Release – Patrick Ness

I have read and reviewed a few Patrick Ness books now, and there is no doubt that he is an incredibly talented and engaging author. I really loved More Than This, enjoyed The Knife of Never Letting Go (which is being made in to a film with an amazing cast) and was intrigued by The Rest of Us Just Live Here (amazing concept and an alternative view on superheroes!) This book is no different, but I am feeling a little uncomfortable about recommending it to you and I will explain the reasons why as we go along.

The main story centres around a day in the life of Adam Thorn. He is 17 and lives in a small town in middle America. His father Bob Thorn, is a local pastor for a church called The House Upon the Rock. For English readers I imagine him as one of those evangelical priests who walks up and down at the pulpit and shouts a lot about Jesus loving you, I think that these are a more regular occurrence in America then they are here. His mother is in denial that they are poor and his brother Marty is the prodigal son who has gone off to Christian college to learn how to be a preacher like his dad. Adam is the black sheep in the family because he is gay. Not that this is ever discussed in the Thorn household, ever. Marty has all the commitment but none of the personality and Adam has all the personality but, according to Big Bob Thorn, is morally corrupt.

Adam’s best friend is called Angela Darlington and she is the adopted daughter of a Dutch lady and her American husband. She is originally from Korea I think and has a sharp wit and an open heart. She loves Adam and worries for him and has decided that she is bi or gay or not, it doesn’t matter. She supports Adam and is more family to him then his own crazy lot. He also has a boyfriend called Linus but is still in love with his ex, Enzo who is moving out of town. Today is his leaving party (or get-together as they keep calling it) and the book is leading up to this event. Adam also likes cross country running but isn’t very fast, which is incidental to the book but shows a little of his  personality.

The other  section of the book centres around the drug fuelled murder of another local girl, Katherine van Leuwen. She is murdered by her boyfriend while they are both high and her body is dumped in the local lake – where the get together is taking place later on. Her spirit inhabits some kind of Queen of the Lake who is now wandering the town looking for her murderer to exact revenge. Or rather the queen has reanimated Katherine’s body and when people see her, they are shocked to see the dead Katherine wandering about. She is followed by her faithful servant who is a fawn. She visits Katherine’s mother and friend and the murder scene trying to figure out why she is there. If the Queen cannot reconnect with her body by the end of the day then the world (hers and ours) will be destroyed. No pressure there then – the poor fawn is working overtime to erase everyone’s memories of his Queen in Katherine’s body. You all still with me?

There are several things that I really loved about this book. The writing style for one always makes me marvel at how people  can be so clever. I almost doubt my own cleverness because there is no way I could come up with a concept so clever. Ness writes with passion and depth. His descriptions, the scene where Adam is sexually assaulted by his boss, is so good you feel like you are sitting in that cramped office with them. I felt the shame of both of them, and the anger. The story is engaging, I liked Adam and Angela and Linus, wasn’t too keen on Enzo and Marty but I can understand them. Adam’s parents are struggling with their faith versus the love for their son and I can see, as a parent, how this would be difficult. I wanted it all to work out in the end but I guess life isn’t as neat as all that. I also love the concept of all the action taking place on one day, so many changes occur in Adam’s life that the supernatural element could be the only explanation.

Here is my problem. According my goodreads profile I have read nearly 1000 books. I have been reading for 40 years (give or take my childhood years!) and I have travelled all over the world, time travelled and gone in to the future in fiction. I have experienced things  through many fictional characters and have loved and laughed,  hated and felt angry, violent and heart broken. All of these emotions are brought on by the written word. I love reading and it is my job and my passion to make as many people as possible feel the same way that I do about it. I have never told a student not to read a book when they have asked me. I have recommended books that are controversial, touch subjects they may not understand or agree with but, they all make you think about what it might be like to live in another person’s skin.

