Vivian Versus America

This review contains spoilers for Vivian Versus the Apocalypse.

Vivian Apple has been through a lot since the first rapture. Now that the evil Church of America Corporation have complete control over the country, her only choice is a life on the run. After tracking down Beaton Frick himself, Viv and her best friend Harp know a little about the circumstances of the first rapture – totally fake, of course, and involving at least one instance of mass murder. They know they have solid evidence against the church, but after Peter’s capture, they are unsure how to proceed. After finding Vivian’s not-so-raptured mother and the sister she never knew she had, things are more confusing than ever.

It’s fortunate then, that Vivian’s new sister, Winnie, is part of an anti-Church militia, bent on taking the Corporation down by any means necessary. Together they travel to LA to the Church headquarters.

How do you go about taking down a cult that has captured the majority of Americans in its thrall? Vivian and her new friends are going to have to figure it out…

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I read Vivian Versus the Apocalypse about a year ago. I liked it well enough, but there was nothing about it that made me desperate to pick up the sequel. At this point, I honestly have no idea why this was, because Vivian Versus America, by Katie Coyle is a brilliant book.

The truth is, there will always somebody trying to make a profit on the end of the world. In this case, it’s the Church of America Corporation, who in addition to publishing The Book of Frick (much loved bible substitute), also sell clothes, food and home accessories, all of which will make you just that little bit more Godly.

You can buy your way into heaven, it turns out.

Vivian Versus America is a super depressing book. The Church has risen to such shocking power as a result of the fact that the world probably is ending. America has been battered by severe storms and for months the sun has been misbehaving. Just as people were adjusting to the prospect of a future that was brutally limited, Beaton Frick appeared with a way out. It was built on aggression, ignorance and hatred.

People ate it up.

Vivian and Harp are two teenage girls – barely more than children – but once the Church have publicised their names and images and labelled them the enemy, people don’t hesitate to attack them in the street. In this America, a person can only be with the Church or against them, and if you fall into the latter category believers feel no obligation toward you or your safety. As the situation progresses and society disintegrates (and the Church of America step in with a new, well equipped police force, obviously) it is not only believers who are guilty of violence.

‘We just have to believe we’re capable of better. Because the Church doesn’t. They count on us being scared and weak; they count on us turning on each other. And some do…. But there are millions and millions of people in this country, Viv. The people who scare you… they’re only the loudest. They’ve got access to the screens and microphones, and they’re counting on the rest of us keeping our heads low, because we’re too afraid to fight back. But just because we’re not as loud doesn’t mean we’re alone.’

Katie Coyle explores the darkest aspects of human nature. She looks at how easily we can be led into a place of violence and aggression when we’re desperate to escape from feelings of fear and hopelessness. As I’ve already mentioned, this in no way limited to the believers. Everybody has blood on their hands by the end.

The weird thing about reading this – and probably what stopped me from starting it for so long – is that Vivian is by far the least interesting character in the book. She’s a very typical YA protagonist. The good girl turned warrior with all the inherent insecurities to boot. Her romance bores me, and she takes risks for it that made me roll my eyes hard. I was fascinated however, with the other women in her family. Much of the first book is dedicated to the problems of Vivian’s mother and by the beginning of …Versus America she has been cast as the other great villain of Vivian’s life. Winnie, Viv’s sister, I loved and I still wish we could have gotten more of. She’s brave – she’s pretty much decided that she’ll take down the Church or die trying. She’s accepts people for who they are, without tolerating their bullshit. The calm objectivity she projects enables her to have relationships with her estranged mother and her resentful sister. She understood, much more than Vivian, that any moment could be the end. She wasn’t going to die with unfinished business. The relationships of these three women added another fascinating layer to the book.

‘I know now that my mother will always be searching. I can’t divert her from her quest for herself; I can’t insist that I alone should be enough for her. She is more than just my mother – she’s a person all of her own, and she has the right to seek answers. She’s just not satisfied yet. I realize that a part of me loves this about her, even as it hurts.’

