Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls

June and Delia used to be best friends. Then June started dating Ryan and everything with Delia changed. They haven’t spoken in about a year.

This does nothing to lessen June’s heartbreak when she hears of Delia’s death. People are saying it was suicide.

June doesn’t believe it. She knows that Delia was murdered. Now she just has to prove it.

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Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls, by Lynn Weingarten is 339 pages of pure crazy. What I can’t decide is whether or not it was the good kind.

The story is split between present events and flashbacks of June and Delia’s friendship. Delia is not a normal girl. She is the ethereal type who dances into your world and changes everything for the better. For June, with her alcoholic mother and unsatisfactory social life, this was awesome. For me, with my current reading frustrations and lack of patience for this particular character trope, not so much.

Despite this, the mystery surrounding Delia’s death is intriguing. She had an abusive stepfather, an increasingly psycho boyfriend (think Will in Jessica Jones – crazy, to kind of nice, to a real fucking bad situation) and a drug dealer with a grudge against her. The number of people who might have done Delia in just keeps going up. June starts to feel like she’s losing it when her own boyfriend, Ryan, suddenly enters the circle of suspicion.

So far so good, right? I guess. I would probably have been more invested in finding Delia’s murderer if every flashback containing her didn’t prove her to be so unbearable. June, I didn’t have any strong feelings about. She seemed to be very much a spectator in her own life. The impression I had is that searching for Delia was the first proactive move she had ever made. It’s understandable – with her mother’s addiction dominating her childhood it made sense that as a young woman she would seek a life without drama. Still, it was frustrating watching June subjugate herself to everyone in her life, first her mother, then Delia, and once she got involved with him, boring, unattractive, bunny-loving Ryan. I wouldn’t say my lukewarm feelings toward June really affected my reading experience, however. I can deal with characters that I don’t fully understand much more than those I find myself kind of getting why someone might have murdered.

Isn’t it strange how you can read a book and feel okay about it, then realise after you’ve finished that you maybe sort of hated it? Does anyone else experience this?

This part of my review is going to contain MAJOR SPOILERS. I wasn’t going to include these thoughts but the more I consider the book the more certain aspects upset me.

I need to get it all off my chest, you know?

I will attempt to spoil as little as possible.

So, certain parts of the book are written from Delia’s perspective. After a quote from Delia early on in the book (when I still had hope and was trying to convince myself that Delia wasn’t the most irritating character I had read in months) when she says that ‘The messed-up thing is how so many people think your body is their business, especially if you’re a girl.’ I started gearing myself up for a novel that gave women agency over their own bodies.

As such, I was pretty disappointed when Delia spent half her air time going on about how beautiful June was and how every eye in the room was drawn to her – and June of course, didn’t know it and believed herself to be an ugly troll.

Yawn, eye roll, etc.

What I feel that this attitude teaches (and trust me, it was the least of June and Delia’s problems, but whatever) is that you’re only beautiful when someone says that you are. It’s saying that your only worth is in other people’s perception of you and it’s a lesson we only teach young women. It’s gross and particularly annoying in a book that has previously preached about your body being your business. A girl thinking that she’s attractive doesn’t make her a terrible person and I’m so over YA novels saying otherwise. I would love to read a YA protagonist get ready for a night out and telling herself that she looks fucking awesome. Because that’s what happens when you get older and learn how to do your hair.

Anyway.

Delia, in addition to being a pain in the ass, is a total creep. Her relationship with June is manipulative and abusive. While I wouldn’t say that Weingarten is by any means condoning her behaviour, I would have liked her to have been way more explicit in her writing that the way Delia treated June was not okay. Pretty much Delia and June’s entire relationship was Delia placing June in situations that made her uncomfortable, and forcing her, through either lying or manipulation, to do things that she didn’t want to do. That is called an abusive relationship. While June talks about feeling ‘not right’ and her separation from Delia ‘a relief’ she doesn’t get enough into what precisely was wrong with their relationship that made her relieved that Delia was gone.

Obsessively controlling another person does not constitute a loving relationship.

I wish YA authors would realise this.

The book ended before we had the chance to get into it.

My final issue – and by far the SPOILER-IEST concerns Delia’s stepfather. Delia tells June that he attempted to rape her. June believes her – she had no reason not to – and much of what happens at the end of the book is as a result of that attempted rape.

