Emmy and Oliver

Emmy and Oliver were best friends until their forty-third day of second grade. On that day, Emmy watched Oliver get into his dad’s car at the end of school, not knowing that would be the last time she would ever see him.

For ten years, anyway.

Oliver’s dad kidnapped him. A nationwide police search follows, but no matter how hard they try and how many appeals Oliver’s mum makes on the TV, Oliver is not found. For ten years, Emmy doesn’t know what became of her best friend.

Until one day, suddenly, Oliver comes back.

13132816Emmy and Oliver, by Robin Benway, is one of those books that I obsessed about. I was so intrigued by the premise that by the time I actually had the book in my hands, I was a little afraid to read it. I had built it up into such an experience in my head, I was sure it would only disappoint.

It did not.

Oliver’s kidnap hangs heavy over the lives of everybody in the book. In reaction to witnessing their friend go through one of the worst tragedies imaginable, Emmy’s parents become restrictively overprotective. Don’t get me wrong – they are nice people and likeable characters – but their anxiety is like a third parent, pushing Emmy away even as it wishes to draw her closer. In response, she does what any teenager would: Emmy carefully curates a secret life, while keeping up appearances of being the low risk child her parents need her to be. In secret, Emmy surfs. She’s really good at it. She’s so good in fact that her wish to pursue it is influencing her decision over where to go to college. Against her parents’ wishes (and without their knowledge) she has applied to UC San Diego, a college a couple hours away which has one of the country’s best surf teams. Emmy’s parents’ have told her that she’s going to a local community college and living at home for the first year at least. Emmy has no idea how to get them to let her go.

Emmy is dealing with all of this even before Oliver’s sudden re-entrance into her life. I think Robin Benway handled his return in a truly skilled way. Oliver’s reappearance brought so much grief for lost time to the surface. To see him, for almost everybody in the neighbourhood, was to be filled with regret for him and his whole family – his mother who had missed most of his childhood, and his baby sisters who hadn’t ever even met him. Oliver, even in finally – finally – being present, is an embodiment of all that has been lost – to Emmy and to everyone else whose lives have been touched by his kidnap.

And, honestly, his being back was also super awkward. How do you make small talk with the school kidnap victim? There is no social hand book for this stuff. Add to that the fact that Oliver barely even remembers Emmy and her friends – while he has been something of a defining presence in their lives – and you’ve got quite a situation.

Watching Emmy and Oliver rebuilding their friendship is so wonderful. It isn’t easy. Emmy is making plans for her future while Oliver is trying desperately to come to terms with his past, but despite that, in fleeting moments that grow into something more concrete, they uncover the long lost connection that made them friends in the first place.

This alone would probably have been enough for me, but in addition to the ever evolving Emmy/Oliver dynamic, Benway writes awesome friendships between Emmy and her best friends, Caroline and Drew. I get so frustrated with how one dimensional side characters frequently are in YA, that how deeply imagined Caroline and Drew were was so refreshing to read. I was as eager to spend time with them as I was Emmy and Oliver. Caroline is a neat-freak forced to share a bedroom with her disaster area of a sister. Drew hangs out with his boyfriend in Starbucks to avoid his conservative family. I enjoyed being vicarious friends with them immensely.

One of my favourite scenes happens after Oliver has been home a couple months, and Emmy, Caroline and Drew invite him to a party. A gross guy hits on Emmy, and when Oliver asks about it, Emmy and Caroline explain to him exactly why this guy is so bad:

“…Caro said to Oliver….  ‘he always hits on her. What did he say to you that one time, Em?’

I reached for my beer, then took a sip and passed it to Caro.

‘You’re not like other girls,’ I said, in my best dude-bro voice.

Oliver frowned a little. ‘Is that bad?’ he asked. ‘I thought you were gonna say something way worse.’

‘It’s bad!’ Caro and I both screamed at the same time, then immediately jinxed and unjinxed each other, crossing our fingers and rapping our knuckles against the wooden table. ‘It’s just a stupid thing to say,’ Caro added after we could both speak again.

