Guy In Real Life

Guy In Real Life, by Steve Brezenoff, is one of those unlikely couple stories. Lesh, metal-head and Svetlana, Dungeon Master, meet at 2am when Lesh wanders in front of Svetlana’s bike after a night of at least five too many beers. Ordinarily, they’d never see each other again, but as it turns out they go to the same school and wind up on the same lunch period (a different one from all their friends), so an awkward, annoying encounter becomes something like an actual relationship.

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Guy In Real Life, by Steve Brezenoff, is one of those unlikely couple stories. Lesh, metal-head and Svetlana, Dungeon Master, meet at 2am when Lesh wanders in front of Svetlana’s bike after a night of at least five too many beers. Ordinarily, they’d never see each other again, but as it turns out they go to the same school and wind up on the same lunch period (a different one from all their friends), so an awkward, annoying encounter becomes something like an actual relationship.

This book gave me mixed feelings.

guy in real lifeI enjoyed the snapshots of Lesh and Svetlana’s home lives. They struck me as very real teenagers. Often in YA, I find that parents are pretty absent and the lives of the teenagers I read a lot more like my life as a twenty-two year old than a reflection of my experience at sixteen. Not here. Lesh starts off the book with a long-term grounding following the aforementioned night of drunkenness (a night that ended in extreme sickness, which I also appreciated, having been a sixteen year old who could not hold her drink. I was a puker). Lesh’s life outside of school ceases to exist for a lot of the novel, which definitely increases the intensity of his relationship with Svetlana. As he’s on a different lunch period from all his friends, she’s like the 90% of his day that he’s actually interested in.

Svetlana’s family made me laugh. All Svetlana wants is to be left alone to draw, embroider her skirts and plan the next step in her current game of Dungeons and Dragons, (note: as is probably obvious, I know nothing about D&D or associated terminology. Sorry. When I was living in student halls, I tried to join in an RPG once, but it didn’t go so well and they never invited me to play again. Honestly I’m not good at games that require me to digest a ton of information up front) but she is constantly hassled by her family into attending football games and the like. I think it’s totally accurate to say that for most teenagers, there is nothing more inconvenient than your damn parents wanting to spend time with you, so this detail made me smile.

Another aspect of the book that was particularly on point was the influences their separate cliques had on Lesh and Lana’s developing relationship – turns out the metal-heads and the RPG kids don’t hang out too much. Suffice to say that integration is awkward. Lana’s friends don’t understand why she suddenly wants to spend so much time with this weird, occasionally drunken metal-head, and Lesh doesn’t want his friends to know he’s hanging out with RPG-Lana at all.

My mixed feelings happened during the chapters that weren’t about Lesh and Lana. Lesh spends a lot of time playing this computer game where he’s an elf version of Svetlana (yep, you read that right) and many chapters of the book are concerned with what happens during that game. I found these chapters a little tedious. It was apparent that they were a way for Lesh to explore his sexuality, but the long descriptions of the world of the game that I didn’t really care about made it difficult for me to engage with that.

Overall though, I would say this was a good read, despite what I classified in my head as The Elf Parts.

My Top Three Female Characters

I think the need to read about women I related to (and women I didn’t) was part of what drove me toward reading. The girls I read there were real. They made mistakes and they had complicated friendships. They weren’t simply the subplot to somebody else’s epiphany. They were my friends and the people I aspired to be like.

I love female characters. I love to read women with depth, women who are complicated and not a mess of gender characteristics stuck awkwardly together by a clueless author.

Often when I watch television, I find the female characters fall flat. They are so frequently pushed into the same boring gender roles and their friendships reduced to shallow one way streets where the only topic of discussion is dating. Or, worse, the female character is only there to facilitate some guy’s character development and has no storyline of her own.

Unfortunately on TV this can start to feel like the norm.

I think the need to read about women I related to (and women I didn’t) was part of what drove me toward reading. The girls I read there were real. They made mistakes and they had complicated friendships. They weren’t simply the subplot to somebody else’s epiphany. They were my friends and the people I aspired to be like.

So with that in mind, today I want to write about three of the women in young adult fiction who have stayed in my mind long after the end of the story.

Frankie Landau-Banks

From The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

frankie

This book should be required reading for all teenaged girls, I think. Frankie is a sixteen year old girl in the midst of a feminist awakening. She is keenly aware of what the people around her expect and want from her – a sweet, quiet girl who doesn’t want to cause any trouble – and she realizes more and more than she cannot be it for them. She’s smart and adventurous and she wants to be at the heart of the action even when it is in the end at the sacrifice of those things she always thought would make her happy. She is a girl in the process of figuring out who she is.