Then, in the last freaking chapter, Weingarten suddenly casts doubt over whether or not Delia’s stepfather attacked her at all.

AND THEN THE BOOK ENDS.

False allegations of sexual assault is an all too common storyline. Yes, it happens (in 2-8% of court cases) but the amount of false allegations of sexual assault are disproportionate to the amount of time we all spend worrying about it. If Delia’s stepfather did not in fact attempt to rape her, then the events of the entire novel were completely pointless. Delia would be reduced from little more than a manic pixie dream girl to a psychopath without a cause. And I’m just not into that.

I revise my initial opinion. Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls is the bad kind of crazy. It’s a weak story that reduces girls into those stereotypes we are all so sick of – the beautiful angel and the oversexed psycho.

I am so over that shit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Code Name Verity

It’s the midst of the Second World War. Julie, a spy for the British war effort, has been captured by the Germans. After days of torture, she agrees to tell them everything she knows. She has a pen and paper, a time limit and nothing left to lose.

Julie’s story starts and ends with Maddie, the talented pilot who flew her to Nazi occupied France in the first place. She’s also Julie’s best friend.

Julie doesn’t even know whether she’s still alive.

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Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, is one of those YA staples that I have been meaning to get around to forever. I think the main reason I ignored this book for so long was to avoid my feelings of guilt around the fact that I never really listened during history class.

As an 11-14 year old (I dropped history pretty early on) I was in the it happened AGES ago WHY  do I need to know? camp. To be totally honest, until I started studying for my GCSEs and realised that the whole thing was starting to matter, I was not a very good student.

As such, whenever I saw Code Name Verity or listened to reviewers go on about its greatness, I would be reminded of my apathetic tween-dom, and rather than getting excited about reading, I would cringe.

While there were some sections of the book that I found a little slow – and I’ll get more into that later – overall I found Code Name Verity a highly engaging book, and it’s one that I think would have made me more excited for my history lessons (were it not for the fact that this book came out in 2012, when I was just starting university, far too late. Oh well).

The book opens with our protagonist, Julie, in a terrible situation. After landing on France, she was pretty much instantly caught by the Nazis after looking the wrong way when crossing the road. She was almost run over and clearly not a local. That aroused some serious suspicion, and it didn’t take long for the Nazis to figure out that she was a spy. I found the circumstances of her capture a little disappointing. Julie proves throughout the book that she is a smart and resourceful person – that’s how she goes from being a radio operator to one of the key spies of the British War effort in only a couple of years – so I found this really quite careless mistake to be out of character for her.

But, moving on from that, I think that Elizabeth Wein did a really great job of building an atmosphere of terror and uncertainty throughout. Julie is living her worst nightmare. She has been locked up and routinely tortured. She is exhausted, hurt and terrified. Wein builds the tension by having Julie allude to, rather than fully address what she has suffered. We have, at least at the beginning, only the vaguest idea of her captors, but their presence is overwhelming. As the book goes on and the image of Julie’s torturers becomes more solid, the apathy many of them display becomes truly haunting. Whenever someone shows reluctance to hurting her, it is more out of lethargy than human decency, and there is a starkness to that lack of humanity that is almost more upsetting than the torture we know these people are capable of inflicting. Almost.

Equally as creepy is the almost friendly relationship Julie builds with Von Linden, the head of her prison and her main interrogator. He seems to see something in her that appeals to his personhood, and stands in her cell discussing German literature even as he threatens to cover her body in petrol and set her on fire should she ever misbehave.

While the majority of Julie’s story focusses on the British war effort, and the secrets she is sharing with the Germans, in brief moments she sketches a detailed picture of her life in captivity.

Julie’s story totally engaged me. It was only when I got to the final third of the book, when Maddie took over narration that everything started to drag. While I really enjoyed seeing Julie from her perspective, and learning of some of her sneakier antics (which I won’t get into, cause spoilers), there was something about Maddie that I just couldn’t connect to in the same way. Maddie’s story involves a lot of waiting around – to get information about Julie, to get out of France, etc – and whenever the plot was detailing her life rather than studying Julie’s, I just wasn’t as interested. Unless her story was interacting with Julie’s plight, the novel just lost the stakes that had carried me through the first couple hundred pages. Plus Maddie kept going on about how she could get court marshalled for writing everything down, and it just got annoying after a while.

