The Madness Underneath

Surviving a near fatal attack by a ghostly killer will leave its mark. Seventeen-year-old Rory Deveaux has painful scars and deadly new powers at her fingertips. But without her secret ghost-fighting squad she feels brutally alone. She’s lying to her boyfriend, failing in class and, worse still, Rory fears that a terrifying horror stalks the streets of London.

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Turns out you can’t just deal with the ghost of Fake Jack the Ripper and be done with the spirit hunting scene. The Madness Underneath, book #2 in Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, finds Rory recuperating post-stabbing with her parents in Bristol (another British city, if you were wondering). After being pushed to sign the official secrets act in her hospital bed and removed from Wexford by her obviously traumatised parents, Rory has lost her only connections to her spiritual side: Stephen, Boo and Callum are incommunicado, and when – despite warnings not to from creepy government agents – Rory attempts to contact Stephen at his home, she finds that he, along with Callum and Boo, has vanished.

The first few chapters of The Madness Underneath have the feeling of 4 Privet Drive over the summer: nothing is going to happen until Rory goes back to boarding school. Which she does, weirdly, after the therapist she refuses to talk to decides to send her back to Wexford in a highly suspicious move.

#2 is a book of highly suspicious moves. But, honestly, when you’re trying to deal with the emotional trauma of your attempted murder by a ghost, as Rory is, you’re really too distracted by the simple tasks of getting through the day to worry about what your sketchy therapist(s) are up to.  

If I learned anything from this book, it’s to pay attention to what your sketchy therapist is up to.

The Madness Underneath retains all the best elements of The Name of the Star. Rory, though much changed from the beginning of the first book, continues to be witty and indomitably herself, even as she comes to terms with the crazy turn her life has taken. Johnson maintains the interjections of third person narrative, many of them even more gory and chilling than before. Despite a slight tonal change – I would say that the sequel is definitely darker – The Madness Underneath avoids all of the worst second book mistakes. The plot is pacey and has a strong sense of direction throughout, even when we’re unsure where, exactly, it’s taking us. I never once asked: why am I reading this? a question I regularly find myself pondering during book #2 of a YA series.

If the first book was part cute contemporary, part murder mystery then The Madness Underneath is emotional trauma with a side of how to avoid joining a cult.

We see the life at Wexford Rory had started to build slipping through her fingers. Her grades are bad, she’s lying to everyone and ghosts keep distracting her when she’s trying to make out with her boyfriend. I think we’ve all had the experience of feeling disconnected from our lives, like we are an audience member to our own fuck-ups, able to do nothing but sit and watch while the life we thought we wanted crashes and burns. At this point in the story, Rory is at a crossroads. She can either try and put the Ripper business behind her and get on with her life, or she can throw it all away and embrace the ghost hunter life completely.

Also, in book #2, Johnson takes the ships to the next level. Something I really appreciate in all Johnson’s books, is that the first guy is very rarely the guy. Though Jerome is cute and all, and maybe if Rory hadn’t choked on her dinner and developed the ability to see ghosts they would have worked out (though I doubt it), throughout the series so far Rory’s life has changed into a shape that Jerome simply doesn’t fit.

Stephen, on the other hand…

Oh, Stephen. Protective, but emotionally unavailable Stephen.

It is a truth of growing up that quite a lot of the people you spent your younger years with were just your friends/romantic partners because they were there. You had school in common, and when you’re a kid that is pretty much the entire world. Then something happens – maybe you get really into kayaking or socialism, or you develop the ability to see the dead – and suddenly a new influx of people enter your life who you bond with like you never have before.

This is why I love paranormal YA. Through all the insanity, there is a core relatability to the characters that draws me in every time.

So: We have ghost hunting, breakups, ships and creepy government agents who might actually be okay people. What more could you want? Other than book #3, obviously.

The Name of the Star

Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux flies to London for the start of a new life at boarding school. But her arrival is overshadowed by a sudden outbreak of brutal murders, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific work of Jack the Ripper.

‘Rippermania’ grabs hold of London, and police are stumped with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory has seen their prime suspect on the school grounds. But her friend Jazza didn’t see anyone.

So why could only Rory see him? And what is he planning to do next?

