The Three by Sarah Lotz

A sleek, black proof appeared on the staff room table at Waterstones Durham, promising mystery, darkness and a tense, supernatural thriller. First my colleague Ann read, and absolutely devoured it… Then our Lead Bookseller Kat read it and became near evangelical with her handselling of the book. So, I became the Third. It’s rare for me to read Adult fiction, so it has to be something special for me to shift from my comfort zone, but The Three absolutely absorbed me, kept my mind racing, gave me chills… I think it has real crossover appeal in the YA market too.

Kat's fantastic Chalkboard to encourage people to check out The Three.

Kat’s fantastic Chalkboard to encourage people to check out The Three.

Black Thursday, a monstrous tragedy that will live on in Human History forever – The day when four planes crashed around the world, simultaneously. Of these crashes, there were only four survivors, three of them young Children, the fourth – Pamela – lived only long enough to record a haunting voicemail message that would go on to send the world into a frenzy. Told in the style of a factual novel about the events that followed the disaster, The Three uses interviews and testimonials, transcripts and documents to track the conspiracy theories that soon grip the world over the three child survivors of Black Thursday. From the religious front in the US, who feel the Three are three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, to the Japanese cult who are determined that the Three are alien replacements, there are plenty of crazy ideas about the unscathed survivors, but it’s the testimonials of the guardians of the Three, the grandmother of Bobby in America, the uncle of Jessica in England, and the cousin of Hiro in Japan, that really start to unravel the unsettling truth behind the global mystery. Slowly, the frenzies grow and the life of the Three becomes more chaotic, and more dangerous.

Such a striking jacket.

Such a striking jacket.

To say The Three is a gripping read is to do it a serious injustice. I would read it even as my train slowed into the station. I would gasp out loud in public as plot twists and haunting moments sprang at me, and I would try to second guess them before they happened… And I never did. The strength of this book is the way it blends horror and science fiction, without ever out and out stating it. The Three might be aliens, they might be the horsemen, but Sarah Lotz never lets you know who is right – But by no means does she let you know that they’re anything Normal. The testimonials, particularly Paul’s steady loss of sanity as he cares for Jessica, are absolutely chilling, dark and show the emotionless, inquisitive and unhinged mind of The Three survivors, and give the novel its slow, creeping, building sense of horror that permeates throughout everything in the story. Sarah pulls in aspects of religious fundamentalism, Japanese folklore and subtle science fiction, and by presenting it in the style of a journalistic, factual novel, she’s created a brilliantly realistic feel to the plot, which helps encourage the sense of unease the reader feels throughout. As it goes on, the world of the Three gets steadily more insane, hectic and frantic, with horrific events cropping up constantly, really speeding up unstoppably. And you never want it to stop, either. The book is left open to make your own conclusions, and that’s what keeps it lingering in your brain for weeks afterwards. The closing epilogue opens up a whole brilliant realm of possibility, using a hard, and quantum take on sci-fi. I’d love to know more… But that’s what makes it such a great book.

Pick it up. It’s a hardback, but a gorgeous one, well worth paying a bit extra for. One of the best thrillers I’ve read in years.

Thanks for Reading.

D

P.S. Always watch for the Fourth.

If You Like John Green, Clap Your Hands!

So, today a blog post I wrote was plopped up on the Waterstones Blog, which is VERY exciting for me. But I thought I best double post it to my own blog too… Basically, the big John Green trend is only gaining momentum right now, and I’m trying to ride the wave and get some fantastic authors who write similar (dare I say, better) contemporary YA Fiction.

Okay, so the very worst thing imaginable has come to pass. You’ve always known it. It was inevitable really. As you turn that final page of An Abundance of Katherines, you come to the heavy hearted realisation that you’ve polished off the mighty John Green’s backlist.

You may as well just give up on books altogether, right?

