Book review: Junk

41W95d4oqlL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_“It was a love story. Me, Gemma and junk. I thought it was going to last forever.”

Tar loves Gemma, but Gemma doesn’t want to be tied down. She wants to fly. But no one can fly forever. One day, finally, you have to come down. Melvin Burgess’ most ambitious and complex novel is a vivid depiction of a group of teenagers in the grip of addiction. Told from multiple viewpoints, Junk is a powerful, unflinching novel about heroin. Once you take a hit, you will never be the same again.

Written in 1996 but set in the early and mid 80s, Junk is a fictional yet completely honest story about heroin addiction in teenagers. The main characters are Tar and Gemma who leave home and start their lives again in Bristol aged 14. Tar is running away from his abusive parents: his mum is an alcoholic and his dad hits him, while Gemma wants to lead a life of freedom that her parents won’t let her have. Their reasons for leaving home are completely different, and yet they both find comfort in heroin.

Junk is told through the voices of Gemma and Tar, as well as the people that they meet along the way. I really love the varying viewpoints and I think that as well as giving depth and balance to the story, it makes reading Junk such an important experience. Nothing is told as fact but every bit of this book is told as truth. As a result I felt so connected to each character’s story and felt understanding of their experiences. I finished Junk feeling more empowered and more educated about an addict’s life than I ever have before.

I was really surprised by how strongly I felt for the characters because I’ve never known anyone who’s in a situation similar those described in Junk. When Gemma and Tar run away from home they literally have nothing and consequently haven’t anything to lose by stealing or squatting. As the story progresses and their situation becomes much darker I really did feel for them when they were making incredibly difficult sacrifices to sustain their addictions. I think it’s so important that neither the characters nor the reader are judged by Junk, and Melvin gives every reader the chance to build their own opinions about what they’ve read.

I mentioned earlier about how I was surprised to have felt for the characters but really I shouldn’t have been because whether you’re an addict or homeless or a dealer or a prostitute, you’re still a person like everyone else, and human characteristics like love or empathy don’t stop because of the situation that you’re in. Melvin never once suggests that you should view a particular character a certain way and because of that every character is presented as a perfectly flawed human being just like the reader.

Another aspect of Junk that I think is so important is that the teenage characters are treated the same as the adults. For a lot of the characters their age is never mentioned and for those whose ages we do know, it’s often not revealed until many chapters after they’ve been introduced. It’s unsurprising that Junk is considered one of (if not THE) first YA novel as the younger characters aren’t patronised or spoken down and are instead listened to and have their issues and problems validated.

Junk is powerful, engaging, upsetting, and comforting all at once, and is honestly one of the most fantastic books that I’ve ever read. Along with Asking For It by Louise O’Neill I think this is a book that every teenager and adult should read. It’s an uncomfortable thought, but situations like those in Junk happen every day and I think it’s crucial that we allow ourselves to step into that world and challenge our preconceptions. Junk feels as relevant today as any contemporary YA novel that I’ve read recently, and I’m sure it will continue to be praised in years to come.
Thank you so much to Anderson Press for giving me a copy of Junk at the Federation of Children’s Book Groups conference.

A short Q and A with a bookseller | Grace Latter

I have such a great time talking to other booksellers so I thought it would be fun to start a Q and A series. My first guest is Grace Latter!

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. Where do you work and what is your role?
I work at Waterstones Hastings (@WstonesHastings on Twitter and @waterstoneshastings on Insta!). I am a standard bookseller working around 3 days a week, and someday I hope to be awarded an ‘expert’ title in a genre!

2. How long have you worked there?
Only a few weeks now! I’m a delighted newbie!

3. How did you get your job?
I was sick of my previous job, and the nastiness that was occurring there. It wasn’t the right fit for me any more. So I strode purposefully into my local Waterstones and asked if they had any jobs going – I’d also tweeted them to ask as well, keen much! – and they asked for my CV. I emailed it to them that evening and had a lovely interview the following week! And I think the day after the interview when I got a call, the manager calling me was just as excited as I was!

4. What is your favourite thing about bookselling?
People listen to my recommendations and trust my opinions. Sometimes they even buy a book I tell them they should. That gives me the warmest fuzziest feelings.