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If you read the news, you might be aware that we have not had a good few weeks here in the UK. We have pretty much been lurching from one disaster to the next without much in the way of breathing space.

A distraction read was definitely needed, and it was with that in mind that I turned to one of my faves: Maureen Johnson, one of my personal YA queens. Last week I binge reread the first three Shades of London books.

These books have everything you need for a good distraction.

  • Boarding school
  • Love triangle (emerging)
  • Ghosts (especially snarky ones who love The Smiths)

Really anything else is extra, but in The Name of the Star, Johnson spoils us. It’s half cute contemporary American girl in London story, half murdery ghost hunting thriller. All the elements fit together in a way that is seamless and compulsively readable.

Rory is a fantastic protagonist. She’s a New Orleans-ean (is that a thing?) figuring out the etiquette of Londoners and her newfound ability to see ghosts – and she manages it all while resisting trope-ish special snowflake behaviour. She brings with her from the US a cast of eccentric characters in the form of her family and friends back in Benouville (Ben-ah-VEEL, for the uninitiated), stories about whom Johnson uses masterfully for both comedic and dramatic effect (you wouldn’t think that a story about a guy with eight freezers could leave you feeling like someone grabbed your entire heart with their fist, but during The Name of the Star, you’ll learn that it can).

Despite a good chunk of the first book being dedicated to the non-ghost related friends Rory makes at boarding school (who are mostly plot devices for what comes later, but sweet and entertaining nevertheless), it’s a pacey read. The majority of the novel is first person and narrated by Rory, but the narrative is interspersed with third person chapters concerning people related to, but also outside of, the immediate plot – murder victims, computer hackers and journalists. It all works together to create the sense of the ‘Rippermania’ that grips the city, the fear and the obsession that is fascinating, sickening and unavoidable.

There is always something terrible happening somewhere. If you’re lucky, it’s somewhere else.

(Spoiler alert: Rory is kind of an unlucky person.)

And then Rory meets the ghost police. They are all – for somewhat tenuous reasons – teenagers, and working for the arm of the government even the government doesn’t know exists. Stephen Dene, Bhuvana ‘Boo’ Chaudhri and Callum (who I have just this second realised doesn’t have a surname? If I’m wrong about that please correct me) AKA the ghostbusters are the kind of supernatural team we all want to join. Callum, the angry, let’s ‘kill’ ‘em all soldier for justice against evil spirits; Boo, friend of the ghosts; and Stephen, the emotionally unavailable head of operations I couldn’t help but fall in love with.

This book has the right levels of teen crushes, slow burn romance, epic teamwork and bloody murder – which it is, btw. It’s about Jack the Ripper: there’s no such thing as sparing us the gory details.

The Shades of London is a refreshing series from a great and witty writer. It has something for everyone – whether you’re looking for a cute contemporary, a paranormal with a slow burn romance or a thriller so intense it’ll make your blood run cold.

Kindred Spirits

If you broke Elena’s heart, Star Wars would spill out. So when she decides to queue outside her local cinema to see the new movie, she’s expecting a celebration with crowds of people who love Han, Luke and Leia just as much as she does. What she’s not expecting is to be the last in a line of only three people, to have to pee into a collectable Star Wars cup behind a dumpster or meet that unlikely someone who just might truly understand the way she feels.

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Kindred Spirits, by Rainbow Rowell is a charming celebration of geek culture and first romance of the kind of we have come to expect from the author of Fan Girl and Carry On. My only complaint was that, as a short story published for World Book Day 2016, Kindred Spirits is far too short, coming in at only 62 pages.

As in any good story by Rowell, Kindred Spirits is character driven, and even in the brief time we have with them, Elena and her line-mates, Troy and Gabe leap off the page. Elena is a sweet geek girl whose mother won’t stop driving past the line to check on her; Gabe, the aggressively anti-social Star Wars lover; and Troy, the line veteran who knows all the cinema staff by name.

What I have always loved most about Rowell’s writing is how she twists the expectations we have going into any given situation. Fan Girl isn’t your typical going to college story, and this line that turned out to be three people is not the days-long geek party Elena was expecting. It’s part rubbishing expectations and the detrimental roles they always play in our lives, part nostalgia for a time when, pre-internet, queuing for several days for a movie was the type of thing people would actually do.