Have no fear, Nerdfighters! Look hard enough, and other, brilliantly talented authors will reveal themselves to you, spinning stories with the same John-Green style mix of tragedy, wonder, heartache and witty, rich dialogue. Or, if you don’t fancy looking all that hard, why not try any one of these certified GREAT books, jam packed full of contemporary romance with that wry twist?

EVERY DAY by David Levithan

A Fantastic, Vibrant YA Novel.

A Fantastic, Vibrant YA Novel.

If the name David Levithan rings an immediate bell, it could be because he’s one half of the writing duo behind Will Grayson, Will Grayson, along with John Green himself. It might also be because he’s been writing powerful, emotionally driven Teen and Young Adult Fiction for around twenty years or so – And Every Day is one of his biggest triumphs. Telling the story of A, an individual who spends life inhabiting the body of another human being for just one day, it’s a unique, funny and touching look at the trials and troubles of Teen life, written with a distant, but sympathetic eye. Whilst in the body of a dumb young jock-type named Justin however, A breaks the rule of non-interference by falling madly in love with Justin’s girlfriend, the sensitive but downtrodden Rhiannon. Once their perfect day together is over, A is ripped from Justin’s body, but remains resolutely determined to reunite with his twenty-four hour love. Every Day follows the struggle of A’s journey to be with Rhiannon, despite the body-switching obstacle, but it also weaves in a much darker undertone, as A starts to use the daily possession of others in a much more selfish manner. As people start to wake up miles from their homes, getting into accidents they can’t explain, the religious right start to target A as an agent of the Devil, and A has no defence against them whatsoever… Who’s to say they’re wrong?

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell is one to watch.

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell is one to watch.

So, I’m pretty sure a lot of John Green fans will be familiar with Rainbow Rowell already, but just in case you aren’t: Rainbow is a multi-award winning writer from the States, who has written three novels to date (with a fourth, Landline, due in July), and who is lucky enough to have Mr. Green himself as a personal ambassador to her work, spreading work far and wide on the internet bloggersphere. Fangirl is Rowell’s third book, and her second aimed at the YA audience (after 2012’s spectacular Eleanor & Park), and it focuses on the online fandoms that many of us are all too familiar with. Twin sisters Cath and Wren spent most of their teens obsessed with the fictional book character Simon Snow, and reading about him, posting on forums about him and getting lost in their own fan fiction was the only way they managed to survive the ordeal of their mother leaving them. When the sisters head off for College, Wren drifts away from the Fangirl life, leaving Cath in way over her head, in a world of roommates, classes, boys and fast approaching adulthood, and her only solace is in the forums and blogs of the Simon Snow. These people understand her, the stories are ones she knows and the characters are old friends. That’s all she thinks she needs to get by in life. Fangirl approaches ideas of isolation and the terrifying onset of grown-up-dom in a funny, accessible and really familiar way, touching on issues of abandonment and mental health along the way. It’s a well rounded mix of humour and heartache that should make any John Green fan smile.

WHY WE BROKE UP by Daniel Handler

Beautiful Illustrations and Words.

Beautiful Illustrations and Words.

Ever heard of Daniel Handler? Sure you have. No, honestly, odds are you’ve read one of his series for younger readers. You see, Mr. Handler’s wickedly dark sense of humour gave birth to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. See, I told you you’d heard of him. Why We Broke Up is a beautiful, breathtaking short novel of heartbreak and love. Min Green is breaking up with Ed Slaterton, but rather than telling him why, she gives him a box of objects that show him why – objects that mark points in their relationship that lead to where they are today. Using a brilliantly Green-esque sense of wit and warmth, combined with some superbly simple and gorgeous illustrations from Maira Kalman, Why We Broke Up is a punchy collection of emotions, ranging from the giddy euphoria of first love, to the bitter devastation of when everything falls apart, remaining optimistic and touching throughout.

IN BLOOM by Matthew Crow

This jacket is wonderfully 90's.

This jacket is wonderfully 90’s.