‘Like, what’s wrong with being like other girls?… girls are awesome! Caro’s awesome.’

‘I am!’ Caro nodded to herself, then jabbed a thumb into her chest. ‘More people should be like me!’”

This drunkenly made point is so valid. There’s this impossible to dispel myth in so much media that ‘not like other girls’ is currency. It’s gross, and unfortunately very common in YA. This self-awareness of genre was part of what made the writing so great. When you read a lot or watch a lot of movies you come to recognise a pattern of plot progression. It often breaks down to four steps – connection, unravelling, fight, reconciliation. Throughout Emmy and Oliver, I kept waiting for this pattern to appear, but it never did, and that lack of familiarity throughout was just so satisfying. The plot did what all its characters are striving to: it went its own way.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. 

Hey, book meme world. It’s nice to finally meet you.

1. Asking For It – Louise O’Neill


I haven’t read her previous work, but as a YA writer with a focus on feminist issues, she seems like my kind of woman. I am always for a writer working on feminist awakenings in teenage girls. My own was pretty much entirely down to the Sociology classes I took in high school. My teacher was a shameless feminist and taught much of the topic through that lense. It was awesome.

2. Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo


I read the first two books of the Grisha series during the first weekend I ever spent totally alone in a house. Both of my housemates had gone away and I spent almost the entire time reading. It was great, and I have wanted to live alone ever since. Sadly, I will likely not be able to afford it for many years to come.

3. Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon


I read about this books months ago. Through a combination of living in the UK, where everything comes out last and struggles with my adult life, I still haven’t read it yet. (I swear the amount of time in a day shrinks when you hit twenty-one).

4. Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling


Fantasy best friend. Enough said.

5. Let The Games Begin – Niccolo Ammaniti


This is a super weird looking book I picked up for free at my summer job. I worked at a book festival. One time when I went by the office they were just like ‘Please, have a free book.’ Yes. This job was the best thing ever.

6. Dracula – Bram Stoker


I am determined not to let being finished with university be an excuse to stop reading widely. As much as I love YA, there are classic reads that I am likely to enjoy just as much! I picked up this book when I was on holiday in Yorkshire, and we went to Whitby, the cute seaside town that was the totally unlikely inspiration for this book.

7. George – Alex Gino


This novel is about a transgender girl who wants to play Charlotte in the production of Charlotte’s Web her school is putting on. Her teacher won’t let her audition because she’s a boy. So George and her friend Kelly come up with a plan…

8. Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari


I just love him so much.

9. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change – Stephen R. Covey


Who doesn’t want to be more effective?

10. Carry On – Rainbow Rowell


I’ve been fantasising about Baz since Fangirl.

Where I Hang Out On The Internet #3

I haven’t done this in forever.

To read:

This Is Water. David Foster Wallace gave good commencement. I recommend this if you’re currently in the process of figuring out how to be a grown up.

‘There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish go on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”‘

To watch:

Ira Glass on storytelling and being a beginner.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And A took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

To listen: 

the moth

The Moth is a weekly storytelling podcast. It is absolutely wonderful and guaranteed to make your life at least 15% better. Don’t believe me? Try this story.

Sequel Watch: Winger

This book was great. Andrew Smith uses Ryan Dean West’s immature but developing voice to navigate issues of sexuality, masculinity, misogyny and loss. He manages to do this while also being very, very funny. Not many books make me actually laugh out loud, but this one had me giggling with abandon even outside of the safety and seclusion of my bedroom. I laughed, by myself, reading, in public.