This is one of the first dystopic fictions I’ve ever read that I actually felt in my heart. Looking at the news right now there is a grim reality to this book that is inescapable. It’s a compelling story.

‘…the world is dark, and frightening. The country is huge and unknown. Some lay in wait, wanting to manipulate us, to turn us against one another – for money, or for power. It doesn’t matter. All I know is they will not be able to do it if we hold tight to each other. If we find in ourselves the capacity to love without fear or condition, to accept the humanity of others as simple, irrefutable fact. I believe we are capable of this.’

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Mosquitoland

Mim Malone is not okay. After divorcing her mother, her father moved her 947 miles away to live with his new wife, Kathy. Mim Malone is not the sort to take such an act lying down. When the letters and calls from her mother mysteriously stop, and she hears whispers that she’s sick, it becomes clear it’s time for her to take action. She steals a tin of money from her new stepmother and runs away.

Spoiler alert: the journey from Mississippi to Cleveland isn’t exactly smooth.

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I have been putting off reviewing Mosquitoland, by David Arnold. It’s one of those I have intensely mixed feelings about. By the end I felt exhilarated by having read it, but during I often felt frustrated.

Engaging and interesting characters were often left floundering in weak and melodramatic plot. On the other hand, throughout are scattered moments of perfection that brought tears to my eyes.

Like I said: feelings mixed.

No matter my opinions on the direction of the plot, Mim was a great protagonist. She’s funny but haunted, desperate for independence but hopelessly immature. She thinks she knows everything but she hasn’t got a clue.

There is something very authentic to her voice that I connected with immediately. It was that connection that kept me going through the more… unlikely moments of the book.

Let’s get something straight – I like a fast paced book. That said, this one is a little too fast paced. Within the first half, Mim has introduced us to her parents’ divorce and her father’s subsequent remarriage, hinted at her mental health problems, run away from home, gotten into a bus crash and then encountered both a child molester and a psychopath (the latter being one of the weakest moments of the novel). Honestly none of that even really counts as a spoiler because it’s less than half the book and doesn’t really matter to the central narrative, which to me, was all about Mim’s relationship with her parents.

The story is told through both first person narration and the letters Mim writes to the mysterious Isobel. Through the letters in particular, we are given snap shots of Mim’s relationships with both her mum and her dad. Her mum is undoubtedly the fun one. She wants to give Mim the freedom to explore the world and take risks. Her dad on the other hand… not so much. In the early stages of the book Mim’s dad is painted as a boring homewrecker who would rather medicate his daughter than deal with her. Through her letters though, Mim gradually starts to see him as someone else. Someone who made his choices based on fear. They were bad choices, and the damage they caused couldn’t be denied, but they didn’t come from a place of wanting to cause hurt.

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It was this thread about her parents where the plot fell down again though, I felt. It’s difficult to go into without major spoilers, but essentially, Mim finds some letters from her mother than play a large part in her decision to run away. There was something about the letters that felt weak to me. They come into play in what is – I think – supposed to be the biggest plot twist of the book, but it’s one that I saw coming a mile off.

Again, my feelings about the plot twist were mixed. Yes, I saw it coming from pretty much the outset, but that wasn’t necessarily detrimental to my experience of reading the book. One of the book’s great strengths is Mim’s innocence. She has everything wrong, and watching her realise that is heart breaking and intense reading. I loved it, and knowing it before she did didn’t affect my reading experience whatsoever. However the handling of the actual moments of revelation were just… poor. They were obvious in such a way that they made Mim, a smart girl, look pretty stupid, which is a disservice to her character because it’s not true at all.

Like I said before, frustrating.

I hate to tack this on the end – as usual I have spent my entire review obsessing over the details – but this would feel incomplete if I didn’t mention Mim’s co-stars. Walt, a homeless boy with Downs Syndrome and Beck, a cute photographer on the run from college, were everything that Mim needed. I loved how they were drawn together by their being lost and the way David Arnold completed their storyline was perfect.