But, like I said before, overall, this is a great book. It’s an interesting look at the war from the perspective of women, who at that time had previously non-existent opportunities to rise of positions of power and importance within the British military. It really sucks that as soon as the war ended they were shoved back into the kitchen and shouted at until they tied their aprons on.

This is not an easy read. Julie and Maddie’s story is full of love, excitement, terror and, ultimately, heartbreak. It tells that often sighted story that the war was sort of an adventure until it really, really wasn’t.

On Louise

Louise Rennison died on Monday.

I feel like I should try and make this post funny to honour her, but I’m too sad.

Louise Rennison wrote the Georgia Nicholson books, which were honestly the books of my teens. Georgia and the Ace Gang’s ridiculous adventures brightened my days and made me laugh. Really laugh. It was when I read Louise Rennison’s books that I realised the painfully embarrassing (and totally normal) real life I was living could actually be… funny. The time Georgia shaved off her own eyebrows and had to stay home from school for a week until they grew back, and the boys she kissed who turned out pretty gross made all the stupid shit I had done that day feel less like the sort of thing I should never leave the house again over.

Louise Rennison made it so that I could lean into the silliest parts of myself. Those things that seemed so mortifying before kind of got… less. Because Georgia had done it too. And worse.

The Ace Gang taught me that my lady friends are the most important people in my life. They are the ones who hang around for the successes and the embarrassments. They taught me that you should always dance when the opportunity presents itself. While wearing Viking helmets, preferably.

I got to meet Louise a few years ago at a book signing. She was funny and kind, and even though I was at the back of a queue that must have been getting on for a hundred people long, she really took her time talking to me about my life and she told me she liked my dress. She was wonderful.

Her loss is very sad.

One

Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins. After spending their whole lives tucked away at home, their parents’ financial issues mean that they are going to have to start attending school. Private school, but all the same: it’s the outside world.

The outside world isn’t kind to the different.

Most of it, anyway.

Yasmeen, who has HIV and her best friend Jon treat Grace and Tippi like they’re actual people rather than a walking tragedy. They invite them to join their adventures without hesitation. They are the first friends Grace and Tippi have ever had, except for their sister, Dragon.

But something is looming. A decision that could tragically alter everything. A choice after which nothing will ever be the same.

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Fair Warning: this is the sort of book you need to set aside a few hours for, because once you start reading, you won’t want to stop until you get to the end. The entire novel is written in non-rhyming verse, which makes it a really quick read, and it’s so atmospheric that putting it down to simply boil the kettle is disorientating.

One, by Sarah Crossan, aside from being the most beautiful piece of fiction I have read in a long time, is basically a mission statement for why we need more diverse books. Because, to be totally honest, outside of adverts for exploitative-looking documentaries, the experience of being a conjoined twin is one I’ve never even thought about.

And I’m the but what about disabilities? person.

The whole thing is told from the perspective of Grace. I really like that Crossan chose to only have one of the twins narrate. I think it conveyed really effectively the experience of the conjoined life Grace and Tippi shared. Together but separate. We got to see how much they loved each other, but also their differences, and the resentments that sprung from them. There’s this one scene where Tippi accepts a cigarette from Yasmeen, and Grace is totally mad at her for it. But it’s not all about resentment. Grace and Tippi’s lives feature a good deal of loving compromise. Grace loves to bake and Tippi doesn’t, but they bake all the time anyways.

This book totally challenged my perceptions. One of the first questions Grace and Tippi are continually asked is why they didn’t get separated. No matter the extreme dangers involved and that both girls would have to use wheelchairs for the rest of their lives (shared legs), if they survived at all. As far as we, the rest of singleton society is concerned, a conjoined twin must long to be separate.

Reading this book make me think a lot about the paradigms I experience life through. It made me think about what it even means to be an individual, and how tied up my self-worth is with that. Individuality remains a prize so many of us are competing for.

Not Grace and Tippi. Grace and Tippi don’t want to be separate. They are more than best friends… they are each other’s worlds. They couldn’t imagine life any other way. They wouldn’t want to.

‘Plato claimed that

We were all joined to someone else once,’ I say.

‘We were humans with four arms

and four legs,

and a head of two faces,

but we were so powerful

we threatened to topple the Gods.

So they split us from our soul mates

               down the middle,

and doomed us to live

forever

without our counterparts.’