The ocean stirsthe heart, inspiresthe imgination&

Cather

From Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl

I so wish that Fangirl had been published in time for my first year of university, because me and Cath had pretty similar feelings going in and reading about hers would have gone a long way toward convincing me that I was not in fact going crazy.

Cath is the suspicious type. She doesn’t let people in much, apart from her twin sister Wren, but since they went to university together and Wren decided to get a roommate who wasn’t Cath they haven’t talked much. Cath is fearful. It takes her weeks to go down to the refectory in her dorm because she doesn’t know how the place operates. She doesn’t get out much. She isn’t a party person.

The reason Cath felt so real to me was that she never lost the deep reservations she had about life. Just because a lovely boy came along didn’t mean she instantly stopped being suspicious about relationships. Just because she made a couple friends didn’t mean she suddenly started going out to the kind of parties that she hated. Just because she left home she didn’t stop worrying about her dad, who has bi-polar and isn’t particularly stable at the best of times. Cath and her stresses came as a pair, and her journey to live her life in spite of them is what makes Fangirl such great reading.

Evie O’Neill

From The Diviners by Libba Bray

the diviners

In case it wasn’t obvious, I’ve recently got totally re-obsessed with The Diviners in anticipation of the sequel being finally almost here.

Evie is everything I wish I was. She’s extroverted, witty, brave and always up for a party. She is desperate to be famous, whatever the cost. She’s also… pretty haunted. She lost her brother in the Second World War and since her already frail relationship with her parents has completely broken.

Evie needs more than anything else to be noticed. She has been lonely ever since her brother died and tries to plug the gaping hole he left behind with the shallow attentions of… whoever she can get to listen. It goes without saying that the need for attention never ends.

But she’s also pretty selfless. She puts herself in positions of grave danger throughout the novel in pursuit of the murderer haunting the streets of New York. She almost dies chasing him, but she keeps going anyway because ridding the world of him is the only way to make people safe.

Did I mention I’m excited for the sequel?

Who are your favourite female characters and why? Let me know in the comments!

A Thousand Pieces of You

I wanted to enjoy Claudia Gray’s A Thousand Pieces of You a lot more than I actually did. It wasn’t that there were any elements I outright hated, it’s that somehow this book and I lacked a connection.

Marguerite Caine is on a mission of revenge. She has vowed to kill her father’s murderer and former protégé, Paul Markov. The main problem is figuring out which dimension he’s in. Marguerite’s mother proved the existence of other dimensions and together with Marguerite’s late father built the firebird technology that allows people to travel between them. Together with Theo, a PHD student working under her parents, Marguerite is determined to track down Paul and avenge her father’s death.

Sounds simple, right? Not so much. When Marguerite finds Paul, her certainty of his guilt starts to falter. It seems that her father’s death is part of a much more sinister plot in which Marguerite herself has a greater part than she ever knew.

a thousand pieces of you

I wanted to enjoy Claudia Gray’s A Thousand Pieces of You a lot more than I actually did. It wasn’t that there were any elements I outright hated, it’s that somehow this book and I lacked a connection.

First off, let’s go through the good stuff. The book takes place across four dimensions. Our own – pretty recognisable, if more technologically advanced (interdimensional travel), a future dimension (hover cars), old world-ey Russia and a post-climate change catastrophe world in which most people seem to live underwater.

Gray throws us right into the centre of the action. We enter the story at the point of Marguerite’s first jump into an alternate dimension, her grief totally eclipsing her ability to feel anything other than intense anger.

I enjoy playing catch up with characters and not having all the information. I don’t enjoy reading the final moments of the life of a character I already know from the blurb will be six feet under by the end of chapter two.

So far so good.

Marguerite’s exploration of the first futuristic dimension and the process of gathering information on the circumstances that led to her being there was interesting to read about. Theo and his flirtatiousness were pretty fun. The discovery that the situation with Paul wasn’t so simple intrigued me.

Then Marguerite and Paul arrive in nineteenth-century (or whenever) Russia, through a convoluted series of incidents that are slightly plot-holey lose their firebirds and therefore their ability to leave the dimension and are stuck there for a month. This portion of the book seriously drags. Marguerite decides that she is in love with the nineteenth-century Russia version of Paul (after like a week and a waltz. I can only assume he is an insanely great dancer) and this storyline really dominates the rest of the book. Even after they have left the dimension its ghost lingers, casting a dissatisfying shadow over the events following it.

It’s kind of like when you’re reading Jane Eyre and you skip over most of the St John part. Half way through, this book lost its Rochester.