A young UK author with a brilliant sense of humour, Matthew Crow is someone you should really already know about. In Bloom is the story of the self-certified brilliant poet and intellectual Francis, who sees himself as a wasted in the boring, culture drained world of the North East of England as he learns that he has leukaemia. It’s a story of teenage isolation that’s much closer to home than Mr. Green, with a melodramatic lead character who’s funny, thoughtful and who develops brilliantly as the book goes on, learning and growing from an arrogant young teen, into an emotionally mature young man. Equal parts wit and tragedy, In Bloom is a blossoming and engaging story that is a must read for anyone who’s loved John Green’s blend of wry humour and heartbreaking self discovery, but much more grounded. Francis is a lonely, isolated character – one who struggles to relate to the people around him, but despite this, his supporting cast are funny, touching and fully realised human beings. Amber, Francis’ fellow patient, is one of the most vibrant and exciting characters I’ve ever read in a book and Francis’ Mum is a complete force of love and anger all at once. In Bloom made me cry twice in one day, both times happened when I was sitting on the train to work – but it also made me smile and laugh out loud at a number of points throughout, which showcases the author’s dry wit and emotional talents rather excellently, I think.

FOLLOW ME DOWN by Tanya Byrne

A tense, intelligent thriller.

A tense, intelligent thriller.

What should you read next, a dark, twisting thriller, or an intelligent, wryly humoured high school drama? Follow Me Down manages to be equal parts both, and equal parts fantastic in the process. Set in a private all girls school in the South of England, Follow Me Down follows the story of Adamma, a student in her final year at Crofton Hall, as she tackles love, lessons and the disappearance of her overdramatic, determined to be the centre of the attention, best friend Scarlett. Everyone at Crofton knows Adamma and Scarlett have been vying for the same male attention, and the well off Scarlett has been known to abscond to try and get her way. But Adamma knows her friend better than anyone could, and she knows that this vanishing isn’t a cry for attention, but something much more sinister. Follow Me Down’s plot has more twists and turns than most other teen novels, but what really makes it stand above the crowd is the use of language. Tanya Byrne is an amazing writer who can write the darkest passages with a strange, dreamy poetic style, all punctuated by dry pop culture references and sarcastic witticisms. It’s one of those books that kept me guessing right up until the last page, and a book that made that last page something that I had to reach, and yet dreaded reaching at the same time, because it would mean this wonderfully well realised world of rich, exciting characters would be gone. Except it isn’t… Follow Me Down stays with you long after you finish.

WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart

Utterly Captivating.

Utterly Captivating.

This book arrived in Waterstones stores up and down the country a few months before release, and caused a massive burst of hysterical hype throughout the bookseller community. A plain white book with single sentence reviews from John Green, Maureen Johnson and Scott Westerfeld, and a helpline for people to call when they finished the book. I think that tells you a lot of what you need to know. We Were Liars follows the complex, drama filled lives of the high flying Sinclair family, who spend their summer each year vacationing on their own private island, and Cadence, the eldest grandchild of the wealthy, powerful dynasty. Cadence spends a year away from the island, and when she returns, the Sinclair way of life is tense, tight and strained, her cousins and aunts refusing to acknowledge the strange morose tone that has crept into their seemingly perfect existence. Cadence becomes determined to find out what has thrown the delicate balance of her family, and in doing so she discovers a horrific tragedy that gradually unravels her own sense of mental stability. We Were Liars is a decadent, powerful book, filled with grandiose metaphors and esoteric, winding mystery that begs to be uncovered, using fairytales and subtle double meanings to tease the reader further into the gleaming and off-perfect world of the Sinclairs, like a beautiful apple with a rotten core.

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher

Bleak, Harsh & Brilliant.

Bleak, Harsh & Brilliant.