If the point of reading is to experience new worlds, then I don’t see how any bookworm could bear not to pick up One at the nearest opportunity. It’s a beautiful story of love and identity that’ll crack your heart in two.

One is the sort of story that you just can’t shake, even weeks after you finish reading it.

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon Spier is being blackmailed. The black mailer is Martin Addison and he wants a date with Simon’s friend Abby. That Abby would never be interested is the least of Simon’s problems.

Because Simon’s secret isn’t the only one at stake.

Simon’s gay. Through looking at his emails, Martin hasn’t only uncovered this fact, but also Simon’s online potential-boyfriend, Blue. Since Blue won’t even let Simon know his identity, he’s guessing he won’t react well to having his private life scattered around the school gossip mill, either.

It could be an epic fuckstorm of a disaster. 

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Once again, I find myself asking why did I wait so long? As pretty much everyone on the entire blogosphere has said, Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is awesomeness at its highest degree.

I fell in love with Simon straight away. He’s funny, insecure, self-involved and a total sceptic of all things relating to the high school experience. He’s confident and well-liked, but he feels like he’s always hiding.

Yeah. I fell hard for this guy.

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‘I take a sip of my beer, and it’s – I mean, it’s just astonishingly disgusting. I don’t think I was expecting it to taste like ice-cream, but holy fucking hell. People lie and get fake IDs and sneak into bars, and for this? Honestly I think I’d rather make out with Bieber. The dog. Or Justin.

Anyway, it really makes you worry about all the hype surrounding sex.’ 

There are so many passages in the book like this that just plastered a happy grin all over my face. There was a similar level of real-ness to all the characters in the book. He has Abbey, his confident cheerleader friend, and Nick, the cute gamer guy with the guitar. Even Martin, the supposed villain of the piece, is impossible to truly hate. His awkward and hilarious antics in no way make up for the shitty things he does, but I could summon up far more pity for him than I could genuine resentment. My favourite characters (other than Simon, obvs.) were his best friend Leah and his younger sister Nora. They are both in the painfully self-conscious phase I think most of us bookish types probably went through at some point.

The central theme of the novel is concerned with finding identity. While Simon knows himself and understands his sexuality, he struggles to share it with the people who love him. He feels trapped by the image of him that his family and friends hold, and is exhausted by the reactions he encounters whenever he deviates from their expectations.

‘… I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.’

What I also liked about Simon is that he is a total hypocrite in this regard. Even as he laments the way that his family box him in, he accuses his younger sister Nora of not acting ‘like herself’. Throughout the book Simon comes to realise that people can’t be boxed in. The boxes are imaginary.

‘… people really are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it’s a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.’

And I must say before I sign off, the Spiers are my favourite family since the Chathams of Saint Anything. Becky Albertalli has no time for disappearing parents. Simon’s parents are present and excited. The family watch Bachelorette together. Afterwards they Skype about it with Alice, Simon’s sister who’s away at university.

(my mum and I did a similar thing with Broadchurch).

The only word I can use to describe this book is authentic. There was such depth of heart to every character. Becky Albertalli has created a cast of characters you’ll want to read over and over while gently prodding us to re-evaluate the paradigms we experience life through.

‘It is definitely annoying that straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and that the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold. Straight people should have to come out, and the more awkward it is, the better. Awkwardness should be a requirement. I guess this is sort of our version of the Homosexual Agenda?’

Book Boyfriends for Valentine’s Day

Because boys in books are just better.

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Victoria and the Rogue by Meg Cabot

Lady Victoria Arbuthnot is not amused. She’s been shipped from India to England to live with her less-than-ideal relatives, the Gardiners and their zoo of children. If that weren’t bad enough, she’s also being forced to keep her engagement to the charming Lord Malfrey a secret.

It’s all very tedious. As if the family circumstances weren’t enough, Victoria can’t seem to shake the infuriating Captain Carstairs, whose primary hobbies consist of vexing Victoria and spreading rumours about her new fiancé.

For Lady Victoria Arbuthnot, it’s a long road to happily-ever-after.

Captain Carstairs: The, he’s-mean-to-you-because-he-likes-you type. As much as I loved this book it sent me barking up a lot of the wrong trees throughout high school. Totally worth it.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Since Cath started university and her identical twin, Wren ditched her, she doesn’t know what to do with herself. After spending her teens immersed in the world of her Simon Snow fanfiction, Cath honestly doesn’t know how to operate in the real world.