The end of this book is my favourite part. There is an exchange on the final page that made every eyebrow-raising moment worth it.

It’s a mixed bag this one – it’ll bring out all your feelings, for better or worse. It’ll definitely keep you engaged until the end.

How To Say I Love You Out Loud

Jordyn has two lives. School, where she gets along fine – people like her well enough and she’s relatively important to the success of the hockey team. She’s a high achiever, but nondescript is her MO. Then there’s home, which she shares with her autistic brother Phillip. The one rule of Jordyn’s existence is that these two worlds never, ever meet. It’s a rule that has consequences. So far it’s already cost her a shot at happiness with hot football player, Alex. They’re still friends, but when he starts dating Leighton, the captain of the hockey team, Jordyn starts to wish she hadn’t stopped them from becoming more. Then Phillip’s school closes, and he is forced to transfer to mainstream high school with Jordyn. It’s her living nightmare. Her carefully constructed, perfectly separate life begins to crumble.

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DISCLAIMER: I attempted not to get super personal with this review and totally failed. I am all bias. My brother has autism. He’s less severe than Phillip – he has a much easier time communicating verbally (when he’s calm, anyway), but unless you’re the type of person to know the mileage of your car (or if you have brought him food) then he has no interest in talking to you. He’s really into cars. As I write this, a DVD of the 1992 touring car world championship is likely playing somewhere in my house. That or Ice Road Truckers.

As a result of all this, I approached this book with some pretty intense trepidation. On the rare occasions I read books about disability, specifically autistic characters, they usually make me

  1. Really angry. I feel like autistic characters are quite often used as props with attributes that read like a checklist of Things Autistic People Do.
  2. Feel guilty. When I was 8, a well-meaning teacher gave me a book about autism that would more accurately have been titled Everything You Do Wrong, You Terrible Person.

All this is to explain why this book has been sitting on my shelf for several weeks, while I read everything but it.

As it turned out, all my worry was totally unnecessary. How To Say I Love You Out Loud, by Karole Cozzo, is a really great book. It totally made me cry, but not for either of the bad reasons I was expecting.

I liked Jordyn a lot. Often-times as a reader, you can see things more clearly than she can, but not in an annoying way. I really enjoyed watching her identify her self sabotage and eventually even overcome it.

She had a hard time in the early years of school with kids bullying her because of Phillip’s difficulties. She was often cut out of social circles by children too young to understand what they were doing. Sometimes she was left out by parents who had no excuse not to know better.As a result, when her family moves to a new town to be closer to Phillip’s school, Jordyn decides it’ll make her life easier if her new friends don’t know he even exists. She’s decided that her heart can’t take any more judgement. But the thing about secrets, Jordyn quickly learns, is that they have much more far reaching consequences than she would have thought. Her friends are hurt by how closed off she is. They don’t understand why they know so little about a person they see every day.

And then there’s Alex. Perfect Alex. I am not exaggerating. He’s totally hot, sweet , funny and he cares for his mother, who is a wheelchair user as a result of a stroke she had a couple previously. In his spare time he builds parks for disabled children. Does this guy exist in real life? Probably not. Did this limit my enjoyment of him? Are you kidding? Of course not.

(this is why I have such unrealistically high standards for the men in my life. Sigh).

Alex seems like the perfect guy to trust, right? I thought so too. But Jordyn can never be sure. And even when she is, she then has to worry about him judging her for keeping the secret in the first place. The only option is to push him away, and the more she does, the more miserable she becomes.

In defence of Jordyn: It is easy, during many stages of this book, to get a little frustrated with Jordyn. You are totally supposed to. But I just want to say that she’s not being totally unreasonable, because people do get really weird about autism. As an adult, I find a person’s reaction when I first mention my brother a good test of whether or not we will become friends. If they respond with abject terror (which happens way more than you’d think) then it’s unlikely we’re going to be buds. It’s also a really useful way to figure out whether or not a guy is worth dating. I would go as far as to say that inventing an autistic sibling is actually great dating advice.

