonous people in your life. I found it equal parts brutal and brilliant, so packed with emotion and heart that I couldn’t help falling in love by the end. It also has an incredible ending that just filled my heart so much (you know…right after it finished smashing my heart into little pieces). Definitely all signs of an incredible book!
The story follows Kiko who is an artist with severe social anxiety. She’s trapped in a home where her mother is openly racist and basically psychologically torments her, all under the guise of just being a “caring parent”. Kiko feels like she doesn’t and will never belong as a biracial Japanese-American. All she can dream about is getting into a specific art school after graduation, where she get away from her mother’s torment and start a new life for herself. But what if she doesn’t get in?
It had the simple best and most brutally accurate representation of social anxiety I’ve ever read. It made my heart ache for Kiko as she battled the deeply rooted feelings of being a burden, being unwanted, being a problem to everyone. She couldn’t just “go an hang out” at a party. The anxiety levels were so intense she sometimes couldn’t even leave her car. It’s also uplifting to see her journey through it. This isn’t a story that uses mental illness as just a tragedy. It shows the dark cruel side, of course, but it also talks about recovery and finding yourself and learning to feel loved. (But there’s also no messages of “love cures all” which is refreshing!)
Kiko’s family life breaks my heart. Her mother was an utter psychopath and it was unbelievable how racist she was towards her own kids. Kiko never felt loved, pretty, validated, or cared about. Reading about it made me burn with righteous fury. Kiko just wanted her mother to acknowledge her art but her mother refused unless it gained her power. I rooted for Kiko to get her dream of being an artist and get out so so bad.
I loved the super sweet friendship between her and Jamie. They’re childhood friends who lost each other when they were 11 and now he’s back! Their lack of communication really grated on me, but they’re teens and this is just realistic. I love how slowly and tentatively they explored their feelings. And it was literally the sweetest thing how Jamie was there for her.
I loved the discussions about being biracial from an #ownvoices author. The author wrote her perspective so fluently and beautifully that it was an amazing insight to read. I felt so connected to Kiko and I loved watching her start to feel empowered by here Japanese roots, not ashamed.
The art aspect was also glorious! Every chapter ended with a little snippet of what Kiko was drawing that day and the imagination was stunning. My only wish was that the book had included some sketches! (I need fan art for this wow.) And the book really reminded me of I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson. Total recommend for them both obviously. It explores a bit of the tortured-artist feelings, but also the empowerment of releasing your emotions through visual displays and turning something ugly into something beautiful.
Starfish was a beautiful and poignant story that really digs into your heart! It’s seriously sad and hard to read at times as you watch Kiko’s life spin out of control. But the point is, she wants to get the control back. She is an anxious character, but not a passive one. I thought this book was brilliant!
Raising awareness about mental health through books is an absolutely excellent thing! It gives you a personal perspective about conditions that are on a hugely varied spectrum. Plus you get a fantastic story that will probably make you feel all the things.
Today I’m going to list some books that are about characters on the OCD spectrum. OCD is different for a lot of people and it’s super interesting how these books portray it. So if you’re looking for book recommendations, just sit down a second and prepare yourself for incoming fantasticness.
TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN BY JOHN GREEN
Of course John Green is super famous and you’ve probably heard of his latest novel (just released this October!). I really loved the portrayal of OCD because it came directly from John Green’s experiences, which I think gives it a super personal touch…and you also know it’s accurate. The label “OCD” isn’t mentioned in the book but John Green talks about it extensively in his vlogs (which you should 500% go check out. Immediately.)
The book follows the story of Aza Holmes who reunites with a long-lost best friend after his father goes missing. She’s battling though-spirals that control her life and the portrayal of anxiety is so spot on.
HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME BY ADAM SILVERA
This is another #ownvoices portrayal of OCD and the story is equal parts beautiful and brutal. So basically, read it if you want to feel your heart being squished and also rebuilt.
The story follows Griffin whose ex-boyfriend and ex-best-friend just died in a tragic accident. Despite being separated, this rocks Griffin completely and he ends up following a journey of healing with his ex’s new boyfriend. It dives back through their history to see how things went wrong and it was completely heartbreaking and just perfectly written.
THE UNLIKELY HERO OF ROOM 13B BY TERESA TOTEN
I was completely caught up by this incredibly written book about Adam who’s going to therapy for his OCD. He meets a girl called Robyn and immediately decides he needs to get to know her better (is this love?!) and even though his home life is complicated and messy and his mum has habits that worry him, he’s determined to help himself and find a way to fall in love.