One thing she absolutely does not feel ready for is falling in love. With anything. So the sudden appearance of new friends, new passions and potentially a new boy in her life have her beyond freaked out.

Will Cath figure out how to open her heart before it’s too late?

Levi: Your best friend who you can’t help but fall in love with.

First and Then by Emma Mills

Devon has been crushing on her best friend Cas since forever. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. Devon doesn’t even mind any more. She’s pretty much given up on it ever happening.

The butterflies in her stomach haven’t, however.

The drama begins when Devon’s weird cousin Foster comes to live with her family. Foster immediately bonds with Ezra, captain of the football team and prized jackass.

A prized jackass who also happens to be super-hot.

Devon’s life is about to get complicated…

Ezra: The broody one with the tragic history.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

From the outside it seems like Annabel has everything.

On the inside, she’s crumbling. The girl she thought was her best friend is trying to destroy her. Her family is coming apart at the seams. Her sister is trying to starve herself to death. All Annabel wants is to disappear.

Then she meets Owen. Owen is obsessed with weird music and his radio show, Anger Management. He doesn’t take any bullshit.

He sees the cracks in Annabel’s façade. And he doesn’t leave

Owen: The guy who’s working through some stuff. The one who’s life you can’t help but fall into.

Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy and Oliver planned to be best friends forever. Then Oliver’s parents split up and his father kidnapped him.

Ten years later, he’s back and Emmy has no idea what to do. He’s her best friend and a stranger and the defining disaster of her life to date. Oliver barely remembers her… until he does.

As they grow closer, Emmy has to ask herself, is it possible for them to get back to the people they were supposed to be?

Oliver: The cute guy who got kidnapped by his dad. You know the one. The guy who disappeared for ten years then made you feel like he was never gone.

 

 

 

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.’

Running Girl

Garvie Smith is a smart kid. His IQ scores are way above his teachers’. He also has the worst grades of all the students in his school. When his ex-girlfriend Chloe Dow is murdered, it does nothing to help his disinterest in revising for his exams. Garvie Smith is determined to solve her murder.

Garvie Smith is a smart kid. His IQ scores are way above his teachers’. He also has the worst grades of all the students in his school. When his ex-girlfriend Chloe Dow is murdered, it does nothing to help his disinterest in revising for his exams. Garvie Smith is determined to solve her murder.

Detective Inspector Raminder Singh is a recently promoted police officer. He is not well liked. He isn’t mean exactly – just cold. He’s the type of guy who should be able to solve this pretty simple looking murder in within a couple weeks. Unfortunately it doesn’t turn out that way, and the police chief won’t get off his back as a result. If he doesn’t catch Chloe Dow’s murderer soon, his boss will demote him. And only adding to his woes is the persistent Garvie Smith, a rebellious teen he can’t stop from interfering with the case.

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This book was a random pick for me. I don’t usually shop like that much these days. There is so much YA and so many reviews online, buying blind just seems careless.

After reading Running Girl, by Simon Mason, I think I am going to advocate picking up a book just cause you like the look of it every now and again. It was a relieving experience to go into a piece of YA fiction without the weight of the internet’s opinions already skewing my view of characters I am yet to get to know myself.

This book is a murder mystery of many layers. Chloe Dow was one of those girls that everybody wants to be. She was beautiful, talented and driven. She was popular. And yet, as becomes evident after her death, nobody, not even her best friend, liked her.

Garvie Smith didn’t like her either. He broke up with after only a few weeks. Not that anybody else knows that. As far as the world is concerned, Chloe Dow dumped him. Which is fine, Garvie Smith doesn’t much care what other people think of him.

Garvie was an intriguing character to get to know. He has a photographic memory, so he can retain pretty much all of the information he consumes in a matter of seconds. He is frustrating, in that he really, truly doesn’t give a shit. Throughout the book his mother is trying desperately to get him to engage with school, to quit going out so late and to stop smoking weed. He’s always promising his mum that he’s going to be better. And every time he breaks that promise. Often the decisions he makes that are hurtful to his mum are because he is pursuing Chloe’s murderer, but it’s difficult to watch how damaged their relationship is by Garvie’s actions. They don’t understand each other at all, and it’s difficult to see how their relationship can progress.