I finished this book last week and have really struggled with how to review it. This book is written for the teen market or YA audience. This is classified as 11 to 18 years old. This market has blown up over the last few years and is amazing. The wealth of subjects that it writes about make it easier for young people to experience and accept things that they have not experienced yet, and I think this is a great thing.  There may be things that they cannot talk about with anyone else but they can read about and not feel so alone in the world. Which is why I think that YA authors have an obligation to educate as well as produce great fiction – no mean feat. The sex scenes in this book are some of the most graphic I have ever read. The description of Linus and Adam in bed together are both unnecessary and so descriptive that it made me uncomfortable, and I am no prude. I have never read another YA book where any sexual descriptions, straight, gay or bi are so intimate. I’m not sure why Ness decided to make them so, or why his publisher then decided to go ahead with them. There is a fine line between educating and shocking and I think this one crosses it.

That’s just a personal opinion and you may go on and love it and think I’m a silly old lady but, I want you to know what to expect and, as an educator (!) I need to do that. I loved this book but I struggled with it. You decide what you think.

 

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This Careless Life – Rachel McIntyre

If you  saw an advert asking if you wanted to be famous, would you do it? This is the premise of this interesting book about four friends who sign up for a reality type TV show over their summer holidays before they go off to university. The main driver of the project is Olivia Dawson-Hill, or Liv to her friends Hetty, Jez and Duffy. Well I say friends, they don’t seem very friendly to me, except Liv and Hetty  and even they don’t seem too keen on each other!

They have all just left their posh boarding school and are waiting for their A level results before heading off to separate lives. Liv is not confident about hers but its ok because a. her parents are mega rich and b. she has her own blog Miss Olivia Loves and she is going to be famous anyway. This programme will just make that happen a bit quicker. She lives in a big house in an annex that her parents have built for her which is super swanky and which she has designed herself. This is where all the action takes place.

Cass arrives to make some audition tapes of the four from the production company Pretty Vacant Productions. The reality programme they are auditioning for is called This Careless Life. I love the cleverness of these two names, and the fact that none of the kids get it! Liv is not expecting Cass, she is expecting a guy called Tony but, she has a business card and it all seems legit so they get started. All of them have to sign a disclaimer saying that they are allowed to take part and that none of the footage used in the audition tapes will be used on TV (if they make it that far). They also have to turn their phones off and make sure that none of the auditions are recorded. This is important for later. Liv goes first. They all watch her audition tape and then Cass starts asking some uncomfortable questions. She seems to have knowledge about each one of them which no one else seems to be know. All of the kids are connected to their local country club and all have a big secret to hide.

Hetty is obsessed with her boyfriend Duncan (control freak!) who works for her mum, a local far right councillor. Jez is trying to get publicity for a charity that he has set up, Duffy is a bit of a playboy who seems to think that all women should fall at his feet. All of them have done something that they think  no one else knows about. All of them are wrong.

The clever thing about this book is that you are never quite sure whether these things happened or not and what the connection is. It all becomes clear at the end but, although you get to know the characters, you don’t really invest too much in them. They are all a bit shallow and a little bit morally dodgy but, can you agree that they made the decisions they make for the right reasons or to protect themselves?

There a little bit of supernaturalness going on as well (is that even a word? it is now!) and I’m not sure it’s strictly necessary, although it does add to the mystery and explain a couple of twists at the end. I would have liked Cass’ character to have been explored a bit more but I can see that that could turn into another book on it’s own so maybe the author has kept that story in reserve.  Quite a short read but a good plot and a page turner that will keep you guessing until the end. Can they all redeem themselves and come out the other side as better people, or they all just living a careless life, exploiting people along the way? You’ll have to read it to find out!

The Thousandth Floor – Katharine McGee

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This is the first in a series. The book is set in New York in 2118. Not sure what has happened to the world but the main characters all live in a tower block that is, you’ve guessed it, 1000 floors high! The richer you are, the higher up the block you live. The character that we first meet, Avery Fuller, lives with her parents and her adopted brother, Atlas, who has disappeared. The family are obviously mega rich and super powerful. Avery and her family live in a penthouse on the 1000th floor.