It’s so heartwarming and sweet, featuring a 14-year-old protagonist which was really nice as YA usually focuses on the older teens. It’s told with a lovely voice and it’s equal parts bittersweet and fantastic.
SAY WHAT YOU WILL BY CAMMIE MCGOVERN
This follows the story of a boy with OCD and a girl with cerebral palsy as he ends up being an aid assistant to her during school. They both feel like misfits and they struggle with things that hold them back. Amy can’t walk or talk without a voice box and she feels alienated and overlooked by people she desperately wants to befriend. Matthew is caught up in so many rituals he can feel it crushing his world. When the two decide to help each other, their friendship turns to more and it’s super sweet.
Thank you, Joy! And many thanks for having me on the blog.
But first, where are you based and what is your background?
I live in Sydney, with my husband and our three sons, not far from where I grew up as a kid. I initially studied Communications straight out of high school at UTS, where I majored in writing and media theory, before then going on to train as an actor at Theatre Nepean, UWS. Towards the end of my acting training, I taught drama to a group of kids out at Mount Pleasant and I wrote them a play. It was then that it finally dawned on me that I didn’t want to be an actor after all, that in fact I wanted to be a writer but for young people, rather than adults. So not long after, I enrolled in a writing course with the acclaimed children’s author Libby Gleeson. That course felt both like a complete revelation and a homecoming. It was there that I workshopped a picture text I had written on my honeymoon of all places, about a little boy and his ice cream van driving dad. Libby Gleeson was a wonderful teacher and she instinctively knew how to draw out the possibilities of both a writer and a text and because of that early encouragement, here I am sixteen books later.
Do you give many presentations to children? How do you make them interesting? Have there been any particularly memorable responses?
I’ve spoken to thousands of kids over the years, presenting talks and writing workshops. In my general talks, I’ll often share funny stories about my life, what kind of kid I was growing up and especially some of the funny stories about bringing up my boys. There’s lots of acting and hilarity, especially when I share the inspiration behind stories like Sleep Tight, My Honey or My Mum Tarzan. I always bring along some of my writing journals and I usually explore the growth of at least one book in detail, from first seed to final story. I’m keen for kids to hear about the writing process but I’m also especially passionate for them to grasp how curiosity about ordinary moments can lead to the creation of juicy stories.
Funnily enough, some of the loveliest moments happen when I’m not speaking at all, when little clusters of kids sidle up at the end of a session to confide about a book they’ve been writing, or how they’re going to go out and buy their own writing journal that very afternoon, so they can write about the idea they have for a funny story about their own crazy mum, grandpa or dog. Because just as much as I want kids to love my books, at the end of the day, I want to inspire them even more so to discover the beauty and worth of their own stories.
I adore your laugh-out-loud YA novel My Big Birkett (it’s one of my all-time favourites) and love reciting parts about the animals that mate for life, The Tempest and gorgeous Raven and the meals he makes using mince; as well as your wonderful picture books. Could you tell us about some of these books?
Thanks Joy! It makes me especially happy to know that you are a Raven fan!
I’m often asked what I prefer to write most and I always say I love writing both picture books and novels and that I couldn’t choose between them. The best part of writing picture books for me is the absolute thrill of collaboration. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with so many brilliant illustrators over the years and each one has taught me so much about the power of the visual text. Some of my picture books that have been especially well-received include the Bear and Chook books, illustrated by Emma Quay, Gordon’s got a Snookie, illustrated by Wayne Harris and Big Pet Day, illustrated by Gus Gordon, who was also on the QLA shortlist too, for his gorgeous picture book, Somewhere Else. My most recent picture book is Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee! illustrated by Binny Talib. This was such a tough text to illustrate, mainly because of the fairly swift juxtaposition of the scenes of school life, with Ruby Lee’s fervent imagination. I’m just so delighted at what a marvellously beautiful job Binny has done.
I will say that one of the unforeseen joys of my writing life has been the steady, heartfelt emails I have received over the years from teen readers regarding My Big Birkett. These emails about Gemma and Raven and the De Head family have been incredibly sincere and poignant and they have often left me with a huge lump in my throat.
I know this is a tricky question but how do you incorporate humour into your writing?