Garvie is also a total charmer. He’s the kind of guy who would have me giggling like a girl in a minute. He runs rings around DI Singh. He uses humour as a defence mechanism in a way that I find instantly attractive. The great and annoying thing about Garvie is that how much you can get to know him is limited. He keeps his feelings back, even from the reader, which can make his personality a little hard to grasp. For the longest time it’s difficult to tell whether he is pursuing Chloe’s murderer out of some feeling of obligation because of their short lived relationship, or if he’s doing it because he’s just… bored.

My only criticism of this book is also my usual: the female characters kind of sucked.

The objectification of Chloe was what ultimately led to her death. It isn’t a spoiler to say that the murder was a sex crime. Chloe’s value was intrinsically linked to her beauty. She wasn’t a complexly imagined girl, instead ‘just’ a beautiful one. And it was this idea that allowed the people in her life to dehumanise her into a figure they could stalk, harass, abuse and then kill when they were done with her. I felt like in this storyline, Simon Mason had a solid grasp of the ingrained misogyny that is at the root of such crimes.

But then all the female characters in his book were either represented as victims or they were sexualised out of a personality. Chloe’s best friend, Jess, is constantly throwing herself at Garvie throughout. He talks to her with a clear attitude of disgust until she gives him the information he wants, and then he rejects her. Garvie’s mother is a desperate figure, clinging to the remnants of the relationship with a son she is terrified of losing. Garvie has no respect for her authority, and as I’ve already mentioned, it kind of hurts to watch. There’s this other girl, Hannah, who I won’t talk too much about because she’s pretty important to the case, but she’s another where it’s all about her beauty. She’s another victim of circumstance. She’s another girl who needs saving.

It’s just kind of a tired dynamic.

This is going to be a series however, so I will hold on to the hope that the sequel will bring a complexly imagined girl to mess with Garvie’s world.

The Stars Never Rise

Nina has some problems right now. Her mum is a drug addict and hasn’t cared for Nina and her sister, Melanie, for quite some time. She’s constantly trying to figure out where to get the next meal from. She’s trying to get through school with decent grades. Then Melanie reveals that she is pregnant (she’s fifteen. It’s unfortunate). Oh, and both girls live under the oppressive regime of the church, brought in ever since most of the souls in the world where taken over by the demon horde.

Any perceived sin can be put down to demon possession, meaning that no one – even the innocent – are safe from the wrath of the church. As such, Melanie’s pregnancy puts both girls in danger of severe punishment.

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Nina has to figure out a way to keep them all – herself, Melanie and the baby – safe, fast. Keeping them safe seems to involve trusting a strange boy, Finn who appears to possess the exorcist powers only wielded by powerful members of the church. Nina quickly finds she has little choice but to embrace Finn as circumstances soon strip her of the little control she has over her life.

I read The Stars Never Rise, by Rachel Vincent in two sittings. This story is fast paced!

Nina lives in a world that has gone to hell. Literally. Her life is driven by basic survival needs. She doesn’t see any kind of self-determined future for herself. Instead she plans to join the church she doesn’t even believe in as a means to support Melanie and escape her mother. Reading a character with this self-sacrificing nature was kind of frustrating at times. She couldn’t really see a life beyond her current situation. Nina didn’t dream in a way that I could relate to. There was leaving her mother but there was no real escape from the misery of New Temperance, and while it was alienating it was also great writing from Vincent. She has created in Nina an interesting portrayal of a young person living in a regime from which there is no escape. It isn’t possible to even run to a different part of the world, as most of it was destroyed in the war with the demons. There is only the church and her crappy town and playing the limited system she is part of to the best advantage she can.

That is, until Finn and Co. show up. And then everything changes… a little too quickly. Nina throws herself into her new life with Finn and his groups of rebels a little too fast to be quite believable. In particular she throws herself into her relationship with Finn. I mentioned in another recent review that I’m not a massive fan of instant love in characters and that’s kind of what happened here. Nina’s Trust No One and Look After Your Own attitude just seems to evaporate when she’s faced with Finn. A part of me was left sort of thinking…. Really?

That said, I loved the rebels, or Anathema, as the group refers to themselves in the book. They are an interesting group of characters – particularly Devi (class mean girl) – and I am looking forward to how they develop through the rest of the series.