In such a short span of time, Rowell manages to touch on absent parents, high school cliques, the unfortunate misogyny that lurks in nerd culture (the whole ‘fake geek girl’ thing) and the problems of peeing outside while female (the challenge is real).

If you’re looking to escape for an hour (and who isn’t?), and indulge in a world of nostalgia and nerd love, Kindred Spirits is the short story for you.

The Good Immigrant

How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport? Or to be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’? How does it feel to have words from your native language misused, misappropriated and used aggressively towards you? How does it feel to hear a child of colour say in a classroom that stories can only be about white people? How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London? What is it like to feel you always have to be the ambassador for your race? How does it feel to always tick ‘Other’?

Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – however many generations you’ve been here – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms.

Inspired by discussion around why society appears to deem people of colour as bad immigrants – job stealers, benefit scroungers, undeserving refugees – until, by winning Olympic races, or baking good cakes, or being conscientious doctors, they cross over and become good immigrants, editor Nikesh Shukla has compiled a collection of essays that are poignant, challenging, angry, humorous, heartbreaking, polemic, weary and – most importantly – real.

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Despite stop and search statistics, our attitude toward refugees – our ex-prime minister David Cameron having once referred to people running for their lives as a ‘swarm’ –  and the general acceptance in our country that a person with a white-sounding name will get the job over a ‘foreign’ one, there’s this weird sense here in the UK that racism is an ‘American problem’. That those gun-toting police, murdering black men and women is the sort of thing that could never happen ‘over here’, though of course it does. Guns or no guns, racism is as ingrained a part of our society here in the UK as it is abroad, and comforting ourselves with the notion that we’re not as bad as the US is really not helping.

What is helping, I think, is work like The Good Immigrant. Nikesh Shukla has gathered a diverse group of writers from all different ethnicities, backgrounds and career paths to analyse experiences of racism in the UK.  Shukla’s own essay, which kicks off the book, tackles cultural appropriation, in particular the use of ‘namaste’ , a word that actually means hello, but has become ‘a bastardised metaphor for spiritualism’ adopted by white people (of whom I have to admit I am one. To me it meant only ‘yay yoga’. Education is a lifelong endeavour). What follows is a collection without a weak link. Each writers’ voice is strong, full of feeling – whether that’s anger, amusement, sadness, frustration, etc. – and unique. The collection weaves personal stories together with statistics and studies to create an experience that is as empathetic as it is informative.

It would be impossible to do justice to every essay in the this collection without writing a blog several thousand words long, so I’m going to focus on just three essays in this outstanding collection.

Trust me, and buy it.

“You Can’t Say That! Stories Have To Be About White People.” – Darren Chetty

Chetty has been teaching primary school children for 20 years in multicultural, multiracial and multifaith communities. In that time he came to notice that despite encouragement, the majority of children of colour in his classes would only ever write stories with white protagonists. In this essay he incorporates his own teaching experience with studies and essays written by others to explore this phenomenon. By analysing children’s literature and pop culture, Chetty weaves a fascinating piece that demonstrates the nonsensical way in which the viewer of so much mainstream British pop culture is assumed to be white, and the effect that has on children in minorities.

One of the most depressing of Chetty’s experiences while doing this work was the often aggressive response of other teachers. As I mentioned, here in the UK we like to pretend that we live in a society that is somehow ‘post-racial’, and this is no more obvious, Chetty writes, than in the way we insist on seeing children as ‘colour-blind.’ He says:

“If children were writing stories where the race of characters was varied and random, there might be some merit in claiming that children are colour-blind. However, even the strongest advocates of racial colour-blindness do not argue that all people are white… and English. They argue that race no longer matters. If that’s true, why are young children of colour writing exclusively about white characters?”

Next time someone tries to tell me stories aren’t important, I will wave this essay in their face by way of response.

Flags – Coco Khan

Flags is sbout the time Khan, an Asian woman, woke up after a one night stand to find herself in a room draped in Union Jacks. Her immediate assumption was that the cute blonde white guy she’d met was, in the cold light of day, a secret, hair-having skinhead.

This is an essay about sexual liberation and race, and where the two things intersect. After growing up being taught that sex was shameful, and something that men could have without concern but women would always be punished for, Khan was determined, in her young adulthood, to form a new narrative.