This is a tricky question! As a kid, I looked into books like they were real windows. The books that spoke to me most were always the ones that captured acutely the laugh-out-loud jumbly nature of life, alongside the bittersweet ache. In terms of writing humour, I always keep an ear out for those little things that will make kids laugh. Not so long ago, my sister told me a story about how her four-year old son crept into her bed in the middle of the night and snuggled up tight to her, saying, ‘I love you so much Mummy, I want to shoot you out of a cannon!’ When I tell that story to kids, they roll around on the floor, laughing their heads off. But at the same time I know they recognise the vehemence of that kind of love, because they’ve felt it rocketing around in their own chests. I think humour has this remarkable capacity to encourage true connection and I’m always keen to incorporate it in my work, because it radically paves the way for readers to engage more fully and tenderly not only with a character’s dreams, fears, hopes and sorrows but also perhaps, with their own.
The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler (A&U) has just won the QLA Griffith University Children’s Book award. The judge report says:
“The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler is structured as a quintessential Australian beach camping holiday but the exceptional storytelling soars to welcome the reader into both the setting and young Henry Hoobler’s rites of passage. We are given a heart-warming insight into introspective Henry. He is a genius at noticing things, surprising his fellow campers with his success in board and card games. He is also ‘Mr Worst-Case Scenario’, dreading the bugs, stingers and sharks of the beach but, most of all, dreading learning to ride his new silver bike. The bike is a symbol of fear, but its significance changes as Henry discovers courage and freedom. Courage can be found when friends are ‘straight-up and true’, embodied by free-spirit Cassie. This tale reminds us that everyone is different and everyone has gifts. Some, like Henry, prefer to learn quietly but even extroverts can be fearful.
The writing is literary and metaphorical, encompassing a vast emotional range whilst being utterly engaging for children. It is rare to encounter a novel for mid-primary children characterised by such perception and cadence.”
What was your reaction when you realised you had won?
I was astonished and delighted. It took quite a few days for it to truly sink in. Then I was just overcome with immense gratitude that the judges had seen something special in Henry.
It was wonderful to meet your young son, Rohan, at the awards presentation in Brisbane (and others there loved seeing him reading The Hobbit as the night wore on). Why was he there and what was your dual experience of the awards evening?
One of the initial nudges for writing Henry Hoobler was watching Rohie develop as a reader. After a slow start, he had a very sudden and rapid acceleration over a single year and I knew he was in this slippery in-between stage, where the books he was capable of reading were still quite a huge stretch for him emotionally. I began to wonder if I could write something that would speak directly to his life. As I wrote Henry, I read chapter after chapter out loud to Rohie. When I had finished the book and before it had been published, he persuaded his class teacher that I should come to school and read some chapters to his whole class as well. I dedicated the novel to Rohan because I wanted to acknowledge just what an incredible gift it was to have his enthusiastic encouragement along the way.
Rohie is an avid bookworm and so hanging out at the QLA awards ceremony for him was suddenly like meeting all of his people, all at once. He was especially touched that I mentioned him in my speech and I was especially touched when Rebe Taylor, the winner of the QLA History Book Award asked him to sign her copy of Henry. I can safely say that if Rohie’s class teacher had seen that handwriting, he would have been granted his official pen licence on the spot!
What is the significance of the title The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler?
Early in the novel, Henry discovers that his rather unique talent for noticing things, makes him almost unbeatable when it comes to playing cards and board games. After Henry convincingly and unexpectedly smashes all the men and the older boys at games, Patch, his rather begrudging older brother finally acknowledges that Henry might be bit of a grand genius. It’s the beginning of a radical shift in the way Henry sees himself. Although Henry has replayed every worst case scenario in vivid detail regarding his camping holiday, what he has never considered is all the ways this summer might turn out to be the best one yet, the grand, genius summer of all summers.
Could you tell us about your protagonist Henry and some other characters?
Henry is a sensitive, imaginative and thoughtful nine-year old boy. He is the middle child, slotted right in between his athletically gifted, funny, know-it-all fifteen-year old brother Patch and his rambunctious, My Little Pony obsessed younger sister Lulu. Both Henry and his mum share some anxious traits and tend towards self-reflection and to feeling things deeply. Henry is very keen to please his exuberant dad, who is a real enthusiast for life. But Henry is filled with dread at the idea of learning how to ride his new bike without training wheels, especially in front of prickly Reed Barone, another boy who is close to Henry’s age and who is prone to sneering. Eventually, Henry meets ten-year old Cassie, who lives onsite in a caravan with her Pop. Cassie is a free spirit and alive to the world in ways that astonish Henry. Finally, Cassie’s straight up and true courage rubs off and with an unexpected Lulu intervention, Henry learns how to summon up his own courage and to do a whole series of adventurous things that he never imagined.