The book is written from five different POVs. Avery, Lena, Eris, Watt and Rylin. One of these is a boy…. Rylin lives down on the lower levels with her sister. Her mum is dead and she is  trying to make ends meet. She goes to work at a party hosted by another rich kid with a trust fund and she ends up involved in a murky world involving her current boyfriend and the rich boy she is falling in love with. Avery and Atlas have a secret that will blow all their world’s apart and there is a lot of unrequited love and drug usage going on. Watt is a super hacker and has created a computer that he has placed inside his head. This is highly illegal but he uses it to make money by spying on people and selling information. In a world where everyone does everything online this is a powerful tool, but could land him in prison for the rest of his life. He lives quite far  down the block as well.

At the beginning of the book we learn that one of the main characters will fall from the top of the tower to their death. The build up and who it might be will keep you guessing all the way through and this is a clever plot device. It makes you want to read on. All of the characters are pretty shallow and the only one who seems to value their life (eventually) is Eris. Leda is hiding an addiction and a spell in rehab, Rylin is trying to protect a boy she realises she n longer knows and Watt gets in way too deep when he discovers that he is falling for the very person he shouldn’t. Even though there is much made of the fact that Leda, Avery and Eris are all such great friends, when it all comes down to it, they leave each other to save themselves. It is also an interesting exploration of friendship amongst kids who think they have everything, but at the end of the day having everything doesn’t always make you happy.

All of them have secrets and some of them are more desperate to hide them then others. I liked the twist with Eris and Lena and it’s all nicely set up for a sequel. A good futuristic book that will make you want to go and read the next one, but if you like a fantasy book with a bit more action and adventure then this probably won’t float your boat.

There are also a few bits in there which are morally questionable and may make you think which of the main characters (if any) you actually like by the end of the  book! I will go on and read the next one, but it might take me a while to get to it. I didn’t invest too emotionally with any of them as they all have dislikable traits. Maybe we aren’t meant to…. Am interested to see where the author takes them all next though.

Paper Butterflies – Lisa Heathfield

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I haven’t read anything by Lisa Heathfield before but I discovered after I read this that my daughter has a copy of another one of her books, Seed and I cannot wait to dive in to that one! I also discovered that I have a copy of The Flight of the Starling on my kindle courtesy of Netgalley so, lucky me!
This book made me cry – now if you have read any of my other posts then you will see that this isn’t too difficult, I am a bit of a softy but, this book made me alternate between being really sad and really angry! Angry that the world can let people live in such awful situations and not be fair, and really sad because I wanted June’s life to get better. And I guess in a way it does, because she meets Blister. But I’m getting ahead of myself….
June lives with her dad and her stepmom and her step sister Megan. Kathleen is the stepmom from hell. June’s mum has died in a drowning accident and her dad has remarried. June misses her mum and as the book progresses we see that this is more than just normal grief. She is living in hell. Kathleen is overfeeding her, bullying her mentally and physically and encouraging her daughter to do the same. Her dad is so busy he is oblivious to what’s going on and June doesn’t feel able to tell him. He’s pretty much never there anyway.
June is also having a hard time at school. Kathleen doesn’t allow her to go to the toilet at home and she wets herself, she is accused of bullying even though she is the victim and her stepsister winds her up at school and she is being bullied by a boy there. She is out one day when she finds a strange  collection of huts and meets a boy there  called Blister. Blister lives with his large family and is home schooled. Blister and his family are June’s salvation. She  becomes part of something good and loving and, it helps her to accept the situation that she is in. Sometimes it was frustrating because I wanted her to open up to someone, anyone about what was going on at home, mainly because of what happens later. But she doesn’t.
The book is written in before and after snap shots so we know something awful happens to June. It also leaps forward by a year in most chapters so when we first meet June, and then Blister, they are quite young and we follow them right through to their teen years.
I don’t want to tell you much more of the plot because it will spoil it for you but, this book will make you feel lots of emotions that will keep making you come back and revisit it. June is a character that I wanted to pick up and take care of, Blister is such a lovely, compassionate boy that I wanted to sit and have a chat with him. Primarily I wanted to punch Kathleen really hard in the face for most of the book! Megan I felt a bit ambivalent about because she was also a child and I think some things that she did were a reaction to her mother and her situation, she also needs a good talking to though!
I loved this book, not in the conventional really want to read it again way, but in a way that a book can touch your soul and make you want to be a better person. I cannot wait to read the rest of Lisa Heathfield’s books to explore what else she can offer.