Winger, by Andrew Smith, is the diary of Ryan Dean West, fourteen year old genius who just landed himself in what his boarding school, Pine Mountain refers to as ‘Opportunity Hall’ for the semester. It’s where they put the bad kids, and Ryan Dean has found himself sharing a bedroom with one of the baddest: notorious school bully Chas Becker. As he’s been skipped ahead a couple grades owing to the whole genius issue, most of Ryan Dean’s friends are a couple years older than him. Generally, this isn’t a problem, apart from where Ryan Dean’s best friend, Annie – who he also happens to be madly in love with – is concerned.  When Annie looks at him, she only sees a little kid. Winger is Ryan Dean’s homemade school survival manual, complete with the hand drawn comics he uses to make sense of his life as it develops.

wingerThis book was great. Andrew Smith uses Ryan Dean West’s immature but developing voice to navigate issues of sexuality, masculinity, misogyny and loss. He manages to do this while also being very, very funny. Not many books make me actually laugh out loud, but this one had me giggling with abandon even outside of the safety and seclusion of my bedroom. I laughed, by myself, reading, in public.

A central theme of this book is the idea of masculine identity. One way that Smith dissects this is through Ryan Dean’s relationships with girls. Ryan Dean, like many teenage boys, spends most (pretty much all) of his time thinking about sex, and in particular, how to get sex. His interactions with girls are limited as a result, because he views them as sex objects. This attitude almost entirely messes up his relationship with Annie as Ryan Dean struggles to figure out whether sex with a girl is better than a relationship with the girl he has actually feelings for. Joey – Ryan’s friend, I am going to talk more about in a minute – points out to Ryan Dean that perhaps his quest for ‘a girl’ is part of what keeps ‘the girl’ (Annie) away. How is she supposed to trust a boy more interested in sex in general than women as individuals? Much of Ryan Dean’s journey throughout the novel is concerned with the importance of love and sex to his happiness.

Probably my favourite part of the book was Ryan Dean’s friendship with the aforementioned Joey Consentino, another resident of Opportunity Hall. Joey is the only openly gay kid at Pine Mountain. Initially, Joey’s sexuality makes Ryan Dean uncomfortable. He spends a lot of time dwelling on Joey’s sexuality, and what it means to him. He worries about his friendship with Joey being misinterpreted as something more, both by Joey himself and the wider school community. The better he gets to know Joey, however, the more he gets over his anxieties. At the start of the novel, Ryan Dean processes the idea of ‘gayness’ in the same way as he sees women: monolithically. Rather than – as he comes to (because Joey is the freaking best. As per usual, I fell in love with a guy I could never have…) – seeing Joey as the loyal, kind, funny, troubled, complex person that he is, he just obsesses about the fact that he likes boys. Ryan Dean’s friendship with Joey helps him realise that sex isn’t at the centre of everything. Love is.

In coming to understand the complexities in others, Ryan Dean really comes to know himself. When unthinkable heartbreak occurs, he has the tools to survive it. He understands that love will see him through. He learns that his masculine identity is complex, that it’s more than sex and beating on boys who disagree with you. It’s about imagining women complexly and having loving and platonic relationships with other men.

Winger is a wonderfully complex imagining of the mind of a teenage boy. Ryan Dean West is a frustrating, funny, immature but growing protagonist. His journey makes awesome reading.

Stand Off, Andrew Smith’s sequel was released early September. Details on Goodreads.

Rereading The Princess Diaries #5

Everything has worked out perfectly for Princess Mia. She’s realised what her talent is: writing. Michael, the man of her dreams is her boyfriend. She isn’t failing algebra anymore. Fifteen, she’s decided, is going to be a great year.


That is until Grandmere’s dog Rommel escapes from her purse during Mia’s birthday dinner and runs riot around the restaurant, inadvertently causing one of the bus boys, Jangbu Pinasa, to lose his job. Grandmere could easily clean up the whole mess, but of course she chooses not to, leaving Lilly Moscovitz, Mia’s genius bestie to take up his cause and start a city wide hospitality strike that takes down most of the restaurants and hotels in New York.

Mia can’t help but notice had she never been born – and therefore not had a birthday celebration – none of this would have happened.

As if the whole Jangbu disaster weren’t enough to worry about, Michael has decided not to attend his senior prom, therefore depriving Mia of a night she has been dreaming of since forever!