For what age-group is this novel intended?
Henry is intended for 7-11 year olds. I’ve been really pleased though by the numbers of reviewers that have also recommended it as a read-aloud for the whole family or the school classroom too.
How did you balance fine literary writing with the other elements of the narrative?
I was keen to write in a way that was hospitable to all kinds of middle grade readers, those that were confidently independent and those newly finding their feet. As a result, the story contains lots of snappy dialogue, which helps to give the text an easy, engaging flow. In terms of metaphoric imagery, I kept in mind some feedback given to me around another novel, regarding the importance of restraint. I was conscious that any poetic moment really had to serve the story and forward the action. At the same time, I wanted the novel to contain a certain richness of vocabulary because something the American writer Madeleine L’Engle once said has stayed with me for years, ‘We think because we have words, not the other way around. The more words we have, the better able we are to think conceptually.’ So balancing all of these elements was challenging, a little like prancing across a highwire tightrope.
As well as being good fun to read, Henry Hoobler has some important underpinning themes. Could you share some of these?
I’m always a little cautious when discussing themes because I know the writer is sometimes the least insightful person on that subject! With Henry though, I was keen to explore the nature of courage, the way one young boy discovers how to be brave over the summer, by learning how to make a tiny bit of room for the worry in his life, without giving it the whole house. The novel examines the transformative nature of unexpected friendship, the contagiousness of courage, the way we need one another in order to learn how to become brave and the way courage always arrives through the actual taking of considered risks. The novel celebrates the importance of family and community and the value of perseverance, forgiveness and kindness. I was keen to write about the beauty of the natural world and how to recognise and treasure the true significance of small ordinary moments.
Which awards have had particular significance for you?
Whenever a book of mine is either shortlisted or receives an award, I’m always extraordinarily surprised and grateful. I know it’s such a hard job to make those kinds of choices, especially when there are so many equally deserving and beautiful books out in the world. Writing a book does take a significant investment of energy and time and winning an award always means that a book will have a much greater chance of being widely read. I was particularly thrilled in 2010 when Bear and Chook by the Sea won the CBCA’s Book of the Year for Early Childhood, not just because it was a moment I got to share with my good friend the illustrator Emma Quay but also because as a kid, I drew a poster every single year for Oatley Library’s celebrations of the Children’s Book Council’s Book of the Year Awards. I was desperate to win a book prize in that poster competition, never dreaming that I would one day write a book that would win an award from such a long-established and hallowed institution.
What are you writing next?
I’ve been writing a series of picture book texts and I’m just returning now to a novel for teenagers that has been patiently waiting it’s turn.
What have you enjoyed reading recently?
I’ve loved Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible, Karen Foxlee’s A Most Magical Girl, James Rebanks The Shepherd’s Life, Brian Doyle’s collection of essays Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies and the picture books Oi, Frog by Kez Gray and Jim Field and Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge.
Thanks so much for having me on the blog and for asking such astonishingly good, stretching questions. It was lovely to take the time to reflect and ponder.
Thanks for your very thoughtful and insightful responses, Lisa and all the very best with your excellent novel, The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, and your other works. We greatly look forward to what your imaginative mind will bring us next.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green is such a highly anticipated novel of 2017 and it absolutely astounds with it’s incredible story. It’s so John Green-esque with the metaphors, quirky characters, and copious amounts of existential crises. I also appreciated the raw and personal approach to OCD that definitely makes this book a standout. Turtles All The Way Down is about mental health and missing persons and sad rich boys and friendship. I couldn’t be happier with it!
The plot was really amazing! I found it on the slow side, but still thoroughly excellent. I loved that it wasn’t rife with cliches or annoying tropes, which was refreshing and just made the book more heartfelt. It was real and that makes all the difference. It’s not really a “detective” story as such, but Aza is curious about the mission millionaire because she used to know his son, Davis. She does a bit of digging…although to be honest most of her “investigative work” is on Davis. How adorable.