 

The One Memory of Flora Banks – Emily Barr

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I Kissed Drake….. I kissed Drake….. I Kissed Drake….

Get used to these words because you will be reading them over and over again in this book! Flora Banks has a brain injury which means that she cannot retain any memories after about 2-3 hours. She lives in Penzance in Cornwall with her parents and they look after her. She has to write notes on her hands and arms to remind her what’s going on,and she has letters and notes around the house with other information about her life.

She is 17 but as she had a brain aneurysm when she was 10 she still thinks that she is that age. All her memories before 10 are mostly there, including her best friend, Paige.

At the beginning of the book she is at a party with Paige. Paige’s boyfriend is leaving Penzance to study in Svalbard, Norway. Flora knows Paige at the party but doesn’t remember anyone else, she gets a bit bored and leaves to go and sit on the beach; this is where the famous kiss occurs. It is unusual because when Flora wakes up the next day she can remember it. This is so unusual that she attaches a massive significance to it and it takes over her life. It also destroys her friendship with Paige.

The other part of the story is that Flora has a brother called Jacob who lives in France. He has become very ill and her parents need to go over to France to see him. They tell Flora that she doesn’t have a passport so she can’t come with, but they have arranged with Paige that she will come and stay with Flora and look after her while they are away. Except Paige is no longer speaking to Flora and won’t come, Flora doesn’t tell her parents this and they go off thinking that she will be safe. She is left home alone for a week. Her mum rings to remind her to take her medication and she gets on with it, but this overhanging obsession with Drake becomes more and more intense. They start emailing each other and Flora becomes immersed. She then makes a decision that will change everything. She has a tattoo on her arm which says ‘ be brave ‘ and she certainly is that!

I have a few issues with this book. Although the portrayal of a person with short term memory is well done, the sense of confusion and unreality comes across really well, the significance of a kiss with a boy  (and not a very nice boy at that!) is annoying. It is also incredibly repetitive and eventually I dreaded reading those words ‘I kissed Drake…’ The twist at the end is good, almost worth reading all the way through for but, I wanted Flora to be more sorry about nabbing her best mate’s boyfriend, and she really didn’t give a damn! Considering Paige has obviously stuck by her through a very difficult time the way Flora just dropped her and became obsessed with her bloke was sad.

All in all, I have to say that this wasn’t one of my favourite reads, but it was entertaining and a sympathetic portrayal of someone with amnesia and the sacrifices that other people around them have to make. Paige is a good friend to Flora, her parents I have mixed feelings about because of what happens over the course of the book but, her brother Jacob is ace.

We Come Apart – Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan

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Jess doesn’t have a great life. She lives with her mum and her stepdad, Terry. She used to also live with her brother Liam, but when things got a bit too much with Terry he ran off; Jess hasn’t see him since. Terry beats Jess’ mum and forces Jess to film it so she is complicit in what is happening. Jess  can’t save her.

Nicu doesn’t have a great life either. He is from Romania and has come to England with his mum and dad to make some money. He is from a gypsy family and his parents are planning his wedding. Nicu doesn’t want to get married but his parents are adamant that they will find him a nice wife that he can look after.

Both Nicu and Jess are 15 years old and meet when they are both arrested for stealing and put on community service in the local park. They are both on their third offense, Jess got dumped in it by her mates and Nicu stole some stuff from a shop. Nicu doesn’t speak English very well and is struggling at school, not just with the language but with the bullying that he experiences as a Roma gypsy. He just wants to fit in and keep his head down but this is impossible to do. Jess is part of a gang that doesn’t want anything to do with people like him, but during their Saturdays together, a bond starts to form.