From this point onwards the book limps toward its end, gradually gaining strength again the further it gets from the chill and bloodshed of the war torn Russian winter. By the time we reach the underwater dimension it has almost clawed its way back to being an interesting read. Almost.

Like I said, me and this book lacked a connection. I really don’t enjoy instant love. There is something exciting in that period of pre-relationship uncertainty I really miss when it’s skipped over. Plus I guess I’ve never managed to invest in couples who just tell me how much they care for each other (think Black Widow and Hulk in the last Avengers movie. What even was that?) Like my creative writing teachers always said, you have to show it to me. In this book, the weird instantaneous love was particularly disappointing because elsewhere Gray had done such a good job of developing relationships in a way that was totally believable.

A Thousand Pieces of You is the first in the firebird trilogy. Seeing as there is (spoiler alert!) little chance of Marguerite heading back to Russia any time soon, it might make a more interesting read.

5 Weird Reads

5 Weird Reads to Get You Out of Your Real Life and/or Reading Rut

Sometimes real life gets kind of boring.

Boredom is contagious. It infects all areas of your life. Sometimes – and I hate to admit it – boredom even invades your sacred reading space.

YA has trends like everything else after all. There are only so many dystopian novels a person can read, you know?

I might have a solution.

5 Weird Reads to Get You Out of Your Real Life and/or Reading Rut:

1. Going BovineLibba Bray

going bovine

Cameron has mad cow disease. He’s going to die. Unless he does as the hot angel Dulcie tells him to, and takes his hypochondriacal dwarf buddy, Gonzo and an angry Viking gnome across America in search of a cure. And defeat the evil United Snow Globe Wholesalers in the process, of course.

2. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender – Leslye Walton

the strange and beautiful sorrows of ava lavender

This book is a beautiful example of magical realism. The story weaves throughout the tragic history of the Roux family. Ava Lavender, a girl born with wings, traces back through the saddest stories in order to find her place in the world. Is she an angel, or just a girl? Can she be both?

3. The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

the graveyard book

Bod is the only living resident in a graveyard. It’s hard to grow up around the dead, but it comes with certain perks. Bod knows about to fade, like a ghost. It’s a killer move for hide and seek, but sadly Bod doesn’t have anyone living to play that with.

4. Grasshopper JungleAndrew Smith

grasshopper jungle

Austin and Robby may have accidentally brought about the end of humanity by accidentally releasing an army of unstoppable, six foot praying mantises in Iowa. Unstoppable praying mantises who pretty much only eat and fuck, which wouldn’t be so bad if their diet weren’t strictly human.

5. John Dies @ the End – David Wong

john dies @ the end

This book isn’t YA, and absolutely isn’t for younger readers, but remains one of the weirdest pieces of fiction I have read ever. Basically if you take the soy sauce Korrock (evil God of evil) becomes your responsibility. You can’t un-learn about the invasion (led by Korrock). Once you’ve taken the sauce you must fight the forces threatening to enslave humanity. This might involve killing the same two headed creature with the same ax twice.

The Walls Around Us

The Walls Around Us is creepy, unapologetic, vengeful, sad and full of longing. It’s a great way to pass a lazy summer evening alone.

Violet is a ballet dancer. Her best friend Ori is dead, and it’s Violet’s fault. Ori died because of what happened in the smoking tunnel. If it weren’t for that awful day, Ori would never have been sent to the juvenile detention centre in the first place. She’d still be alive.

Amber is locked in Aurora Hills Juvenile detention centre indefinitely. She was sentenced for the murder of her step-father. Most of the other girls in the centre believe Amber to be innocent.

the walls around usAmber just got a new cell mate, Orianna. Orianna is different from the others, from Amber herself.

The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma is a ghost story. It deals in hauntings by the dead and by the consequences of actions. It’s full of unreliable narrators.

I love unreliable narrators.

The Walls Around Us is a book about guilt and innocence. It’s about girls who convince themselves of innocence, despite the obviousness of guilt. It’s about what it is to be perceived as innocent while guilty at heart.

It shows what destruction the presumption of guilt wreaks on the lives of the truly innocent.

The prose intrigues. Reading Violet, we are forced to unravel her lies, to view her from a distance even as we experience the workings of her mind. The girl is crazy. Nothing about her is likeable.

I loved every second of her.

It takes real talent to attach an audience to a character who is heartless, controlling, manipulative and selfish, but Nova Ren Suma does it seemingly effortlessly. A less delicate hand would have made her character over the top, but Suma has written her in such a way as to make her utterly believable. She’s an unassuming sociopathic ballet dancer, and I had great fun being disgusted by her.