Aza was an amazing protagonist! She is extremely quiet. She hardly ever talks and she’s very much locked in her own head. I appreciated that spoke little and listened a lot, and the diving into her complex and messy thought process that’s coloured by her mental illness was interesting and so respectfully portrayed. She’s obviously extremely intelligent. All John Green’s characters always are?! I love how “pretentious” they are because I was like that as a kid…hello #relatable. Let’s talk about the stars and metaphors and what poetry means and the infinite possibilities of death and life. The sheer amount of knowledge these kids spew out is just refreshing and perfect to me.
The anxiety/OCD was really brutally and honestly talked about. I do wish the term “OCD” had been used because labels aren’t things to be scared of and it would’ve honestly helped smash more stereotypes. A lot of people won’t know that Aza has OCD because it’s not on page (but John Green talks about it a lot in his vlogs and such). This isn’t the cliche portrayal of OCD either. It’s more about the anxiety of thought-spirals, the repetition to the point of endangering yourself, and the fixation on things you know aren’t a problem but you can’t stop thinking they are. You are not watching someone with OCD, you are experiencing what it’s like to have OCD while reading this book. And that’s so important.
The romance was absolutely super adorable! I loved Davis immediately. He’s rich and always thinks everyone pays attention to him solely because of his money. He’s not good at small talk either and will dive straight into complex conversation (he’s amazing) and he is the sweetest big brother. His dad is missing and so his life is tangled and sad and complicated. I loved how he and Aza slowly rekindled their childhood friendship. It’s the cutest romance, but slow and cautious and fraught with indecision and the complications of Aza’s OCD and Davis’s grief.
I loved how deep the story was too. It just wants to talk about huge matters, and some of the metaphors were extremely intense. The book feels layered and I think you could get more out of it each time you reread.
And since it is, in fact, a John Green novel…I was gut-punched with severe emotions at the end! I hated (in the best way!) and loved it simultaneously and think it was written perfectly.
I think Turtles All the Way Down is an absolutely deep and existential book that really discusses minds and who we are. It’s sad and it’s not sugar coated. There’s no messages that you need to be fixed to have a good life. Your mental illness isn’t ALL of you, but it is some of you. I really appreciated this book and its messages and its beautiful prose.
Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you do.
RAMONA BLUE by Julie Murphy is a heartfelt and beautiful coming-of-age story. It’s about growing up, discovering your sexuality, and swimming and eating a lot of delicious food. (Particularly different ways to eat your eggs, which is quality content.) I think it touched on a lot of applicable and poignant themes that a lot of teens will struggle with or relate to. And the character cast was so excellent it just took the story from being on a flat 2D page to exploding into real life.
The story follows Ramona Laroux, who is quite poor and quite unusual. She has blue hair and is super tall and she lives in a trailer park and she honestly can’t see her life ever going anywhere. Her older teen sister is pregnant and Ramona has no money for college. She wants to leave town but…she doesn’t. She has some great friends here and she honestly is too scared to want more. Then her old childhood friend, Freddie, returns to town. Ramona is still exploring a label for her sexuality, unsure if she’s lesbian or bi or pan, and as chemistry sparks between her and Freddie it opens up a lot of discussions about the fluidity of sexuality. But ultimately: is Ramona going to take charge of her own life or just let it take her?
The characters are definitely the shining glory of the book! It’s very very character driven and has quite a huge cast that all leap off the page with diversity and personality. Most of the secondary characters are queer too and the love interest, Freddie, is black. At first I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of secondary characters but they quickly became real and solid people in my mind and I enjoyed the banter and the escapades. (They literally steal into someone’s backyard to swim at some stage.) I must admit I love Saul who’s favourite audience to his shenanigans was….himself.
I think the discussion on sexuality was very important! Ramona identifies as queer but not quite sure what label she has. She kisses and loves girls but she also is fiercely attracted to Freddie. I loved their romance and also the fact that Ramona isn’t going to stop loving girls or “straighten out” because of Freddie. I think it’s an important thing to discuss fluidity and I feel the book does it respectfully.
I also highly appreciated all the food in the book since wow do these characters have excellent taste buds and enjoy their delicious snacks.
The book also takes us to a large variety of settings which was exciting and fun! Ramona and Freddie start swimming at the local pool and there’s plenty of visiting houses and cities and delicious diners. I think it’s important in contemporaries to showcase a variety of settings to keep the plot moving. And the pacing was a bit on the slow side, but still captivating, with how strongly the characters lead the plot.
RAMONA BLUE is a summery story that deals with a lot of deep issues. It has real and honest conversations and it’s poignant and well written with characters you can root for and no black-and-white answers to all of life’s questions. You have to discover them for yourself!