Clay Jensen receives a shoebox full of cassette tapes. They were sent to him by fellow High School student Hannah Baker, his classmate whom he was infatuated with, who recently committed suicide. The tapes list the reasons Hannah fell into the hopelessly dark depression that led to her taking her own life, and Clay is one of them. Throughout the novel, we’re given a bleak, brutally honest analysis of mental illness and the severely dark, bullying atmosphere of high school life. Despite the book’s frank and stripped bare style, it still manages to be beautiful in its style, full of emotional pitfalls and unexpected shocks – It manages to be haunting, staying with you for weeks, months… In fact, I’ve not managed to ever get it out of my head, seven years from reading it. Thirteen Reasons Why is a vitally important glimpse into the inner workings of human beings, their social interactions, and the irreversible consequences of our actions. To say it’s a book that makes you think is the understatement of the decade.

FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK by Matthew Quick

Not for the faint of heart.

Not for the faint of heart.

Matthew Quick garnered serious critical acclaim with his novel Silver Linings Playbook, but his look at Highschool Student Leonard Peacock is by far a darker offering. Telling the story of a student as he says goodbye to the four closest people in his life, on his birthday, Leonard Peacock plans on shooting his former best friend in school, and then shooting himself. The book follows the four goodbyes the title character makes, each one delving into the troubled young man’s mind, giving the reader a strange, empathetic insight into his fractured psyche. As with Quick’s other work, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a dark, but oddly endearing book, ultimately honest and unflinching in the way it looks at how our decisions not only shape us, but also shape the lives of people around us. It’s a desperately compelling book with a sense of inevitability that drags the reader unrelentingly forward towards a horrifying, but inevitable conclusion. Leonard’s character development takes the reader through a complex array of emotions as they try to understand the dark plans in his mind, as well as the love and positivity of his outlook towards those he cares about most.

TROUBLE by Non Pratt

What a JACKET.

What a JACKET.

With a jacket that screams for attention, Trouble by UK based author Non Pratt has already started to gain a lot of praise. Hannah is a high school student who gets pregnant after an encounter with her ex-best friend. Feeling abandoned and alone, scared in a situation that she cannot see a way through, she turns to transfer student Aaron, who not only supports her throughout the pregnancy, but who also offers to help dampen the torrent of school ground gossip – By pretending to be the father of her unborn child. What follows is a cringingly embarrassing teen comedy with so much heart that it fills the reader’s chest to bursting with emotion. Non manages to juggle heartbreaking honesty and touching friendship with a depth and a lightness that you wouldn’t believe without reading it yourself. It really is an endearing book that wears its heart on its sleeve, with no shame in any of the mistakes the characters make, and by using a dual perspective (told from both Hannah and Aaron’s viewpoints), it manages to shape the situations and delve into the miscommunications in a very clever, very necessary way, giving the author and reader the chance to explore the troubles and fears of both characters who are in way over their heads.

AMY & ROGER’S EPIC DETOUR by Morgan Matson

A delightfully bright, feel good book.

A delightfully bright, feel good book.

Ending on a happier note than some of the other books on this list, Amy &Roger’s Epic Detour is a fantastically well put together romance novel that follows Amy Curry, as she tries to get her life back on track after her Dad’s death, starting with a road trip across the United States. Unfortunately, she’s forced to share her journey of self discovery with Roger, the son of one of her Mother’s friends, who she hasn’t seen in years. Throughout the constant bickering and in-fighting, the two teens begin to develop feelings for one another, despite their differences. Together, the two of them learn a lot about themselves, and manage to help each other deal with their family life and other dramas. The book itself is written in a funny, sarcastic, yet beautiful style, but it uses some fantastic narrative devices that make it really fun to read, and makes it stand out from the crowd when it comes to romance novels. Using Postcards, Receipts from roadside diners, napkins and other collected memorabilia from the pair’s road trip, Morgan manages to make the story so vibrant and exciting, as well as touching, really evoking the feelings of long summer evenings and deep, meaningful chats with best friends. It’s a feel good book that reads like nothing else, with funny, sometimes annoying, but always well written characters that you’ll fall in love with.

 

SO, there’s some to keep you going! If you want anymore tips of great YA books, feel free to give me a shout on Twitter.