(Just kidding. Mostly.)

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Anyway. Back to the book.

What I loved most about Cozzo’s writing was the total acceptance of Jordyn as she was. Generally speaking, there isn’t someone in your life with a How To book that explains exactly how you deal. Jordyn, like anyone is in her situation, was simply handling it the only way she knew how to. She got pissed off with her mum and frustrated with her brother but that didn’t make her a bad person. Even when, as a reader, I couldn’t agree with her actions, I never felt like Cozzo wanted me to be angry with her. Each of the walls Jordyn had built around herself existed for a reason. When you grow up with a person the world was not designed for, you can end up feeling like it wasn’t designed for you either.  It’s a feeling Cozzo does a really good job of exploring.

Cozzo has written a book about the fact that love is hard sometimes. So is opening up or taking a risk. What I took from How To Say I Love You Out Loud in the end is that it’s okay that it’s hard. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to realise that you were doing something wrong, because in the end you can always course-correct. It’s never too late for that.

Winter

It turns out Cinder isn’t the only princess despotic Queen Levana wants to keep out of the limelight. She may not have attempted to murder Winter (yet), but she did compel her to scar her own face. Winter is beautiful, and totally beloved by the people of Luna. Levana thought the scars might change people’s minds about her. It didn’t work – Winter is as beloved as ever.

In addition to being beautiful and sweet, the anti-Levana, if you will, Winter is absolutely the-palace-walls-are-bleeding crazy. After years of refusing to use her gift of mind control, she has been enveloped by the madness of the Lunar sickness.

But she copes, with the help of sexy palace guard (the same one who ratted out the team on the Rampion at the end of Cress ), Jacin.

When Cinder’s revolution finally begins to encroach on Levana’s rule, for the first time, Winter can envision a life that is more than just coping. A life free from Levana’s tyranny. She wants to join the fight. With her new allies at her side, she can only hope to keep the fractured pieces of her mind together until the end.

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It is hard to review a book that’s just over 800 pages long.

Suffice to say, it was awesome.

I’ll expand on that a little.

Generally speaking, I am not much for book series. I rarely make it past book 2. Unless it’s Harry Potter, The Princess Diaries or some other precious thing from child/teen-hood, most of the time, I don’t want to know. Even if I’ve read a whole series and kind of liked it, by the time I’ve reached the end, I usually have more bad to say about it than good. I think this is essentially down to 2 series pitfalls, one of which is the love triangle. I’ve mentioned before that I just end up hating everyone involved by the end. When you’re willing two guys to dump a protagonist, then you know you’ve got a problem. The other pitfall is book 2, which almost always sucks. Frequently, I find that character development grinds to a halt, people fall in love for no reason and essentially nothing happens. So I never read the third book. Sometimes I think an okay trilogy would have make a fairly sound duology.

It happens in films too. Think of how much better the Hobbit movies might have been if most of them never happened.

I want you to know that it hurts me to say that, because of my deep and abiding love for Martin Freeman.

What worked for me in The Lunar Chronicles, what caused me to fall in love, I think, was that every book had a different protagonist. Rather than continuing the same story, leaving me to get bored reading recycled romantic scenes and the same self-sabotaging behaviours over and over again, every book Marissa Meyer put out felt fresh. We got to know someone new while watching Cinder gradually build her army. There was no main character in the series whose story I wasn’t completely invested in.

There was a new-ness to each story that drew me in every time. Winter was no different. Winter can be a stressful individual to be around. She can be consumed by horrifying visions any moment, whether or not you’re just about to be maybe eaten by a wolf army. But she’s more than just her unpredictable mental state. She’s brave. She launches into Cinder’s revolution without even considering the consequences. The reason she’s unstable in the first place is self-inflicted. She refuses to use her Lunar gift as she believes it can only result in the pain of others. There are few that would have the strength to face madness to remain true to their beliefs. She’s kind. Despite growing up with Levana and her complete disregard for the lives of her people, Winter cares.

