Alice – Christina Henry

ALICE

The clue that this book may be a little creepy should surely be in the picture on the front cover! If you are hoping for a pleasant re telling of Alice in Wonderland I suggest that you close the book and back quietly away!

Alice by Christina Henry is the first in a series of books that venture in to a very dark and surreal world that you won’t forget in a hurry. We first meet Alice in a mental institution, her parents have placed her there after an episode which has left her scarred physically and mentally. She can’t remember what happened to her but she has flashbacks which include a sinister white  rabbit and blood running down her legs.

The man in the cell next door starts talking to her, it takes her a while to realise that he is a real person and not a figment of her imagination. He talks to her about escaping. He also has violent outbursts and is obviously locked up because he has murdered people. His name is Hatch. He is called Hatcher because he kills people with a hatchet.

One night the  hospital burns down and Alice and Hatch escape. They set out to look for the white rabbit, Alice’s downfall and, as it turns out, Hatch’s as well. They meet other characters whose names you will recognise from the original book but, they are really not the same!   The two of them go on a journey which Hatch seems to have created in his head, remembering things as he arrives at places and meets new people. They go to see the caterpillar (who runs a brothel) and this scene is one of the most disturbing. Magical creatures are created and Alice seems to be extremely powerful without knowing it. As she starts to get used to her power and control it, life gets hard for the bad guys.

This book explores drugs, rape and sexual abuse, control of people through drugs and mind control. The city is run by different gang lords and they kill people, violently.

I read this book with an open mind. My memory of the original story was a bit hazy (although I’m pretty sure it was nothing like this!) and I kept trying to connect characters. Don’t bother, it doesn’t really help. I like the darkness of it, the other world that is created made my skin crawl, and although Alice was a bit of a dope, she does come good in the end. She also has magical powers then she needs to learn how to control, hopefully this will be explored in the next book.

I would recommend though, if you are of a delicate nature or don’t want to read and explore dark and violent themes, that you don’t read this. What ever happened to Alice, it wasn’t nice and, although she does seem to have some recollection of it by the end of the book, your imagination will fill in some gaps, and none of it is good.

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There Will be Lies – Nick Lake

there will be lies

This is also on the Carnegie Shortlist for 2016.

Now, this book is a game of two halves – to use football parlance. On the one hand there is the story of Shelby Cooper. She is home schooled by her slightly eccentric (and cross stitch/ Scotland obsessed) mum and lives in a small town in America. Once a week she is allowed to go out, have an ice cream dinner with her mum, hit some balls at the batting cages (it’s a baseball thing apparently) and go to the library. There is a boy at the library who she fancies called Mark, who is part American Indian. Her mum has this thing about her not standing too close to the edge of the pavement in case she gets knocked over by a car. Basically her mum is super over protective and doesn’t let Shelby out of her sight unless she is going to ‘safe’ places like the library where she gets a cab and her mum picks her up at precisely eight o’clock. So as you can see, Shelby and her mum have a few issues.

Ok, so lets go back to the boy in the library. Just before she leaves one night to wait outside for her mum, he asks her if he can meet her after work. She says she can’t but is a bit flustered and as a result is early to meet her mum. She is also standing too close to the edge of the pavement. You can guess what happens next – she gets hit by a car. That’s when all the weird stuff starts happening. She sees a coyote who tells her that there will be two lies and then the truth, then she is transported into this dream world were she sees Mark (the boys she fancies) who also turns out to be a coyote. He is telling her that she is the chosen one and that they need to go and rescue the child from the Crone. (huh?) Shelby has had a recurring dream for years that she is stuck in a hospital and she can hear a child crying. She gets to the child (who is carrying a grey toy rabbit) and then she wakes up.

I’m going to be honest and say that if this book had been written just using the narrative about Shelby and her mum it would have been a thoroughly entertaining book. They go on the run after Shelby is released from hospital and Shelby soon realises that something is up. The truth comes out but she needs to decide which bits are lies and which bits are the truth. The whole coyote/ crone thing was just a bit weird and unnecessary. The road trip, the man they meet and her mum seduces (if the description of her mum is anything to go by, this man is very lonely!) and everything that happens afterwards would have made a really good, life affirming story. The whole American Indian myths thing would have also made a nice story. I see the connection – the metaphors were pretty strong, but the two connected were a little disjointed. I freely admit that I skipped through some of the coyote story.

On the whole an enjoyable, well written, pacey book that I would recommend. It might have suffered in that I needed to read it quickly for the Carnegie so tried to get through it in a day or so. But it’s good – just don’t take up cross stitch.

Also, riddle me this: How did she do the thing in the climbing shop at the end?? Answers on a postcard please. Or just comment at the bottom…

further reading – On The Road by Jack Kerouac  (just because you all need to read it), Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov or The Ice Age by Kirsten Reed. All are really good American road trip books.

further watching – Thelma and Louise (when you’re older!)

The Art of Being Normal – Lisa Williamson

Two boys. Two secrets.