The Original Waterstones Blog Post is available here. I spelled Matson’s name wrong because I’m terrible.

Thanks for reading!

D

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

You know when a book just seems entirely written to fit your tastes? Grasshopper Jungle is one of those books for me. When I first heard about it, I knew it was coming from Egmont imprint Electric Monkey, who are brilly at ace Teen/YA novels – So that ticked one box. Then I found it was a coming-of-age story, which I love as well, being a perpetually confused youngling (SEE: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Catcher in the Rye, etc) – So that ticked a second box. OH, & it features homicidal Six Foot Tall Praying Mantises. Believe it or not, that also ticks a box for me – I’ve loved a good giant bug b-movie since I was a teenager, so I requested a proof as soon as possible. And oh. Oh boy.

Such an unassuming jacket for such a crazy book.

Such an unassuming jacket for such a crazy book.

Austin Szerba is a confused young man. Sixteen years old & unable to keep his mind focused on much more than sex & cigarettes. The book opens with him living his day to day life, chronicling his own personal history & the history of the rundown town of Ealing, Iowa, with his girlfriend, Shann Collins, who he loves, & with his best friend Robby Brees Jr, who he also loves. Possibly in the same way. Austin doesn’t think he’s gay, but his best friend is, & the two of them have a definite, unspoken attraction, so naturally he’s very confused about life. One day, skating in the stretch of abandoned wasteland in Ealing’s failing shopping mall – Known locally as Grasshopper Jungle, Austin & Robby are set upon by some older boys, who embark on some good old-fashioned bullying, beating the two up, before throwing their shoes on the roof of the nearby second hand store – From Attic to Seller. That night, the two friends decide to return to the shop & climb onto the roof & recover their discarded footwear, & once there, curiosity drives them into the back office of the store via a skylight on the roof. What they find, is a strange, morbid collection of old scientific experiments, severed heads, hands, two headed boys in jars, & some glowing blue mould marked MI Plague Strain 412E in a glass globe. Whilst fascinated by the dark & macabre displays in the back office of From Attic to Seller, the bullies from earlier in the day also break in, with the goal of stealing some booze from the adjoining liquor store. Austin & Robby manage to hide in the office, but overhear the older boys stealing the glowing orb of mould. And that is the night that started the end of the world. You see, once dropped, MI Plague Strain 214E is unleashed, mixing with Robby’s blood that stains the concrete in Grasshopper Jungle – With horrific consequences. Life in Ealing, Iowa, continues to tumble onwards, full of lonely drunks & failing businesses, while slowly, inside four teenage boys, grows a new, apex predator, bred in the Cold War from plant & insect DNA to be an unstoppable soldier. As more people come into contact with the broken globe’s contents, a small but violently powerful force begin hatching from their hosts, & they have primal insect brains that really only want to do two things: Eat & Make Babies. Bulletproof, lightning quick & armed with razor arms & mandibles, the Unstoppable Soldiers really are the apex predator in Ealing. Can Austin, Robby & Shann solves their differences, fight off a horde of horny, hungry giant bugs, grow up & live happily ever after? The outlook isn’t great.

I have so much praise for this book. SO MUCH. It’s such a hard story to describe, & I do really hope I’ve done it justice in that synopsis. I mean, it’s just nuts, violent, rude, funny, powerful & outstanding. Austin is a phenomenal narrator of the story, his historically obsessed tangents adding a real depth to the universe of the Szerba family, the town of Ealing, Iowa, & the world that Grasshopper Jungle takes place in. He’s a sharp, sensitive teen, with a lot of love for Shann & Robby, & an overwhelming sense of guilt over not doing the right thing – A struggle I think I have on a daily basis. The way him & Robby interact is achingly sweet, as well as brilliantly cool-yet-awkward. Andrew Smith has nailed teen idle chat perfectly, in a way that a lot of other books right now tend to overdo in a very flowery, over the top manner – Really reminding me of the existential thought processes of Holden Caulfield. Robby & Shann are only ever viewed from Austin’s perspective, but his deep love for both of them makes them glow & crackle on the page with passion, energy & attitude. His descriptions of other townspeople are funny, sharply observant, & oftentimes deeply despondent, creating a skewed, tragic & chucklesome portrait of small town American life.