She’s also a massive flirt. See any of her scenes with Jacin for evidence of this. Watching her throw impenetrable Jacin off balance is fun.

Like all the girls that have come before her, she was interesting and complex and someone I wanted to know more.

Winter was a very satisfying ending to a wonderful series. Marissa Meyer did a really good job of giving everyone time to speak throughout (although whenever Cress wasn’t around, I missed her) and I felt like everyone’s various threads were tied up well. The minute I finished I was ready to re-read Cinder and start the process all over again.

Favourite moments

  • Whenever Kai sassed Levana.
  • Winter and Scarlett facing the wolf armies.
  • Cress and Thorne!!! All scenes.

My one issue:

We never got to see Torin relax. Poor guy. He went through a lot.

P.S. I Still Love You

In the past couple months, Lara Jean has gone from being a girl with a fake boyfriend to one with a real relationship that is at the centre of her high school’s latest gossip scandal. Probably the most romantic moment of her life so far was recorded by a jealous bystander (her boyfriend’s ex) and paraded around as supposed proof of Lara Jean’s ‘easiness’. When said boyfriend protects the ex rather than Lara Jean, it starts to look like their relationship can’t withstand the strain of reality.

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P.S. I Still Love You, by Jenny Han, is the sort of book that’s kind of embarrassing to read on the train as an adult. But I did it anyway.

The experience of reading both To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You has been one of total surprise. I did not expect to enjoy these books. Even after thoroughly enjoying the first book I still put off reading PS I Still Love You for months. To be honest that decision was largely name related. I was worried that the book would make me cringe as hard as the title.

It didn’t, because much like its predecessor, it turned out to be so much more than it seemed.

As in the first book, Jenny Han uses Lara Jean’s teen romance drama to look at some pretty big subjects. If you thought that a book called P.S. I Still Love You wouldn’t be an exploration of slut shaming, you would be wrong. The hot tub incident that caused so much drama at the end of the first book is, like Britney in 2007, a story that refuses to die. It is, also like Britney in 2007, all anyone is talking about. What went from a nasty rumour of sex in a hot tub morphed into a racy photo on Instagram, and then became a meme shared around every student in Lara Jean’s school. Peter, her boyfriend and the other half of the hot tub debacle, gets through the incident relatively unscathed.

Lara Jean and her sisters notice this. They talk about how guys can do whatever they want, but as far as teenage girls are concerned, the idea that they might be having sex is synonymous with them being out of control. Whereas, they notice, guys having a ton of sex are socially rewarded.

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (or, as she’s otherwise known, my fantasy BFF), points out in We Should All Be Feminists, there is some seriously dubious logic happening here. If all heterosexual boys are supposed to be sexually experienced, and all heterosexual girls are supposed to be innocent virgins… then who is having sex with who, exactly? And yet the paradox continues to be perpetuated by both teens and the adults that are supposed to be teaching them to navigate the world.

In the aftermath of the Instagram post, many teachers approach Lara Jean to express their concerns. She’s repeatedly reminded that she’s ‘not that type of girl’ and ‘better than that’. ‘Better than what?’ she asks herself. ‘Better than who?’

Do you think any teachers expressed such concerns to Lara Jean’s boyfriend, Peter?

Of course they didn’t.

In this book Jenny Han is like Hey Teens Girls, Welcome to Sexism 101. I love her for it. What you expect when you pick up P.S. I Still Love You is a cute romance novel*, but what you get is a teenage girl learning to navigate a world built around misogynist ideas.

