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.

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

Mini Review: Highly Illogical Behaviour

Highly Illogical BehaviourHighly Illogical Behaviour is a dual perspective novel about two teenagers; Lisa a grade A student who desperately wants to leave home and study psychology, and Solomon, an agoraphobe who hasn’t left his house in 3 years.

To be accepted onto the second-best course in America Lisa must write an essay on how mental health has affected her life, and to fulfil this she tracks down and befriends Solomon, a boy who used to go to her school before he took all his clothes off and jumped in a fountain.

I’ve read quite a few books that are told using dual perspective although this is the first I’ve read that uses 3rd person narrative. This story is told in a really quirky manner and I think it certainly benefited from the slightly detached style. The 3rd person narrative kept it bouncy and a wonderfully unique insight into each character.

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was the unusual choice of mental health issue. I’ve read so many books that feature characters with depression or general anxiety and it was so nice to read about agoraphobia as it’s a condition that I have suffered with. John Corey Whaley has a really good understanding of how agoraphobia works and was able to write about Solomon and his condition without ever slipping into sob story territory. As is everyone who suffers from agoraphobia, Solomon is the victim of a disease but is absolutely not defined by it, and I really liked that his character is interesting and bright.

I enjoyed this and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading American YA. It’s very well written, the characters are believable and I love that LGBT, mental health, family issues and school pressures are all themes that have been woven in so well. For me, the only thing lacking was that it left me feeling content rather than wanting more, although I’m sure that many people would be completely fine with that!

This is a heartwarming story of friendship, family and love, and I think it will be adored by loads of YA readers when it’s published on 26th June. If you like the sound of this, I’d also recommend You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan which is published at the beginning of June.

Thank you to Faber & Faber for my proof copy!

Mini Review: Orbiting Jupiter

Orbiting JupiterOrbiting Jupiter is the fist of Gary D. Schmidt’s novels that I’ve read but I really enjoyed it and would definitely like to read something else by him in the future.

A heartbreaking story, narrated by twelve-year-old Jack, whose family is caring for fourteen-year-old Joseph. Joseph is misunderstood. He was incarcerated for trying to kill a teacher. Or so the rumours say. But Jack and his family see something others in town don’t want to.

What’s more, Joseph has a daughter he’s never seen. The two boys go on a journey through the bitter Maine winter to help Joseph find his baby – no matter the cost.

Orbiting Jupiter was a strange read for me because for much of this book I was unsure about whether or not I was enjoying it. The plot features some very difficult storylines surrounding children (depression, abuse, pregnancy, death) and a lot of it made me feel really uncomfortable and uneasy. Despite this I couldn’t put this book down. It was hard, and painful in parts, to read yet I found myself persisting because I had to know what happened next. In that sense, I would definitely compare this to Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It, which is a very honest story about rape.

The themes explored in this book are common of Young Adult fiction, but the young age of the main characters made this a much more hard-hitting story than most. Family and what we perceive the definition of it to be is a key theme in Orbiting Jupiter, and I really loved the way that this was explored. Fourteen year old Joseph hasn’t ever had a good relationship with his father and is devastated that he himself has been forced to become an absent father to his daughter Jupiter. Hearing his story was really interesting and unusual, and I think that Gary D. Schmidt wrote Joseph really well – this is a story that I can’t personally relate to and yet I didn’t ever feel alienated by Joseph’s experiences.

I also loved reading about the relationship between Jack and Joseph and I loved that their bond was portrayed so honestly. I particularly liked that even with very little dialogue between the two, you had enough information to understand their feelings exactly. Often YA fiction is very female centred and this story was a welcome change.

Orbiting Jupiter is a heartbreaking and painful story, but I think it provides an important message about young parents, in particular young fathers. Despite feeling that the ending was a little rushed, I highly recommend this to people looking for something a bit darker than most contemporary YA.

Book Review: Radio Silence

Thank you so much to HarperCollins for sending me the manuscript of this to read ahead of publication – I was so excited to see it in my inbox!

25322449Radio Silence is Alice Oseman’s second novel (Solitaire was her debut) and is the first book that I have ever read in 1 day – I literally couldn’t stop reading this!

Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.

But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken.

This book tells the story of Frances, a sixth form student whose only goal is to get into Cambridge, no matter how boring that makes her seem. She’s head girl because it looks good on her personal statement, she chose her A Level subjects based on what would make her the most appealing Cambridge candidate, and she has no real friends because they’d just get in the way of studying. But beneath this facade Frances’ real self is hidden, exposed only online under her alias Touloser.

Compared to Alice’s debut, Radio Silence is much bolder and tackles the topic of diversity in a much more blatant manner. Whilst Solitaire contains gay and bisexual characters it does lack racial diversity with Alice herself commenting that ‘the thing that I absolutely despise the most about it is that all of the primary characters are implied to be white … this is never, ever going to happen again. Alice certainly stuck by what she said and has done a remarkable job of including characters of colour, of different wealth backgrounds, and a variety of LGBT+ qualities into Radio Silence. However despite containing such varied characters, it never once felt like she was ticking off a diversity checklist; every character felt rounded, and it felt like a realistic depiction of a modern multicultural society.