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…

This is the blurb for this book; I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘that’s lazy. Normally she writes it all out but this time she’s just cut and pasted’ well, you’re right, I have. But that’s because I suspect that most of you have read this book already so there’s really no point in me going over the story line again!

Needless to say, this won the Hounslow Teen Read Award 2016 and probably will win lots of other awards as well. That’s because it’s fab. I know that there is a wealth of books about LGBT out there at the moment and this one stands out as one of the best. David is a really likable boy who is just trying to get through life and Leo is the same. But both of them have secrets that they want to keep hidden. In the case of Leo I was genuinely surprised by his secret though, the writer writes so well from a boys point of view. I suspect that there are loads of other teenagers out there struggling with exactly the same thing; maybe not as conclusively as Leo and David but varying degrees. Leo’s relationship with Alicia was really well done as well. I think that the Alicia’s reaction to what happened was probably standard but it also challenges what other teenagers would do in these circumstances.

Mainstream YA books that tackle this extremely emotional and difficult subject are to be applauded and there should be more like them so that young people can feel more comfortable about making these kinds of choices. In an age where it is more acceptable then ever to be whatever you want, and at a time in your life when you are already struggling with growing up and all the feelings associated with it, more should be done to explain and assimilate.

What I get from this book is that everyone is trying to get on and doesn’t need any hassle from anyone just because they may not fit in to your perception of normal. It also reminded me that school is a pretty hellish place and that if we aren’t kind to each other then what the heck are we all doing?

It’s a great book that will get you really thinking about how other people feel and what they are going through. The author writes really well on the subject and I can’t wait for her next book. I was also interested to find from my fellow librarians that this was a popular book with boys as well.

Another Day – David Levithan

Another Day is the companion novel to Every Day and it is narrated by Rhiannon, the girl that ‘A’ falls in love with in Every Day. I loved Every Day; the whole concept of a soul that is neither male nor female falling in love with someone and then every time it jumps to another body tries to convince her that it loves her. The nice thing about this book is that you already know the story and you know something about the main characters. It’s nice to revisit all the other characters from Rhiannon’s POV and see what she thought of them. The book also explores the concept of how Rhiannon feels about Justin – which kind of lead me to ask what she was doing with this guy in the first place. We know what’s going to happen at the end because we’ve read Every Day but it still made me sad.

But…. I do have a couple of issues with the book. Firstly, it’s too long. If you read these two books back to back then you would find it boring because you are basically going over the same ground twice. If Another Day was a short novella maybe then it would have been better – all the author had to do was re use the notes he had made from the previous book so it left me feeling a little cheated. David Levithan writes really well and I enjoy his books but I wanted more from it. Rhiannon seems like a nice girl with nice friends, she has a bit of a strange relationship with her parents which never really got explained (or maybe it did and I didn’t notice!) but the thing that gets me in the way that she allows herself to be treated by Justin.

This book is essentially a love story with a twist. It’s telling us to fall in love with the whole person, their looks are almost secondary to their personality and the way they make us feel. That is the message that the author wants us to take away here. That’s why ‘A’ is a boy and a girl and a jock and a geek and a Chinese girl and a religious nut, but, and it is a big but, Rhiannon is already in a relationship with someone who destroys her self-esteem, has social issues and generally makes her feel worthless. We do get to look at why he is the way he is a bit but that doesn’t excuse his behaviour towards her and why she stays with him, hoping it will get better.  In this age of social media Rhiannon should know that she shouldn’t have to put up with being treated the way she is; I know that she loves him and we all do stupid things for love but she annoyed me a little bit!

All that said, it is a well written, thought provoking book and a nice visit back to some characters that we already know – which is always nice. There are some other books by him that I would like to read but I think that Every Day is ground breaking stuff that really makes you think about why and who you love and that that decision is up to you. The control that ‘A’ tries to take at the end left me feeling sad and frustrated with him for trying to manipulate two other people’s feelings. At the end of the day, it’s all up to you to make your own choices and then work around them. If you loved Every Day then read it, it is worth it.

Never Evers – Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison

Ok, so firstly I am going to confess to a slight bias when writing about this book; it is written by one of my friends so I am bound to be positive about it. This book is not aimed at people like me, and by that I mean old people! Yet I found myself really enjoying it. It is essentially a book about miscommunication and the awkwardness of first love – set in a ski resort.

Mouse was a talented dancer and was attending a selective dance school where she hoped to achieve fame and fortune. She went to the trials with her friend Lauren (who is now the queen of mean); she got in, Lauren didn’t. Fast forward a few years and Mouse has been told that she no longer cuts it and must leave the fancy dance school and return to her old school with all her old friends who had waved her goodbye. Two of them; Keira and Connie, accept her back no questions asked and the three become fast friends. Lauren and her gang of cronies on the other hand, pretend to but then bitch about her in the toilets. In her wisdom, her mum has signed her up for the school ski trip so she can get used to being with the others again before she returns to school. She also tells them a big whopper of a lie which she will need to sort out before the end of the book.