5. What tips do you have for aspiring booksellers?
A classic life tip that applies here is BE YOU. Revel in your love of the written word and chatter with customers and colleagues about your shared interests. Don’t hide or shy away! Also put your personality into the shelves, face out and write rec cards for the books you love most.

Follow Grace:  twitter  |  facebook  |  blog  |  instagram

A Rising Star

I’m so thrilled that I’ve been chosen as one of this year’s Rising Stars by The Bookseller. Every year The Bookseller selects 40 ‘industry up and comers’ and following my nomination for Young Retailer of the Year, I was chosen! I’m so happy and proud and grateful and overwhelmed, and feel so full of love and support.

Here is what The Bookseller said:

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Read about all of the other Rising Stars here.

Mini Review: Counting Stars

Counting Stars

Counting Stars is the first of Keris Stainton’s books that I’ve read and I really, really, REALLY enjoyed it!

Anna’s finally ready to be a ‘proper’ grown-up. She couldn’t be more excited about her big move to Liverpool, and she’s determined to bring more of her super-confident online alter-ego, Anna Sparks, with her. 

But her new life is also a little overwhelming.  Anna’s job quickly falls through, and then she realises that although her new friends are great, they’re also a little mixed-up…and it’s not long before Anna starts using her blog to talk about her experiences, from the hilarious to the ridiculous to the little-bit-scary. But when Anna spills a bigger secret than she can handle, suddenly the consequences are all too real.

Counting Stars is the perfect example of fabulous contemporary YA: it’s rude, funny, heartwarming, heartbreaking, captivating, and completely embracing of late-teens/early twenties culture. Anna is the main character – although this isn’t told in first-person – and her friends make up a full and interesting cast of secondary characters. I really enjoyed that all of the characters feel rounded and as a result this is such an easy read.

Despite there being a main character, there are multiple storylines touching upon issues from all of the characters perspectives. Keris has done a marvellous job of interweaving all of these narratives into an exciting story that feels very real and true to life. The use of third person narrative makes this book really quirky – the only book I can think to compare this to is the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, although these are aimed at a slightly older audience.

Something that I really love about Counting Stars is the variety of characters and that each of their sexualities and attitudes towards sex is celebrated. Gay relationships, casual sex and being a virgin are all issues explored sensitively and in a manner that, rightfully, suggests that all of these are normal. I especially liked that Anna isn’t shamed for being a virgin because so often YA focusses on normalising teens who have sex, sometimes to the point of suggesting that all teenagers are and should be having sex.

It’s unusual to find a YA novel that covers family, friends, secrets, university, money, moving out, growing-up, independence, relationships and sex, death and careers as sensitively and brilliantly as Counting Stars does. I really, really recommend this book to anyone looking for something super-duper to read!

Independent Bookshop Week Tag

Facebook_IBW_851x315This week is Independent Bookshop Week and to celebrate I thought I’d join in with the IBW tag!

1. What book is currently in your bag?
At the moment I’m reading SMART by Kim Slater which isn’t a brand new (published in 2014) but is so fantastic. I’m really enjoying it so far and would definitely recommend it to people who love Christopher from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as the main character in this is just as likeable.

2. What’s the last great book you read?
Almost everything I’ve read this year has been great (with the exception of The Neva Star which I read very late one night and didn’t really understand so deserves a second read) but the last book I read was Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan and that was utterly amazing. I mainly stick to contemporary YA and rarely read thrillers but this combined both genres so brilliantly and had my heart pounding all the way through.

3. What book have you gifted the most?
All of my friends and family have very different reading tastes so I don’t think I’ve ever given the same book twice!

4. What’s your favourite independent bookshop?
Wenlock Books (and not just because I work there!)

5. What’s been your favourite book recommended by a bookseller?
Anna (owner of Wenlock Books) chose A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler as the Random Reading Group choice for January and I absolutely loved it. It’s a beautiful (and tiny) book about a man who has lived his whole life in a remote village in the Alps and modern life is starting to reach him. It’s the kind of book that makes you long for simplicity and fresh air.

6. What’s your favourite bookshop memory?
All of Books Are My Bag day 2015 was completely magical and the customers, authors, publishers and bloggers present proved just how special independent bookshops are.

