Paper Butterflies – Lisa Heathfield

paper butterflies

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.

 

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We Come Apart – Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan

we come apart

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

goodbye stranger

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….

Our Chemical Hearts – Krystal Sutherland

There is a wealth of books for teenagers about all kinds of things. Some of them worry me. They deal with illness, mental and physical, abuse, sexuality (loads of these!) bullying, relationships, strange illnesses that aren’t really illnesses and, like this one, grief. In this day and age when teenagers have access to so much online content, to then write books about how they should deal with these things, effectively taking the role of the parent, sometimes troubles me. I don’t want my daughter to find out how to deal with these things from a book, I want her to be able to talk to me about them,  but I know that this isn’t possible for some. I also know that there are lots of things going on in your heads that you  need to sort out and, if it helps to read about it then that can only be a good thing…. except bear in mind that  life isn’t all doom and gloom!

This book is a sensitive portrayal of a young woman who has lost her boyfriend/ best friend/ future husband in a car crash. The story isn’t told through her eyes though, but through the boy who falls in love with her afterwards. Henry is a bit geeky and aspires to be the editor of his high school newspaper in his senior year. He has schemed for the last two years with his friends Lola and Murray ( a quirky Australian!) to achieve this. When he is called in to the English teacher’s office (Mr Hink) at the beginning of the year he encounters Grace Town. Grace walks with a limp, wears musty boys clothes and, when offered the job of sharing the editorial job with Henry, turns it down. Henry chases after her (she is surprising nimble, even with a walking stick) and demands to know why. Grace has transferred from another local high school in the area called East High. Henry feels drawn to her but can’t explain why, even to himself. She is not the typical girl to fall in love with and, Henry isn’t the type of boy to fall for girls much anyway, he’s too interested in his writing.

As their relationship develops La and Murray, and Henry’s sister Sadie, who is also going through a divorce, try to warn him against trying to start something with someone who is so broken. The metaphor here is that Henry likes to collect broken things, in particular Japanese pots that have been fixed with gold wires. Grace is profoundly broken and blames herself for the accident that took her boyfriend and future, Dom. The idea that when someone you love is killed, you are also robbed of that future that you would have had with them is a deeply upsetting concept.

There is also a little side thing going on with Henry’s parents which I found quite interesting. This all became clear at the end of the book but it was the relationship between Henry and his parents and then their relationship with his sister Sadie that made me think a bit. The age gap between Sadie and Henry is big and Sadie was the naughty one who did everything, so when Henry is her opposite they aren’t sure how to deal with this. I can’t quite decide whether they intended to make him feel guilty or were relieved that he wasn’t as rebellious as his big sister, interesting though.

The writing is beautiful and the texts and emails that intersperse the book are good at breaking things up and a realistic portrayal of how young people would communicate, no one is ever off limits anymore.   I wanted to feel sorry for Grace, but I ended up just feeling a lot of frustration with her. She doesn’t ask Henry to feel the way that he does but she doesn’t do anything to help make the situation better. The way in which grief is portrayed  as a real, visceral thing that eats away at you is awesome (in the proper sense of the word!) This is a debut novel by this author and I wasn’t expecting it to move me as much as it did, be prepared for some raw emotion and hard hitting dialogue that will leave you reaching for your tissues. Murray is also great as the comedy factor and, although he is portrayed as a stereotypical Australian, it’s kind of ironic!

Enjoy this one, I’m sure you will!

My Brother Simple – Marie-Aude Murail

This book is written by a French author and is one of the most popular young adult books in France. It follows the story of Kleber and his brother, Simple. Kleber is 17 and his brother Barnaby/ Simple is 22. Simple has the mental age of a three year old and carries around a stuffed rabbit called Mr Babbit. Mr Babbit has his own voice in the book which can sometimes be confusing.