I could write a lot more about this book. I could talk at length about how impressed I continue to be with the skilful way that Jenny Han built Lara Jean’s narrative voice. While I don’t exactly agree with the arguments that teenagers in YA are generally unrealistic and ‘too grown up’ – honestly I think that viewpoint does a serious disservice to teenagers – Lara Jean’s internal monologue sounds genuinely young. She thinks like the inexperienced kid that she is. It’s a narrative voice that leaves room for her to grow up, which is something she certainly does through this book. Lara Jean finds that boyfriends take a lot more work than she was expecting, that it’s easy to develop feelings for an idealised ‘someone else’ and that even mean girls are complicated.

I like to think Jenny Han’s books will make me less judgemental of cringe-worthy covers in future.

*You totally get that too, don’t worry.

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Jacob’s life has always been pretty average. An okay student with a job in the supermarket chain his family owns, probably the most interesting stories he has to tell belong to his grandfather – tales of children with mysterious abilities. Photographs of impossible children litter his home.

But Jacob stopped believing in all that years ago. Other kids in school beat him up for telling ‘fairy stories’ and the internet taught him that photographs can be manipulated. Jacob and his grandad, Abe haven’t talked about the peculiar children in years.

When Jacob’s grandfather dies under mysterious and violent circumstances, nothing is average any more. He is haunted by images of a monster he saw at the scene of Abe’s death –a monster his therapist has convinced him couldn’t possibly exist. Looking through his deceased grandfather’s belongings, Jacob rediscovers the photographs of the peculiar children, and what appears to be a letter from their leader, Miss Peregrine. In desperate need of answers, he travels to Wales with his father to determine whether the children exist after all.

Miss Peregine.jpgI first read Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs three years ago. I leant it to a girl I lived with at the time who soon moved out under mysterious circumstances (very fitting), without returning it to me. I don’t know why it took me so long to get another copy. While my memories of the plot had mostly faded, what remained when I thought of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children was a feeling. I guess you’d call it otherworldly. I fell back into it the moment I started reading again.

One of the aspects of this book I like most is the idea of inherited sadness – the feel the weight your family history has as it settles onto your shoulders. In Jacob’s case this takes a couple of different forms – without being too spoiler-ey, he basically has to go back in time to 1945, when his grandfather was young. He bonds with the people who populated Abe’s childhood, and takes on the role he left vacant, and all the responsibilities that come with it. In the present, the book also looks at the way that our grandparents are responsible for our parents. For reasons that become apparent the further you get into the story, Abe and Jacob’s dad had a very distant relationship. Jacob’s dad did not feel loved by his father, and he’s grown up to be a very disconnected adult. He shares that he can feel his marriage to Jacob’s mother slipping away, but doesn’t have the strength or resources to do anything about it. His mind is made of ever-increasing stacks of unfinished projects – all of them abandoned as soon as the first problem arose. He loves his son, but barely knows him really. I could go into all the ways that Jacob grew up as a disconnected kid as a result, but I’ll spare you. Sadness gets handed down through generations. So does the ability to fight monsters. More on that in a minute.

What Jacob comes to realise is that his purpose – at least for now – is to finish the work his grandfather began. He decides he is going to fight that which has been plaguing his family for decades. It’s the only way he can survive. I mean this literally. The monsters that were after his grandfather are chasing him now. I also mean this somewhat figuratively. It is only by facing head on the ghosts that have haunted his family for so long that he can have a better life than the men who came before him.

In this novel, Riggs is caught up in questions about time. Miss Peregrine uses time loops in order to keep the peculiar children safe from what’s hunting them. In doing so she has stopped them for aging. They are children forever, like Peter Pan but with a parent. By protecting them she has also made them easier to control. In keeping them as children she will forever be their superior. There is a real sense throughout of how these children haven’t developed – in their relationships, concerns or anything really, despite actually being getting on for one hundred years old. I’m fascinated the see the effects of the events of the first book in the sequel, to see how the children develop in a new world where not every day is the same, where certain relationships and power structures are irrevocably changed. I’m excited to see them leave the home they’ve always lived in and face what threatens them.

What I took from this book is the idea that you can only hide from or deny a destiny for so long. Rigg’s ends the book with the impression that life is always coming for you.