Maybe fifteen isn’t looking so great after all…

Mia’s Best Moments

– Her ‘Movies That Feature The Prom As A Prominent Plot Device’ list (inc. Pretty in Pink, Ten Things I Hate About You, Never Been Kissed and Back to the Future)

– Her job on the Albert Einstein High’s newspaper: cafeteria beat. She says she’s paying her dues.

– Her amazing Nurse Mia moment when she presses her school sweater against Boris Pelkowski’s wound after he drops that globe onto his head because he’s so heartbroken over Lilly.

– When Grandmere tells her she should use sex to get Michael to take her to the prom and she misinterprets and thinks she means get Michael’s band a gig at the prom.

(note:  I wish I could remember whether I got that first time through reading these, but sadly I cannot. Oh, Grandmere).

The Drams

RIP Lilly and Boris, who’s sweater tucking self just did not measure up in the face of Jangbu’s hotness. However Lilly should have known better than to break up with her boyfriend by dragging a different boy into the cupboard during Seven Minutes in Heaven. So cold!

Welcome, Tina and Boris. Tina (screenname: iluvromance), saw Boris’ whole I will drop a globe onto my head if you don’t get back together with me thing as an act of epic romance, rather than just plain crazy.

Michael’s Best Moment

There are so many. But in this instance, I think nerdy boy’s discovery of the merits of Seven Minutes in Heaven has to be my favourite.

“’So we really have to stay in here for seven minutes?’ Michael wanted to know.

‘I guess,’ I said.

‘What if Mr G comes back and finds us in here?’

‘He’ll probably kill you,’ I said.

‘Well,’ Michael said. ‘Then I’d better give you something to remember me by.’

Then he took me in his arms and started kissing me.

I have to admit, after that, I kind of started thinking Seven Minutes in Heaven wasn’t such a bad game after all.”

Noughties Kid Nostalgia

Instant messaging! Oh, the hours I wasted as a tween IMing my friends. IM was where the serious shit went down. If you thought a boy liked you this was the place to talk about it with him.

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.

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.

Netflix Top 5 Teen Movies

I so often have conversations with other Netflix users (particularly in the UK) who are frustrated by the service. They argue that whenever they think of something that they actually want to watch, Netflix inevitably doesn’t have it.

I think that’s the wrong attitude. Netflix isn’t about what you want to watch. It’s about gaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of movies from the eighties and nineties in addition to total flops from the last five years.

In other words, it’s awesome.

Particularly, I think, where teen movies are concerned. Here are my top five:

1. Clueless


Emma has been my favourite Jane Austen book since forever, so a movie adaptation of it featuring Paul Rudd? My idea of heaven. I have watched this movie so many times. Sher, our Emma-equivalent, knows how to play the system. It isn’t about getting good grades, it’s about your ability to argue up the bad ones. She has an opinion on everything and she isn’t afraid to share it. Think Blair off Gossip Girl, but less insane.

2. Say Anything

say anything

(Me too, Lloyd).

I have had a deep and lasting love for John Cusack ever since I first saw Gross Pointe Blank when I was thirteen. It was obvious before I even saw this movie that I would love Lloyd Dobler. He’s like Martin from Grosse Pointe Blank except he doesn’t murder people for a living.

In this movie he works hard to date Diane, the school brain with big life plans. Her dad doesn’t approve. But then he goes to jail, therefore solving the issue. The main lesson to be learned here is to be less of a criminal than your girlfriend’s dad.

3. Charlie Bartlett

charlie bartlett gif

I watched this movie because Robert Downey Jr is in it. It turned out to be pretty great.

4. Vampire Academy


Everything about this movie is utterly ridiculous. When I was a student I volunteer for my university’s helpline. A couple times a month I sat in a small office all night while students called to talk about their problems. The other volunteer and I watched this on a quiet night. Trashy movies are my favourite way to bond.

There are good vampires and evil vampires, psychic connections, dead cats and that thing where people stop to have sex despite the fact that are really urgent matters to be dealt with elsewhere.

5. Whip It


This is one of those movies where a girl who has been pushed into an uncomfortable box by her mother finds what she’s actually passionate about. It is a movie about women and their relationships. I liked it a lot.