Nicu is starting to fall in love with Jess and this makes him want to get married even less. He is worried about not doing what his father wants, but at the same time can’t deny his feelings for the difficult Jess.

Like the other Sarah Crossan books, this is written in poetry form. This makes it a quick and easy read. Don’t let this fool you into thinking it doesn’t have a hard hitting message, and the language is pretty grown up too. The authors are making comments about the social landscape of modern Britain. There is a very large shifting population and many people from Europe come over to the UK to live and work, and bring their children, mostly with the intention of returning to their home countries at some point – with the children who have been educated in Britain. The cultures and rules that they bring with them from other countries are not the same as we have here. By bringing their children here and letting them experience our culture, their world shifts a little. If Nicu hadn’t come to the UK he would not have thought twice about an arranged marriage, or met Jess. The possibilities after their meeting means that he cannot accept what his parents want.

Jess on the other hand is living a pretty miserable life and cannot see a way out. By meeting Nicu, the spiral of her life changes. She no longer wants the life she has, she sees the people she hangs around with for what they are and it pushes her to change the way she sees things.

I so wanted this book to have a different conclusion but I guess life isn’t like that! Inevitably they both see that they can’t carry on the way they are and something needs to  change, unfortunately life gets in the way. I don’t want to spoil it for so I won’t say any more then that but, suffice to say – if you love her other books (and you just need to read my reviews to know that I do!)  then you will absorb this book and finish it in a single sitting. You may even shed a tear or two at the end….

Goodbye Stranger – Rebecca Stead

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Bridge, Tab and Em have been friends for ever. They met in grade school (I think this is primary school English viewers!) and made a pact that they would never fight. This is probably quite easy when you are little but, as you get older this is a little harder to do. Bridge was out  rollerskating one day when she is hit by a car. She is off school for a year recovering and Tab and Em get on with life.

It's a new term, their last at middle school,when Bridge returns to school. Em is starting to pull away from the group, she has taken up various sports, filled out a bit and got interested in boys. One particular boy takes her interest and, encouraged by her new friend Julie Hopper from the year above, she engages in some flirting with him. The boy, Patrick, starts sending her pictures and she starts replying and then it all gets a bit complicated.

In the mean time, Bridge meets Sherm. Sherm is lovely, and Bridge wants to be his friend. They are all only 12 remember so she's not really sure what else she wants. She just knows that she looks forward to seeing Sherm and hanging out with him. Meanwhile, Tab has started spouting feminist ideology picked up from her  teacher, and their friendship is starting to become fractured. Sherm also has some stuff of his own going on and isn't really sure how to deal with it all.

This book is really interesting. It deals with some pretty big themes; friendship, first love, betrayal and heartache. There is also a bit of cyber bullying thrown in, along with a difficult moral conundrum for Sherm; in fact two moral conundrums! His relationship with Bridge gets more complicated and he makes a decision which has consequences for everyone.

I kept forgetting that they were so young while I was reading it. I don't know if that means I am getting old or kids just have to deal with more serious dilemmas at a younger age then I did. Bridge is a great character simply because she is a bit more innocent then the others and finds herself in situations that she isn't really ready to deal with yet. This is a clever device because that's pretty much how most kids feel at this age! Sherm is also the kind of boy you would want your daughter to be friends with. Em and Tab are a bit more complicated, and perhaps this is because they have a bit more experience of how the world works then Bridge does, this doesn't mean that they make the right decisions though!

I haven't read anything else by Rebecca Stead but will put some of her other books on my reading list – a nicely written book about growing up in America in the 2000s and how modern technology can make dating and flirting even more complicated. The cyber thing will also have you gnashing your teeth about how girls get treated differently to boys, even now. See if you think Em and Patrick get treated in the same way, by their peers and by the school, when everyone finds out what happened….