The scenes taking place in the prison, from Amber’s point of view, were also wonderful. Each line echoed with the girl’s loneliness and anger and grim acceptance of the present. I really enjoyed the collective voice often used during Amber’s sections of the book, as if Aurora Hills were a character of itself. It makes sense, the building looms large in book both when it is full and empty.

There were times however, particularly toward the end, where I found events and revelations a little confusing. I also find reading books like this, where from the get-go we know that a character has died, a little difficult to read, as I’m so preoccupied by the ending that I find myself less focussed on the present. Even before I finished, I found myself thinking that such a layered novel would probably seriously benefit from some rereading.

The Walls Around Us is creepy, unapologetic, vengeful, sad and full of longing. It’s a great way to pass a lazy summer evening alone.

Audiobooks for Insomnia

During my first year of university, I became an insomniac. I don’t know whether it was the unfamiliarity, the sensory overload, or the experience of endless time that only exists in the first year of your degree and (I am told) never again. As a wise person once wrote (Rainbow Rowell) ‘Every freshman month equals six regular months – they’re like dog months.’

During my first year of university, I became an insomniac. I don’t know whether it was the unfamiliarity, the sensory overload, or the experience of endless time that only exists in the first year of your degree and (I am told) never again. As a wise person once wrote (Rainbow Rowell) ‘Every freshman month equals six regular months – they’re like dog months.’

In my case, that was at least partially due to the fact that my days were often twenty hours long, as I had pretty much lost the ability to sleep. Anyone who has ever had sleep trouble knows: lost sleep produces anxiety produces lost sleep. That plus university, plus the standard and not so standard problems of a nineteen year old girl, meant I was pretty much driving myself insane.

That is, until I discovered audiobooks. At that time nothing could quiet my frenetic brain like the sound of a stranger in my ears telling me a story. The only major downside to this discovery is that audiobooks cost a freaking fortune. As a result I have about six I can pretty much recite. But I really like those six.

My top 5 audiobooks for insomnia (or, almost all of the audiobooks I currently own):

5. Tommy Sullivan is a Freak – Meg Cabot

tommy sullivan is a freak

That I love Meg Cabot is obvious – who wouldn’t? A cute story of romance and self-discovery is exactly what you need during a meltdown at five in the morning.

4. I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections – Nora Ephron

i remeber nothing

A series of essays on such topics as lost memory, sexism in journalism and how restaurants are failing us. These essays go well with the 3am, early acceptance of the fact it is going to be a no-sleep-night mindset: reflective while gripe-ey, self-aware yet funny.

3. Bossypants – Tina Fey

bossypants

Tina Fey is a boss lady. It is difficult for me to contribute to the vast and interesting writing that exists about this book. All I will say is, while in despair at 4.25am as I checked the clock bang on the hour for the third consecutive time, her and Amy Poehler’s sketch as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton made me smile.

2. Is It Just Me? – Miranda Hart

is it just me

It isn’t just her. The book is full of tales of embarrassment, self-acceptance and sticking two fingers up in the face of society’s expectations. A You-Can-Do-Anything! book for the manic phase that begins at around 5am at which time the non-sleeper will believe, for at least the next three hours, that they in fact have the potential to be the next Steve Jobs/Sheryl Sandberg/Kim Kardashian.

1. Yes Please – Amy Poehler

yes please

‘Everyone has a moment when they discover they love Amy Poehler.’ – Mindy Kaling.

Never a truer word. Also in this book, Amy reads a chapter about her own sleep issues! Despite the fact that generally speaking, I (thankfully) sleep a lot better these days*, I did actually listen to this at 4 in the morning with the familiar sense of despair of my ability to ever sleep again.

I felt less alone. I felt this throughout the book, actually. You should seriously read/listen to it. I know that people are generally biased toward their own experience of something, but I think listening to it is better cause it’s just so Amy.

*Brief and unscientific cures for insomnia

  1. Eating cheerios and drinking tea (post 3am only. Be aware that housemates/family members/partners will be pissed in the morning when there is no milk. Blame others if possible.)
  2. Writing down a list of your worries (despite my best intentions I only ever open my diary to write lists of worries. At 2am. If it is ever found in the future, my legacy will be of the most neurotic person who ever lived.)
  3. Opening the window, waiting till the room totally freezes and then making a hot water bottle to restart the warm snuggling process that was lost to sweat and exasperation several hours earlier.
  4. Giving up and binge watching Parks and Recreation until morning (or any other sitcom. They soothe anxiety. Try to leave it until 4am when you are ready to start bashing your head against the wall).
  5. Therapy. Can’t recommend this one enough.