But she kept facing the same ignorance. Men assumed they knew her through ill-informed racial stereotypes, and she began to question whether they were attracted to her because she was attractive, or because was ‘a brown-shaped thing that will do’. Flags is a gutting look at the racial stereotyping women of colour face can from their sexual partners, and the assumptions that are forever made regarding their autonomy and sexual identity.

“On dates I would tolerate the vaguely insulting stereotypical questions, patiently answering, ‘No, I have never been promised to a man I’ve never met. Actually I can barely cook at all.’”

Khan’s essay is a unique take on the ways in which we so often other and dehumanise people of colour, and put individuals in a position where they are somehow expected to behave as ‘an ambassador for their race’.

Airports and Auditions – Riz Ahmed

“As a minority, no sooner do you learn to polish and cherish one chip on your shoulder, it’s taken off you and swapped out for another.”

I didn’t pick this just because I have a crush on Riz Ahmed.

Honestly.

It’s (probably?) my favourite essay of the collection because, it seems to me – as a white girl who hasn’t never experienced any of what she’s talking about – to do a really great job of encapsulating what it must be to experience life as an Asian man in a country full of people who assume you’re a terrorist. Ahmed compares auditions with the interrogation room: “They’re places where the threat of rejection is real. They’re also places where you’re reduced to your marketability or threat –level, where the length of your facial hair can be a deal-breaker, where you are seen, and hence see yourself, in reductive labels.”

Turns out that ‘random searching’ isn’t so random. I imagine this comes as a surprise to nobody.

Ahmed talks in blunt terms about the way that this constant labelling by outside sources affects a person’s soul, and how, over time, he has figured out ways to ignore it, though he shouldn’t have to. He can, on a good day, view his perpetual racial profiling as the total farce that it is and maybe even laugh about it.

He ends the essay on an interaction he had with another young Muslim guy, an airport staff member who happened to be conducting the ‘random searches’ that day. This guy was particularly apologetic and a fan of Ahmed’s, so by way of comfort, he shared that he always gets searched when he flies, too. Ahmed writes:

“We laughed, not because he was joking, but because he was deadly serious. It was the perfect encapsulation of the minority’s shifting and divided self, forced to internalise the limitations imposed on us just to get by, on the wrong side of the velvet rope even when (maybe especially when) you’re on the right side of it.”

The Good Immigrant is timely, important, frustrating, funny, sad and hopeful. It’s a fantastic read that asks you to look critically at the way we treat people of colour in the UK, and the damage done by racist stereotyping and a media that still largely caters to a white audience.

 

 

 

 

 

May Wrap-Up

The latest Lenny Letter pointed out to me that we are half way through 2017. I should have had this figured out already, but that particular information has me a little bit floored.

May was a weird month. At the beginning, I was a waitress, with little hope of not being one in the near future. Then, pretty much out of the blue, I was offered an internship at a magazine I did some work experience at a few months back. So I’m there now. Temporarily. I have not processed it yet. I had to interview a chef yesterday and I barely stopped myself saying yeah it’s like that in the restaurant I work in. 

Come August I most likely won’t have a job, but I’m trying really hard not to think too much about that.

Life = Up. In. The. Air.

For so many reasons. There’s a general election happening in the UK this Thursday. It also came pretty much out of the blue and at the start I was so determined not to care about it.

Not caring about things isn’t really how I roll.

If Theresa May and her awful Conservative government get back in my heart will be broken.

My brother turned 27.

And my blog turned 2.

Whaaaaaaat?! As per usual, I do not know what to make of any of it.

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So, that being the case, let’s review the month.

I read:

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Feelings: I want to sit in a busy city centre and hand out copies of it to everyone I see.

The Rules Do Not Apply – April Levy

Feelings: An interesting look at survival in the face of life fucking you over. Truthfully, I didn’t get as much from this as I hoped I would, but I really enjoyed Levy’s fearlessness is describing her infidelity, her miscarriage and her wife’s alcoholism.

A Conjuring of Light – V.E. Shwab

Feelings: This past week I reread Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London books just because I really needed to think about something other than the election. I know that this series will be a similar sort of comfort reread for me in the future. If you need to say goodbye to reality for a little while (and who doesn’t, honestly? This series’ll do the job).