7. What do bookshops mean to you? What do you love about them?
To me, bookshops (especially Wenlock Books) mean comfort and warmth. I’ve spent the last almost-six years growing up in a bookshop and discovering who I am and what I believe in through the power of reading. I love that bookshops can be both the most exciting and busy and bouncy places but also the most calm and peaceful and gentle. I love that you can always find a corner to hide away in but that there are always likeminded people willing to share their recommendations with you.

8. What are the books that made you? Which books have most affected or influenced you? 
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was the first book that I re-read and was the book that proved to me that people don’t have to be defined by their conditions or illnesses. It’s not a story of Asperger’s, it’s a story about Christopher who happens to have Asperger’s and to 12 year old me that was really important.

Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman was the book that gave me the confidence to say ‘yes, I’m a feminist’ because until I read it I truly believed that feminism was for man-haters. It also gave me the confidence to embrace me exactly how I am.

I was most affected by Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It which I think everyone should read.

9. What book do you recommend readers gift for Father’s Day?
I think I should perhaps have done this tag last week…

We had a customer in on Saturday who bought lots of children’s picture flats with daddy characters to give to her husband from her child. I thought that was a really lovely idea and was a nice alternative to buying the same Father’s Day bestseller as everyone else.

10. What book is currently at the top of your TBR pile?
The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood and The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness are both at the top of my list!

Book Review: Eden Summer

Eden SummerEden Summer is Liz Flanagan’s debut novel and is a pacy and exciting contemporary YA!

It starts like any other day for Jess – get up, draw on eyeliner, cover up tattoos and head to school. But soon it’s clear this is no ordinary day, because Jess’s best friend, Eden, isn’t at school . . . she’s gone missing.

Jess knows she must do everything in her power to find Eden before the unthinkable happens.

So Jess decides to retrace the summer she and Eden have just spent together. But looking back means digging up all their buried secrets, and she starts to question everything she thought Eden’s summer had been about …

There are so many aspects of this book that Liz deserves praise for but what stood out most for me is the main character. Jess is a goth and I am so pleased that Liz wrote her as such. Growing up, goths were always seen as being weird and at school would often sit in small groups along with anyone else who was a bit different as they were targets of abuse.

On TV and in books that unpleasantness towards goths always continued, with the strange girl at school being obvious by her black eyeliner and red hair. I’ve never read anything where the goth stereotype is addressed and I think Liz does an amazing job of showing that Jess is just like anyone else, that she shares the same ambitions and fears as any other teenage girl. She’s not defined or governed by her appearance and I think that’s really, really important.

Eden Summer is quite unusual in that it’s both character and plot driven, and both aspects are fantastic. In the first couple of chapters we’re introduced to a handful characters that could all be suspects in the case of Eden’s disappearance and Liz so cleverly makes the reader believe that everyone is guilty. The small details that are given about each character made my mind race thinking up motives and alibis before I’d even reached chapter two and I sped through the book in no time at all – if I had enough time this would have been a one-sit read.

The plot is really mysterious and thrilling which is definitely helped by the back and forth style that it’s written in. The search for Eden takes place over the course of one day but the story is broken up with flashbacks to key moments from the past year of Eden’s life helping to unravel the reasons behind her disappearance. ‘I decided that the day-long structure interspersed with flashbacks might work for this story, again for drama and drive. I visualised it like a clock face in the end!

Much of Jess’ time spent searching for Eden takes place with her running on rocky and uneven hills which left me almost breathless so I really like the clock face analogy as a way of describing the race against time to find Eden. Also as time begins to run out for Jess, you’ll find yourself inching closer towards the edge of your seat with a dry mouth and pounding heart – honestly, it’s the most fearful I’ve ever felt whilst reading a book!

Eden Summer is an incredibly powerful book that deals with awful issues in the most honest and sincere manner. So much of the story is heartbreaking and yet I never lost hope in the characters because the overwhelming theme throughout is love. Liz has clearly written this from the heart and I think it’s important that she cites her inspiration for the writing about a missing teenager as, ‘partly because, as a parent, it’s my worst nightmare. Partly because in narrative terms it creates instant drive and drama. Partly for personal reasons – because I was missing my best friend who’d recently died, and so that atmosphere of loss felt like somewhere I wanted to go.