As well as being bolder with character diversity, the themes in Radio Silence felt darker and more frightening than those seen in Solitaire. Abusive family relationships, manipulation, bullying and isolation are all explored and there’s also a heavy focus on the self-worth attached to exams and university which I thought Alice wrote about really well. Due to illness I only managed to continue with 1 A Level subject after AS and wasn’t well or qualified enough after my extra year of sixth form to consider university. Although the situations in this book are different to what mine were, the fear and hopelessness that I felt are described so perfectly that reading this made me feel a bit unsettled. It’s not often that my feelings are described so accurately, although Alice has managed to do just that in both of her books!

An aspect of Radio Silence that I loved is the relationship between Frances and her mum. Often YA fiction depicts a negative relationship between mother and daughter which I can’t relate to so for me, it was nice to read about the positive and happy mother-daughter bond that Frances experiences. I also like that Frances’ mum is a working and loving single parent because the media has a habit of portraying single mothers as lazy and elusive which is, for the most part, completely untrue. It’s so refreshing to read about characters who are perfectly normal without fitting within the white, middle-class mould. There’s nothing about Frances’ mixed race, single parent, only child family that makes her anything other than normal, and I’m so pleased that Alice hadn’t made these surface-level characteristics into issues that aren’t there.

I really enjoyed Radio Silence and think that yet again Alice Oseman has written a really good story whilst managing to confront relevant issues through believable and relatable characters. What I like most about Alice’s stories is that she understands the people that she writes about because she is one of them. To read about a character who watches YouTubers and uses Tumblr and dresses in patterned leggings is wonderful because that’s literally me, and I hardly ever read something and think ‘yeh, this author gets it’. Perhaps Radio Silence won’t be timeless, and maybe in 10 years someone will read it and think ‘what the hell in Tumblr??’ but that doesn’t really matter because for now it so perfectly captures the experiences that teenagers and twenty-somethings are living. I loved this book and really hope there’s more to come.

Radio Silence is published by HarperCollins on February 25th 2016.

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Mini Review: This Winter

CSBT9rIWsAA2LcUThis Winter is Alice Oseman’s second novella and tells the story of the Spring family’s Christmas. Set just before Solitaire begins, this is a lovely accompaniment to Alice’s debut.

In this novella we read about the difficulties that the Spring family are facing on Christmas day. It’s not been long since Charlie was released from hospital after being admitted for anorexia and attempting suicide; Tori is upset that Charlie is unwell and is finding it difficult to know how to feel about their parents unwillingness to talk about anything; and to make it all worse their whole family is coming over for Christmas dinner.

Similarly to Alice’s first Solitaire novella Nick and Charlie this is a multiple perspective story, this time told from Tori’s, Charlie’s and Oliver’s points of view. I asked Alice why she wrote a chapter from each perspective to which she said: ‘I think the heart of the story is the relationships between the Spring siblings, and I wanted to give each of them a perspective! They’re all very interesting characters with different personalities and I was interested in exploring all of them. This Winter isn’t like Solitaire in terms of its narration – Solitaire is wholly focused on Tori’s journey and her feelings, whereas This Winter is about all three of the siblings.

It was lovely to read from 7 year old Oliver’s viewpoint because he’s so cute and I think Alice does such a good job of presenting a realistic childlike perspective of the difficulties that the Spring family are facing. Sometimes books with characters who suffer from a mental illness can feel very issue heavy and I really liked that the more serious aspects of Charlie’s story was balanced by Oliver’s innocence.

Like with Solitaire and Nick and Charlie, in This Winter I think Alice writes Charlie’s anorexia very believably and also very gently. Nothing is ever made painfully blatant nor is his condition uncomfortable to read about. Despite this, it doesn’t ever feel that Alice downplays the seriousness of anorexia and so to strike a balance between the two I think shows real skill and understanding. Talking on writing about anorexia Alice says: ‘I do take the time to do careful research to make sure that I don’t say anything blatantly incorrect or ignorant. And I always make the effort to make sure I write about it respectfully and realistically.

For the time being at least This Winter looks to be the last Solitaire novella as Alice has ‘no current plans to write any more’, thinking that if she went back to the characters it would be ‘in a new full book’. Luckily, Alice’s second novel Radio Silence is expected to be published on February 25th 2016 so there’s not too long to wait for more of her fabulous writing (yay!).

I loved This Winter even more than Nick and Charlie as it was so wonderful to read about the whole family as well as Tori and Charlie. I think Alice is so skilful at capturing aspects of family life that are so relatable and so enjoyable to read – my family Christmas is nothing like the Spring’s and yet it felt so familiar and in a way comforting to read about theirs. Festive and fabulous, this is another brilliant piece of writing from Alice and although I’m sad to say goodbye to Solitaire, I’m very excited to read more from her next year!

Thank you Alice for answering my questions ❤ Read the Qs and As here!

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