I also nabbed a great set of Unstoppable Postcards!

I also nabbed a great set of Unstoppable Postcards!

More than just a horror/science fiction story, Grasshopper Jungle approaches concepts of sexual identity & confusion in an open, honest way that is seriously lacking in so much fiction for teens at the moment. It discusses the idea of bisexuality in a very down to earth way, without demonising it, & I think it’s a woefully misunderstood aspect of many young people’s lives that they need to be shown is perfectly okay. This book does that, it tackles with Austin’s inner confusion, probably an idea that many developing teenagers have been afraid to approach in their own “real” life, & that’s a very important idea that needs to be embraced more often in a funny, down-to-earth & relatable way. It also uses humour to make sexual topics seem much more approachable, less serious & just fun.

Also, did I mention giant bugs? The story is brilliantly teased out with an impending sense of dread, told in a Historical style from Austin’s future self, & using the old videos to slowly reveal the horrible history of the Unstoppable Soldiers – I found it absolutely enthralling reading, especially with the dry, witty narrative style that Andrew Smith uses to explain the end of the world. It has a wry sense of whimsy about such a violent situation, making the whole story a blood soaked black comedy like nothing else. I don’t feel like I’m describing the book well…

LOOK, this book is weird & funny, rude & violent, important in how it deals with difficult subjects & just… Crazy. It’s not for everyone, but if this has stirred your interest, you’re going to love it.

And that was our day. You know what I mean.

D

P.S. Obviously, in case you hadn’t gathered from my review, Grasshopper Jungle is pretty high-end teen, not suitable for younger readers. I’d say 15 upwards.

You can find publisher Electric Monkey on Twitter, as well as author Andrew Smith, AND lead character Austin Szerba!

Tape by Steven Camden

The other week, you may (or may not – I don’t think people read this on a regular basis, but I could be wrong) have seen my post about my trip to London for the Harpercollins Children’s Road Show, & how whilst I was there I had a healthy debate with Spoken Word Poet & Debut YA author Steven Camden about the fact the Gingernut Biscuits are obviously rubbish & custard creams are far superior. He did not agree, & signed my book accordingly:

THE BISCUIT WAR RAGES ON.

THE BISCUIT WAR RAGES ON.

His genuine passion, down to Earth sense of humour, & above all his passion for music & storytelling made me resolve to move his first book, Tape, to the immediate top of my reading list (interrupting my re-read of Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy). What I subsequently read was a beautiful& creatively written book that I found making me smile, laugh, gasp & choke up with a full spectrum of emotions… Most of them while on the 7:30am commuter train to Durham. My review will contain some minor spoilers, because I can’t think of how to write it without them… YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

The bright, beautiful jacket for Tape.

The bright, beautiful jacket for Tape.

Ryan lives with his Dad, his Stepmother & Stepbrother, in the house he grew up in with his Mum, who passed away a few years prior to the start of the book. It’s a rocky relationship, especially between him & his brash, outgoing stepbrother Nathan, but Ryan manages to make his way through the days with the help of his best friend Liam, & their shared passion for music, mix-tapes & a general shared outlook on the world. Ameliah live with her Nan, her parents both having died in the last few years. She plans on spending the upcoming Summer Holidays sorting through the spare room full of her parents old stuff, which leads her to a discovery of an old boom box & a shoe box filled with cassette tapes, some of them mix tapes made by her Mum & Dad when they where first dating. Through a lonely discovery of old music, she manages to cope with the days spent with a group of teen girls who she has very little in common with anymore. However, her world is turned upside-down when an old friend of her Dad shows up on the doorstep, the shaggy haired, unkempt Joe. Ameliah recognises his face from her childhood, & the memories are far from happy: raised voices & angry, flushed faces; but she can’t place when she’s met him before. Determined to uncover the truth, she takes to stalking Joe to work try & jog her memory, & it’s through this that we start to unravel a twisted tale of love, loss & betrayal that stretches back over two decades. Meanwhile, Ryan develops an obsession with an Irish girl he meets in the park during the first days of the holidays, a friend of Liam’s sister. Determined to discover more about her, but too shy to make a direct move, he starts to piece together as much about her as he can, gradually falling in love as he does.