The sincerity of Eden Sumer continues beyond the subject matter into the detailed descriptions throughout, ‘I felt I owed it to the story to go as far as I could with it, to be as emotionally faithful to the difficult parts as possible, and I really believe that the heart of this book comes from the fact that it’s set in Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. ‘It’s based on a version of my home town, somewhere I love very deeply, somewhere I grew up and where I live now. I like that I have overlapping memories of the town, as a child, a teenager, as an adult.

I cannot recommend Eden Summer highly enough to everyone- it is truly fantastic. There are few books that keep me thinking about them for days after finishing but this is definitely going to stay with me for a very long time. I hope that Liz continues to write more YA fiction in the future, but until then, I hope that Eden Summer is nominated for as many awards as possible!


Eden Summer will be published on July 7th by David Fickling Books.
A HUGE thank you to David Fickling Books for sending me a proof copy and to Liz Flanagan for answering my questions.

Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Under-Rose-Tainted-Skies-Under Rose-Tainted Skies is Louise Gornall’s debut novel and tells the story of 17 year old Norah and her life with agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia confines Norah to the house she shares with her mother.

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

 

I’ve only read one other book with an agoraphobic character and even though it was really good, it doesn’t compare at all to this. Under Rose-Tainted Skies is the most fantastic and honest book about mental health that I’ve read, and I can’t thank Louise enough for writing something so truthful.

The main character in this book is seventeen year old Norah who lives in California with her mum. Norah has suffered from agoraphobia for 3 years and consequently has had to leave her school and friends behind, leaving her feeling incredibly lonely and isolated from the world outside of her house.

In 2013 I became agoraphobic after being unwell and I cannot tell you how comforting Under Rose-Tainted Skies was to read. Reading my own experience told so truthfully was reassuring and also quite freeing. I’ve actually never spoken to someone else is person who has also suffered from agoraphobia but after reading this it felt like I had. “Rose actually started off as a sort of diary entry. Some illegible ramblings on a page. I suffer from agoraphobia myself, and was getting frustrated with my stagnant situation.

I think what I like most about Under Rose-Tainted Skies is how realistically Norah’s condition is depicted within the storyline. This so easily could have ended up a bit fantastical with Norah suddenly waking up one day and deciding that she can do anything for love and that the last 3 years of isolation were all worth it because now she’s in LOVE! But in reality people don’t fall in love overnight and even if they did, love isn’t a magical healer that can rid a person of a serious illness. Under Rose-Tainted Skies has been written responsibly and as a result will challenge every person who reads this to think about how they perceive mental illness.

There are many scenes in Under Rose-Tainted Skies that I think will be really revealing for people who have very little knowledge of agoraphobia. Often you hear it described as something where people don’t want to go outside but it’s so much bigger, so much more complex than that and Louise does an AMAZING job of including every bit of the condition without losing the distinction between Norah and her illness. Louise is the perfect author for this book because she didn’t start writing to shock or change the YA playing field, it was simply an outlet for her pain.

Norah is also a really strong character which I think is important because mental illness is too often seen as being synonymous with weakness. The descriptions of Norah’s treatment are fantastic too as they really do justice to the lengthy and exhausting efforts that are needed to begin to reverse the effects of mental health conditions. “I was getting super down at seeing the same four or five Mental Health behaviours explained away with fresh air and a better diet. Like mental health isn’t complex and multifaceted, like I (and thousands of people just like me) hadn’t been working our butts off to feel better. Pretty soon this story started unfolding and I included everything, I wanted it to be like, “Here! Read this and then tell us we’ll feel better after swapping out Mac&Cheese for a salad.”

Under Rose-Tainted Skies is a brilliant story filled with so much heart, truth and love. Whether you’ve suffered from agoraphobia or not this is an important story that I really, truly recommend to everyone.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies will be published on July 7th by Chicken House.
Thank you so much to Chicken House for sending me a proof copy.

Huge thank yous to Louise for answering my questions❤
Louise’s blog: https://bookishblurb.com