First and Then

Devon Tennyson doesn’t know what she wants from life. Apart from her best friend Cas to fall in love with her. And for her annoying cousin, Foster, recently sent by his ‘troubled’ mother to live in her house, to leave her alone.

But neither of those things seem to be happening. Instead she has to take gym class with Foster, and deal with his budding friendship with the attractive but socially inadequate jock, Ezra.

Meanwhile Cas is off falling in love with Lindsey, the nicest girl in the world.

IMG_0287.JPGIf First and Then, by Emma Mills had come out when I was seventeen, I would have lost my freaking mind. It achieves the perfect balance between romance and good old Life Lessons. If Sarah Dessen and John Green had a baby, it would be called Emma Mills. I want to open a worm-hole and throw this book back six years to my seventeen-year-old self.

(aside: Oh dear god I can’t believe I was seventeen six years ago.)

(I just paused writing this review to text this realisation to like five people.)

‘My college essay was entitled “School Lunches, TS High and Me,” and it was every bit as terrible as you’d expect.’

So goes the opening line of First and Then. Devon is sitting with a teacher going over her lacklustre college applications. She was going for the ‘witty’ essay, but it didn’t work out so well, mainly because she was writing it during the commercial breaks of the previous night’s television. Devon doesn’t care all that much. But, I should add, she is completely charming in her apathy.

You read a lot of driven YA heroines. There are a lot of girls saving universes or falling hopelessly in love with a guy that they just have to have, but there aren’t all that many that aren’t especially bothered by it all. Devon hasn’t figured out what she’s passionate about in life yet. She’s smart, funny and confident, but she lacks anywhere to channel that energy. She’s applying to a college because she liked the picture on the front of the brochure. Even though she’s been into him forever, she doesn’t actually believe that her relationship with Cas will ever develop into something more. Devon is a witty retort followed by a shrug, and I loved that about her.

I really empathised with Devon, because when I was at school, I didn’t care much either. Honestly, I was ninety-percent of the way through before it started to feel like it mattered. What Emma Mills does really well is to explore how insular the high school world is, and how it can be hard to really care about the future when the present is the only sort of life that you know. It’s hard to imagine a new place and different people, when this place and these people have been the everyday reality for-literally-ever.

I was talking about this not caring thing with my mum a couple days ago and she said that she’d gathered that from my school reports. I always thought my reports were amazing, so I was like how?

Mum: they were fine, just a little… indifferent.

That was a revelation. Both that my reports weren’t as good as I had always thought and that I was so apathetic that I didn’t even notice.

Anyway, back to Devon. I absolutely loved the parts of the book dedicated to her evolving relationship with Foster. He’s come to live with them after circumstances with his mum had become so bad there was no other option. He never talks about it. Devon doesn’t know how to talk about it either. Her family has been stable her whole life – the biggest upheaval being Foster’s arrival – so she doesn’t know how to relate to anything that’s happened to him. And yet they manage it, in the occasionally aggressive, frequently misguided way that siblings do. The writing of Foster is beautifully subtle. I could probably count on one hand the amount of times he directly addresses his history in the book. Mills deftly navigates it, and without going into too much detail leaves us with the impression of his pain. Mostly she just lets him get on with being the weird and wonderful human that he is.

Devon’s growing dedication to Foster was my favourite part of the book. The moments are fleeting, but, you could draw a map across First and Then detailing the journey Foster takes from being Devon’s cousin to her brother. All Devon’s character development is like this. There is no flash of understanding after which all is revealed to her. Instead, you get small insights into the person that she could be. Like during her trip to her college of choice. The example of what life after high school could look like lights a fire under her that carries her through the rest of the book. She even rewrites the essay without the TV on. It’s not complete yet, but the vague outline of what she wants floats to the top of the pool of options and expectations.

And the romance… No spoilers, but a certain boy in this book may have renewed my faith in the broody types.

Just read it.