Right, from that blurb, it seems like Ryan & Ameliah will inevitably cross paths & through a mutual sense of parental loss & passion for music, form a bond… But this book is much smarter than that. See, this is the minor spoiler that gets revealed quite early on, Ryan is Ameliah’s deceased Dad, & his story is being told twenty years in the past to hers – The story of how he met Eve, Ameliah’s mother, at the tender age of thirteen, & his gradual & touchingly shy determination to get to know her. Ryan is character I immediately could get on board with, a quiet, sensitive teen with few friends & a strong passion for music (I used to make endless mix CD’s for my friends at age thirteen too, stealing from my older brother’s music collection to make me seem worldly & cool), he’s an instantly likable lead character because he lacks any sense of pretension. He’s hesitant, thoughtful & kind hearted, which makes him sweet, & a good standpoint to his boorish, aggressive Stepbrother, Nathan. He stands out in a harsh, cold & bleak landscape, & that made me connect with him pretty much in the first few pages. His relationship with best friend Liam also made me smile, reminding me so much of one of my own friendships at that age, the two of them frequently joking & insulting each other, but not above some deep, emotional talk thrown in. Both are passionate teenagers in a place that seems too small for them, & the way they riff off one another with jabs & improvised free-style rhymes makes the dialogue between them flow with humour & energy. Ameliah is a quietly stubborn young girl, & her distancing from her circle of friends is another heartbreaking angle on the coming of age style of Tape’s story. Losing her parents has forced her to grow up fast, & it’s given her an outlook on life that quickly jars with the make-up & shopping focus of the other girls her age. Her sections often feel bleak, but crackle with an underlying anger, & often question the fairness of her fate, & of the cosmic dice roll that took her parents away from her. The introduction of Joe gives her purpose though, & draws energy out of her that she lacks in the early chapters, as the darker past of her family’s history is hinted at through her memories.

The proof of the book, some of which came with personalised tapes to play.

The proof of the book, some of which came with personalised tapes to play.

Outside of writing relatable & wholly real feeling characters, I think Steven’s biggest triumph with Tape is his general writing style – His background as a Spoken Word Poet oozes into the narrative, which flows with such a poetic feel it’s practically singsong. He uses analogies, pop-culture references & humour to lend the words a real sharp energy & give them a dynamic feel while you read them. I frequently found myself sliding through paragraphs with a sense of rhythm behind them that made it a sheer delight to read. I frequently chuckled along with the light-hearted interplay between characters! Steven does obviously touch on a very sensitive subject throughout Tape; the loss of a parent. I don’t know if it’s something he’s experienced himself, but he writes it with such a soft & emotionally articulate style, highlighting the right balance of sadness, anger & fond memories that are so often missed by writers dealing with loss. He blends the stages of grief instead of picking out one & running into the ground. Some of Ameliah’s inner thoughts were genuinely heartbreaking, & made me put the book down to just to process the very ideas that she was going through. Also, the back story of the characters & how they’re interlinked is brilliant fun to piece together, drip fed to the reader like a trail of breadcrumbs throughout the book in a way that isn’t too obvious, but still lets the twists & falls be anticipated ahead of time, which personally I found thrilling when my suspicions were confirmed in the chapter after I’d tried puzzling something out.