Overall this was a good series started. We are introduced to a troubled, hellish world in need of some good fixing. The characters are intriguing and screaming out for some development. Tantalising hints were drop as to the overarching plot of the trilogy. I think it’s likely I’ll be reading the sequel.

Isla and the Happily Ever After

Reading Isla and the Happily Ever After was kind of like finding out about a friendly acquaintance’s right-wing proclivities. I try to rationalise that this shouldn’t affect our relationship, but it kind of does anyway.

I think that sometimes you’re just not compatible with a book. I think that, sometimes, even if the writing is good and by someone you have previously liked, it is possible to read something and feel utterly grossed out. I have this experience whenever someone who seems nice reveals they actually voted Conservative.

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Reading Isla and the Happily Ever After was kind of like finding out about a friendly acquaintance’s right-wing proclivities. I try to rationalise that this shouldn’t affect our relationship, but it kind of does anyway.

Isla and the Happily Ever After spans the beginnings of Isla’s relationship with Josh, a boy she has had a crush on for three years. It takes place in the familiar grounds of Stephanie Perkins’ Paris School for Loaded Americans. Shortly after the beginning of their relationship, Isla and Josh have to figure out how to proceed after being forcibly separated by circumstance.

I didn’t dislike everything about this book. Initially I liked Isla. I liked that she was shy and insecure, but had this quiet confidence in herself, her friendships. Her sex life. She seemed acutely aware of the difference between the way she was viewed by her peers and the way that she saw herself. Who hasn’t experienced that? Particularly when you’re young, people have a habit of telling you what you are, which for some of us doesn’t quite fit. It’s uncomfortable. Isla got that, and I appreciated it.

I also tried to appreciate Kurt. It’s really rare to see characters in YA (in general!) with disabilities. I know this because my brother has high functioning autism and a while ago in a bookshop he asked the guy at the counter if he sold any books about people like him. Spoiler alert: he did not (although to be fair, I do accept that most people don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of autistic characters in literature. At least not one that extends beyond The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time). So when I picked up on what she was doing with Kurt with the hand flapping and the blunt reasoning, I was initially kind of impressed.

Initially.

Because not long after Josh’s entrance into the book, Kurt started to feel like kind of a placeholder. There were long sections of the book where he dropped out of the narrative altogether. I don’t necessarily feel that using minorities as incidentals in stories is helpful. It isn’t telling a new story so much as reinforcing a boring, outdated old one: you are easy to ignore.

Yeah. Kurt’s storyline pretty much sucked for me.

His absence for the majority of the book mostly had to do with Isla’s stunning self-absorption. Throughout, Isla never showed interest in anything outside of her own drama. There’s this one scene where she’s home for thanksgiving and seeing her older sister, Gen for the first time since the summer, and Isla doesn’t even ask how she’s been. When Gen shares that she has just broken up with her girlfriend, Isla barely even acknowledges her. While she’s off with Josh, Kurt makes other friends and Isla says herself that she hadn’t even noticed the additions to his life. She says this with no acknowledgement of the fact that this is entirely down to her own totally self involved behaviour.

Isla complains several times as well throughout that she doesn’t have any friends, to which I could only think no wonder. Making friends requires showing interest in other people, something Isla fails at. Epically.

I kept finding myself wanting more from Isla. I wanted her to want something in life other than Josh. I wanted a sense of her desire to go to Dartmouth (a college near where Josh was planning on going, and not her original plan) even when Josh wasn’t in the picture, but I never did. Does anyone else remember when Jessica Darling first went to Columbia? I guess I wanted to see some of that enthusiasm for the future in Isla. Enthusiasm that wasn’t just about Josh. I’m all about a bit of independence, and I didn’t like the way that, by the end, Isla’s identity and future was entirely wrapped around Josh. At eighteen years old it doesn’t seem healthy.

Speaking of too young – Anna and St Clair getting engaged. I’m not even going to touch that because the whole thing was too gross.

I know that a lot of people loved this book. But I could not connect with Isla at all. It occurred to me that perhaps I’m just a little too old? I have found, and I know a lot of my friends share this experience, that the older I get the less tolerance I have for people who thrive off of their own drama.

I wanted a conclusion where Isla addressed her own shitty behaviour, but that never happened. Reading the book was frustrating experience for me.