Play It As It Lays – Joan Didion

Feelings: A dark novel about ennui and suicide. Absolutely riveting. Adored it.

I also wrote…

Should characters be likeable?

OTHER THAN BOOKS: Some recommendations you didn’t ask for…

To Read: This fascinating piece about 13 Reasons Why (which I still have not watched. Sorry. I will! I promise!) and whether such frank and – from what I hear – graphic depictions of teen suicide help the problem or contribute to it.

To Watch: Handmaid’s Tale. All of the trigger warnings. I have only watched one episode and I haven’t psyched myself up to watch to second but OMG Necessary viewing. I LOVE Elisabeth Moss.

To Listen: Gone Now the new album by Bleachers. In the past couple years I finally shed any pretensions I had about having a ‘cool taste in music’ and admitted I love straight up POP. As such, Jack Antonoff is essentially my musical hero and boyfriend.

The Hate U Give

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.

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“Listen! The Hate U – the letter U – Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G  L-I-F-E. Meaning what society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?”

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is the book we all needed about an experience of blackness in America (and the UK, even though over here we like to pretend that racism is an American problem, like obesity and not knowing how to spell aluminium). Thomas’ raw and authentic story of the murder of an unarmed black teenager by a policeman and the ripple effect his death has on the lives of the protagonist and witness to the murder, Starr, her family (the Carters AKA my new favourite fictional family) and their community is hard not to fall in love with.

Starr is straddling two worlds. At home, she lives in a poor, majority black neighbourhood. Half the time the streets around her house are the centre of a gang war, and she spends a lot of evenings at home listening to the sound of nearby gunfire. At the private school she attends, she is one of the only black students. Surrounded by wealthy white people every day, Starr never feels she can truly be herself.

Seeing Starr exist in these two polar opposite environments shines a spotlight on the insidious and institutional racism that people of colour face every day. In Starr’s high school – as in much of society – whiteness is the norm. Starr, a black girl is ‘other’ and constantly preoccupied with being less so, with appearing agreeable, avoiding the stereotype of the ‘angry black woman’ and not speaking in a way her white peers might interpret as ‘ghetto’. To try to go outside of these social parameters is to be excluded from them. On one level, this is demonstrated by social exclusion – Starr’s friend Hailey, stops following her on tumblr after Starr starts posting material about black history and Black Lives Matter. At its most severe this exclusion is demonstrated by Khalil’s murder. Power is in the hands of the white people, and it is enforced by means from micro-aggression to murder.

The Hate U Give is a complex study of what it is to be black and poor. Through Khalil’s life and death, Starr sees how people in her community get trapped in cycles of poverty and violence. One of the aspects of Khalil’s life that the news pick up on after his death is that he was a drug dealer. As if this fact somehow justifies his death (it does not). Luckily for Starr, her father Big Mav is an advocate for Black Lives Matter and a passionate change maker within the community, so through a conversation with him – one of my favourite scenes in the book honestly. I adore Starr’s father – Starr looks at the aspects of Khalil’s life that forced him down the path that he took – “he got tired of choosing between lights and food.”

The wider reaction to Khalil’s murder is familiar and heart breaking. The news paint a picture of a drug dealer who had it coming, as the officer (murderer) in question as the true victim that night.  The opinion of so many is shown again in Starr’s ‘friend’, Hailey who, rather than being concerned with the unarmed boy who was murdered can only say of the police officer, his killer “His life matters too, you know?” No, Starr replies, that’s the problem: “his life matters more.”

All the pain and the violence forces Starr to find her voice. It makes her speak out, even when to do so is to put herself at risk of harm from the police and from the gangs in her neighbourhood. It is in equal parts inspiring and heart wrenching watching Starr’s anger transform into action.

“Once upon a time there was a hazel-eyed boy with dimples. I called him Khalil. The world called him a thug. He lived, but not nearly long enough, and for the rest of my life I’ll remember how he died. Fairy tale? No. But I’m not giving up on a better ending.”

Believe the hype. The Hate U Give is an extraordinary book. It’s raw, emotional and vital to our current political discourse. It also has some of the most wonderful characters you’re likely to read for a while. Starr’s family have shot right to the top of my favourite fictional families list. Her parents are complex and passionate individuals, and the strength of their relationship is Starr’s foundation. Seven is the big brother we all wish we had and Sekani is just adorable. I loved spending time with these people.