Jack and his two friends are just looking forward to meeting some girls. None of them have even so much as kissed a girl so their aim for the trip is to get some action. This may prove difficult as none of them seem to know what the heck to do! These two worlds collide and Mouse and Jack, through a series of unfortunate events, end of spending more time together. Drop in a French teenage heart throb and you have a recipe for some cringe worthy times!

This book is different to their last collaboration; Lobsters. The target audience and characters are younger for a start. They are all in year 9 and this is their first experience of love. The trick is that both authors write so well about what it was like to be that age that it reminded me what it was like; the awkwardness, the way that you really wanted that boy/ girl to just notice you but when they did you had absolutely no idea what to say… It’s hard being 14 and knowing that there will be loads more of this to come and wanting to experience it but at the same time wanting to hide under the duvet and eat a jar of Nutella (or was that just me?)

The split narrative is really good as well, who wouldn’t want to know what the other side is thinking? There is even redemption in the form of Mouse telling Lauren at the disco that she shouldn’t give up on her dreams – I for one would have happily punched her on the nose!

Loved this book and can’t wait for the next one. It’s a great combination that gives us girls an insight into what is going on in the male mind and boys will hopefully see that girls pretty much think the same thing as them – with more lip gloss.

Say Her Name – James Dawson

This book is another entry for the Hounslow Teen Read Award; I think we put this in second place. I’m going to classify this is as a horror – based on the fact that it is about a creepy urban legend where if you say ‘bloody Mary’ into a candlelit mirror five times then you summon the ghost of Mary and after five terrifying days she will take you off to the afterlife (or wherever). The book centres around the character of Bobbi Rowe, a teenage girl attending the incredibly posh and slightly spooky Piper’s Hall boarding school. She is hanging out in the local graveyard on All Hallows Eve (as you do) with some other girls from her school where she meets the hunky (I am a child of the eighties!) Caine. He seems to be already taken by the slightly horrible Grace, not that he seems to know that. Another of the mean girls tell them about the story of Bloody Mary and dares everyone to do it. They all back out except for Bobbi, Caine and Bobbi’s best friend, sassy Naya. This is where the book starts to get interesting. The book is cleverly interspersed with news articles about other girls who have gone missing from the school in previous years, making the whole thing seem a bit more believable.

Strange things start happening to Bobbi. Things written on the mirror, doors slamming etc. then she gets a visit from Caine and he confirms that he has had the same experiences. Then another girl in her dorm goes missing and the police get involved – it’s starting to get serious. Bobbi and Caine make a trip to see an old pupil who is now is a mental institution and they start to realise that the stories may all be true. They do manage to get some kissing in while they are scared witless so all is not lost.  This book deserves it’s horror classification as the book gets more and more creepy as it goes on. When we discussed it in book group a couple of the girls said that they struggled to read it at night. I wanted to see how the author would end the book, I couldn’t believe that there was really a ghost and not someone playing tricks but the finale is pretty spectacular. A really good old fashioned horror that left me hoping that no one actually goes and tries this at home –  the romance was a little off key with the rest of the book though; I understand why it was there but it kind of took away the suspense a bit.

Don’t try this at home kids!

My Second Life – Faye Bird

This book is one of the nominations for Hounslow Teen Read Award 2016. Faye Bird is a local author, and the book is set in and around Twickenham and Teddington. I kind of enjoyed that because I kept trying to guess where she was and what school she went to!

Anyway…. The book is about a teenage girl called Ana who believes that she lived a previous life as a young woman called Emma. She keeps getting flashbacks where she is involved in the death of  a child that she knows – near a river. Her relationship with her ‘mum’ is complicated because she remembers her previous parents so clearly that this woman who thinks she is her mother isn’t. A bit of a complicated concept as the woman obviously gave birth to her. Ana feels that she cannot share any of these previous memories with her ‘mum’ and, to me this is the most frustrating part of the book, she doesn’t tell anyone what’s going on all the way through.

Ana goes to visit her nan in hospital (who she is close to but still doesn’t tell any of her secrets) and the lady in the next bed is connected to her previous life. She starts talking to her and she unlocks some more memories about what happened before. She goes to visit this woman and learns more about her past life, eventually unlocking all the events and bringing the book to its conclusion.

I liked the idea of this book; it was clever. The blurb kind of sells it like, ‘has anything happened to you that you feel you have lived before?’ which I think has happened to everyone (or maybe just me?!). The character herself annoyed me because I wanted her to be more open about what was going on, I also felt that she was a bit harsh with her ‘mum’, it’s not like it was her fault! It was interesting to think about what I would do in her situation though, I suppose if someone told you that they had lived a past life and gave you intimate details about it, it would freak you out slightly and you would probably find it quite difficult to believe. A good read that stretches your imagination. At the end I couldn’t work our whether it was actually a past life experience or just a confused girl who wanted a bit of an adventure! You decide.