Simple has been living in an institution called Malicroix near where their father lives. Their mother is dead and their father has married a younger woman who is now pregnant. He is not very interested in his boys. Simple hates living in Malicroix and Kleber knows it, so he decides to take Simple out of the home and takes him to Paris to live with him. But first he needs to find somewhere to live. They start off by living with a great aunt but Kleber is desperate to live somewhere else and be more independent. After a few false starts he finds two rooms in a flat share with some university students. They are Aria and her boyfriend Emmanuel, who are medical students, Corentin, Aria’s brother and Enzo, Corentin’s best friend. Even though they are sceptical about taking on Simple, they eventually grow to love him. Enzo is also in love with Aria and, although she knows, she tries to ignore it.

Kleber meanwhile is having romance problems of his own. At college he meets a beautiful redhead called Beatrice and quickly falls in love. In the background is Zahra, another student on his course who he becomes friends with. Zahra falls in love with Kleber but he realises that he will have more luck with Beatrice and starts dating her. Simple goes around in his own little world and they all start to settle in to a routine. Simple is really good at messing up situations and making things awkward for Kleber but he perseveres. Eventually though, things come to a head and, after a series of misunderstandings, things start to go wrong. Kleber and the housemates need to rescue Simple after realising what a positive influence he is in each of their lives.

This book is lovely. Simple is such a great character and makes you feel more positive about life. Kleber is so young but loves his brother and wants to make his life better. Essentially it’s a story about the love that the brother’s have for each other and how one sacrifices his life so that he can look after the other. A really great book about love and redemption and France…

Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice – Natasha Farrant

Ok, hands up who has read the classic Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen? That doesn’t include watching the BBC adaption with Colin Firth in it, or the film with Keira Knightley….

Well, if you haven’t read it or seen the film or TV show then I will give a brief outline of the plot. Mr and Mrs Bennett live in Longbourne. They have five daughters and need to get them all married off. The oldest daughter, Jane, falls in love with their new neighbour Mr Bingley who is super rich. The second oldest, Lizzie, is pursued by Mr Darcy even though he thinks that she isn’t good enough for him (he’s a bit arrogant but also mega rich) then there is Mary, Kitty and lastly, Lydia who turns 16 during the course of the novel. The book is set in Georgian England and it is about the time that England is fighting the French. Their village is overrun with soldiers, one of whom is Mr Wickham, who has history with Mr Darcy. There is a silly vicar called Mr Collins who is a cousin of theirs and he will inherit their house when Mr Bennet dies unless one of the girls marries  him and secures it for all of them. Mr Collins also happens to be the local vicar for Mr Darcy’s aunt,  who is a Lady. Mr Collins is also really creepy but sets his sights on Lizzie.

Everyone is obsessed with class and money and whether people have good reputations. Mrs Bennet is certainly obsessed with making sure that all her daughters make good marriages with rich husbands so that the family won’t have to worry about being thrown out on the street. I may have just butchered a classic there but that’s a broad outline of the story!

In the original book Lydia is silly, vain and obsessed with dances and dresses and being pretty.  She doesn’t read and isn’t interested in being educated. She follows the soldiers around in their lovely red coats and loves flirting. During the course of the book she befriends the Major’s wife and, when the soldiers are moved down to Brighton she goes with and hopes to bag a husband while having as much as fun as possible.

In this book, she is keeping a diary which was given to her by her sister, Mary. Mary is the clever one who likes reading and playing the piano. The first section of the book follows the storyline of the original and gives us a fresh perspective on the Bennet’s life. Lydia gets on with her sister Kitty the best but respects Jane and Lizzie and feels a bit left out by them. She is a minor role in the original book until the end where she is integral to the ending but, in this her personality comes through. Things really start to get interesting when she arrives in Brighton. In Georgian times, Brighton was the place to go and Lydia soon fits in. She goes to balls at the Ship Assembly Rooms (I’ve been there!) and goes to the theatre where the King may also be attending. She also starts to swim in the sea. During the time, if you wanted to swim in the sea you have to be pulled in a carriage in which you got changed. Everyone was obsessed with their reputations and not exposing themselves to ruin. Other people seeing you in your swimming costume would ruin you!