The Hate U Give is an emotional and political ride. Starr is a complex, funny, and smart character of the kind young black girls have needed for so long. The book dissects privilege and oppression, and why #alllivesmatter is not actually a thing in the face of a world where some lives are treated like they matter less.

You must read The Hate U Give. I can’t think of a more relevant novel right now.

The Rules Do Not Apply

Ariel Levy picks you up and hurts you through the story of how she lived believing the rules no longer applied – that marriage doesn’t have to mean monogamy, that ageing doesn’t have to mean infertility, that she could be ‘the kind of woman who is free to do whatever she chooses’. But all of her assumptions about what she can control are undone after a string of overwhelming losses.

Levy’s own story of resilience becomes an unforgettable portrait of the shifting forces in our culture, of what has changed – and what never can.

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“I wanted what we all want: everything. We want a mate who feels like family and a lover who is exotic, surprising. We want to be youthful adventurers and middle-aged mothers. We want intimacy and autonomy, safety and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills. But we can’t have it all”

I want to start this review with a sort of trigger warning. This book is ultimately about a traumatic miscarriage, and if that’s something you’re not in a place to deal with right now, I would recommend steering clear of The Rules Do Not Apply. Levy goes into the specifics of the experience in detail, and it’s hard to read.

*

The Rules Do Not Apply is an interesting take on the notion of ‘having it all’. Rather than look at the idea in terms of career, Levy uses her memoir to study the polarities within herself. As the quote above illustrates, her desires for excitement and comfort are frequently at war with each other in ways that are destructive to both states.

“I thought I had harnessed the power of my own strength and greed and love in a life that could contain it. But it has exploded.”

‘Life doesn’t ever go as planned’ is one of the clichés adults start rolling out around the time you turn fifteen and people start seriously asking you what you’re going to do with your life (which is such a joke anyway). It’s a throwaway comment most of the time, but others, advice someone is choosing to impart kind of desperately, like they want to go into more detail but they can’t yet.

Because they don’t know how it ends, I guess.

It’s the desperate I’m-seriously-worried-but-trying-to-keep-it-light version of ‘life doesn’t ever go as planned’ that hangs heavy over The Rules Do Not Apply. Levy foreshadows what she calls the explosion of her life, by referencing an evil she invited into it, an evil that began the gradual disintegration of her marriage and finished with her miscarriage.

Levy delves into a lot in this relatively short memoir. Times skips from her early twenties, back to childhood and forward to her thirties and her marriage. The skips are fluid and purposeful, the stories from her early twenties illustrate a young woman driven by the need for adventure, while the moments she picks to describe from childhood shed light on the decisions she makes as an adult.

She writes a lot about infidelity, both her own and that of her mother. She frames them both as women who feel stifled by domesticity and self-destructive as result. They are both torn between opposing desires for uncertainty and stability that neither of their lovers (or their spouses) turn out to be the solution to. She doesn’t shy away from the darker parts of herself, and writes interestingly on the experience of doing something shitty, recognising its shittyness and also her inability to stop doing it. It’s equal parts raking herself over the coals and accepting mistakes that cannot be changed.

The Rules Do Not Apply is a book concerned with grief. The big, overwhelming grief of losing her child, and her whole future as she had imagined it would play out. But it’s also the grief resulting from the gradual, painful dissolution of her marriage. Through infidelity, addiction and lies – both to each other and themselves – Levy and her wife come to realise that the life they thought they were building was a fragile and ultimately unsustainable one.

As predominantly YA readers, we read an awful lot of stories about falling in love. It makes sense – falling in love for the first time is an experience of many people’s teens (not mine, but that is another story #colddeadheart). There is something different but equally interesting to me in reading about a breakup, especially of a long relationship (I think Levy was married for around 10 years). There is a different sort of beauty in the snapping of the stitches people thought would hold them together forever.

We like to think that we can have everything. Some of us were brought up with the idea that it – everything – was owed to us. But that fact is, life is more complicated than that. The Rules Do Not Apply details some harsh realities and the resilience required to navigate them. It’s well worth a read.