(oooft check out that wicker)
The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting is the second of Holly Bourne’s books that I’ve read as earlier this year I read her third book Am I Normal Yet?, a feminist novel telling the story of 16 year old Evie who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety. I really, really loved Am I Normal Yet?, and couldn’t wait to read more from Holly.
Holly’s second book, The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting, is what I picked up next and focuses on Bree, a 17 year old who is fed up of feeling like she’s not interesting enough. She’s a writer but both of her novels have been rejected by every publishing house in the country, her only friend is Holdo and although she loves him she wishes she had other girls to talk to, and her relationship with her parents is completely non-existent. One day Bree decides to make a change and embarks on a project that she hopes will result in her being able to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes a person interesting enough to be cared about, documenting her progress as she goes on her new blog, The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting.
I love Holly’s writing so, so much and I think that frankly I’d love any of her books regardless of what they’re about. In both The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting and Am I Normal Yet? the voices are funny, clever, and witty whilst at the same time making you feel any range of ridiculously intense emotion. Holly’s books really are an emotional rollercoaster and whilst reading this book I felt heartbroken, completely thrilled, devastated, proud, and most of all protective over Bree – the crazy type of protective that made me want to hug and shelter her from any dangers that may come her way. The characterisation in this book is so flawless, and I felt something for everyone – whether it was anger, sadness, parental-esque disapproval, or pouty-lipped sympathy.
One of the aspects of Bree’s character that I feel Holly portrays so well is her self-harm. In Am I Normal Yet? the main character suffers from anxiety and as I myself suffer from anxiety I felt that I had a connection with Evie because of a shared mental health condition. I was pleasantly surprised that I felt just as close to Bree in this book as I did to Evie because I have no personal experience of self-harm yet I felt so connected to her story.
For those of you who may not know, Holly works for TheSite, an organisation that provides help and support for young people on issues ranging from sex and drugs to exams and mental health. Undoubtedly this knowledge is what allows her to write so intelligently about the issues that affect teenagers without ever sounding patronising, and in a way that allows everyone to understand these issues.
I feel that it’s so important for books with characters who suffer from mental health problems to contain useful and helpful information because for many, fiction is their only experience of mental illness. Another feature of Holly’s writing that I think is so powerful is her ability to talk about mental illness without shoving every issue into the same box. She explores every individual’s illness in its own way, carefully allowing readers to see that everyone’s mental health is different, even if they’re suffering from the same condition.
I also particularly liked that the characters in this story are really wealthy because it’s quite easy to assume that everything would be a lot easier if you were rich. There’s a massive misconception that mental health problems exist only in the poorest areas among people whose circumstances give them a ‘reason’ to be be depressed or anxious or suicidal but of course that just isn’t true. It’s astonishing how many stereotypes Holly can discount in just one novel, and I’m so pleased that the UKYA community has someone so vocal to look up to.
Holly has once again written a story that would be wonderful even without the inclusion of a mental health issue. It’s important to me, as someone who has suffered with depression and severe anxiety, that mental health problems are integrated into ‘normal’ fiction, rather than being the focal point in an ‘issues’ book. Mental illness is a completely normal part of life and I think that it’s dangerous to treat it as a plot device or as something to be feared. I love that Holly’s stories treat mental health problems almost as incidentals and not as something that defines who the characters are. I hope that more books become inclusive of mental health issues as well as all of the other issues that young people face.
The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting is a really fabulous story of friendships, family, acceptance, self-worth, and self-discovery and is a story that I thoroughly recommend! Although Bree is 17, I think this book would be suitable for and could be enjoyed by anyone from about 13 or 14. Also, if you haven’t already, do have a read of Am I Normal Yet? before the sequel is published in February!