Anyway, Lydia is on the beach with Harriet (the Major’s wife) when she sees a very glamorous redhead. She learns that this lady is a Comtesse and has  fled France after the revolution. A Comtesse in like a Countess to us. She also learns that she has a brother, Alaric, who is a Comte. She is enthralled by the idea of meeting real life royal French people and sets about engineering a meeting with them. Helped by the dashing but dodgy Wickham. Wickham is already in trouble because he keeps trying to marry  rich women (including Darcy’s sister when she was about 13!). The Comte and Comtesse are living with  a relative who, it turns out, is pretty rich and eligible and Wickham decides to try his luck with her. Lydia in the meantime falls in love with Alaric and hopes to marry him and live in India where his stepfather has a tea plantation.

The book has a good twist at the end which I wasn’t expecting and it is obviously more accessible than the original. It is also of the period so will give you a good idea of the original storyline and why everyone behaves the way they do. It also made me very glad that I didn’t live in that time!

Lydia is a likeable character and you will want her to make a success  of things in the end. The only problem is that I didn’t really feel there was enough time spent on the romance to make it believable that she would do what she did, and there is a few little bits that are a little hard to believe. A nice spin on a classic though, you will enjoy it whether you have read the original or not.

The Hawkweed Prophecy – Irena Brignull

The Hawkweed Prophecy by Irena Brignull is the first in a series about two girls who have a strange connection. One lives in a coven in the woods with other witches, and no men. The other lives with her Dad and moves around a lot. It soon becomes clear that they move around so much because the girl, Poppy has problems settling in at school. Things seem to happen around her.

Poppy and Ember have been switched at birth. Poppy is living with her dad and moves a lot. Ember lives with her mother Charlock Hawkweed and the rest of the coven. The coven is led by her aunt Raven. There is a prophecy that one of the Hawkweed daughters will become Queen of the Witches and that means that it will either be Ember or her  cousin Sorrel.  Raven is determined that it will be her daughter, hence the reason that Poppy and Ember were swapped. Ember has little or no magical powers and there is no real possibility that she will ever be queen.

Poppy is on her 11th school and is struggling with the fact that her mum is in a mental hospital. Her mum is there because she has rejected Poppy and claims that she is not her daughter. Poppy is understandably struggling with this and doesn’t get on too well with her dad either; he is getting fed up with all the moving. Strange things happen when Poppy gets annoyed and most of the schools she has been in have asked her to leave.

One day the two girls meet in the woods by chance. They have no idea that they are connected but form an instant bond with each other. Poppy starts to talk about the outside world and Ember longs to be a part of it. Although she is not allowed the talk to ‘chaffs’ (non magical people) about the coven, she finds herself telling Poppy bits and pieces and lends her some of her books about spells. Poppy soon realises that there is more to their connection then either of them thought.

The other main character in the book is Leo, a boy who lives on the streets. Poppy meets and forms a connection with him and he helps her through some stuff with her cats. Leo has had a hard time and is living in fear of his stepdad and stepbrothers. Leo plays an important part in the lives of both the girls and, without giving too much away, will definitely make an appearance in the next book.

The book has some great elements in it; magic, jealousy, love and revenge. The strong female characters are refreshing to read about, and the idea of a load of ladies living in the woods making potions is kind of cool! As Poppy’s magic grows and she becomes more sure of her abilities she becomes a likeable person that we can identify with. Ember is a little too soft for my liking, but I think this might change later.

All in all a good book that you will enjoy and will keep you guessing. There are some violent elements to it but this is in context and the whole waiting to be queen thing will hopefully be fleshed out a bit more in the next  book, along with the East witches who turn in to big cats. Did I mention that there was people changing in to animals as well?

Further reading: The Thirteen Treasures series by Michelle Harrison, Harry Potter (obviously!) The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – basically anything with magic in!