In writing Tape, Steven doesn’t use quotation marks when writing dialogue, but that is not as complex to get into as it sounds. Character’s dialogue is instead indicated by a hyphen before the text, & your brain accepts this in the first few pages, so it’s second nature by the end of chapter one. The book itself is a thing of beauty too, using alternating font types for Ryan & Ameliah, & separating their passages using a very clever “Pause” symbol to indicate the change of timeframe, before ending with a great old fashioned STOP. Visually fun, lyrical writing style & emotionally investing, Tape is a book I begged for more out of right until the last page. I can’t wait to see where this combination of music & literature goes next.

Thanks for Reading! Feel free to share.

D

La Fin.

La Fin.

More Than This by Patrick Ness

Okay, so I’ve spent days trying to get this review together. If you’re not familiar with him, Patrick Ness is the double Carnegie winning author of the Chaos Walking trilogy, & the hauntingly powerful A Monster Calls – As well as a great Twitter profile, & occasionally appearing on BBC Breakfast.

The Knife of Never Letting Go, book 1 in Ness' critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy.

The Knife of Never Letting Go, book 1 in Ness’ critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy.

His latest offering isn’t due out until the 5th of September, but once again, I was a lucky enough bookseller to get hold of a proof edition.

The strikingly simplistic jacket for More Than This.

The strikingly simplistic jacket for More Than This.

This will be a difficult review to work through without revealing one or two slight plot points, so minor spoilers ahoy.

Seth is dead. He knows he must be, he remembers struggling against the cold ocean current, remembers the sickening crunch of his bones on the jagged coastal rocks. So when he wakes up, lying on the pavement outside his childhood home in England, over 3000 miles from the US coastline where he lost his life, it’s safe to say that Seth is painfully confused. Not only is he in the town he grew up, but it seems like it’s been untouched for decades: layers of dust cover the houses, the food in the supermarkets decaying & rotten. This is the town he has so many painful memories of, the one his parents moved across the Atlantic to escape… So if Seth really is dead, this must be Hell, surely? Soon though, things take a turn for the stranger, when he meets two other people trapped in the town, Regine & Tomasz, both of whom remember their own deaths too. If this is his personal hell, did Seth create companions from his own imagination? If he didn’t though, & they’re real people with real pasts, why would they all share this space, in a town that meant so much to him personally? The mystery is just beginning though, when a mysterious black van, complete with malevolent black clad driver begin stalking the three companions, ruthlessly determined to eliminate them. Is it the devil? Or is there something more than this, some darker puzzle to be solved?

This novel is superb. I’m likely to be somewhat gushing here, but I genuinely think Patrick Ness is one of the most talented writers from Young Adults, not just right now, but probably of all time. He has a talent for writing teenage characters that feel wholly real, flawed, brave & natural, & he tackles complex issues of life & coming of age in a non-patronising way that makes his books so popular & accessible.

Seth, the novel’s protagonist, is a troubled individual, with a very complicated back story, & a really powerful emotional progression throughout the story. In a rare instance in Young Adult fiction, Seth’s sexuality as a gay character isn’t a major focus of the plot, & while it is a huge part of his characters actions prior to the setting of the story, it’s amazingly refreshing to have a homosexual character portrayed in such a natural way, the way of course it should be shown, both in fiction & everyday life. His strained relationship with his parents, as well as the mysterious childhood incident involving his younger brother, which plagues his memory throughout, hint at a dark past for Seth, & the slow way it’s teased out through flashbacks is really absorbing & gripping. Seth is not the only character with a dark past though, & Regine is a strong individual with a stubborn streak through her that makes her a good counterpoint to Seth, a girl of decisive action & repressed emotions, her character’s mysterious past which she refuses to discuss makes her even more stoic. I found her spiky nature & nonchalant attitude endearing, hinting at a vulnerable & pained young woman, desperate to avoid the horrors of the past. Tomasz is a brilliant third perspective on the darkness of the world, a bright, optimistic young boy, with a natural exuberance that counteracts the other two character’s painful emotional angst. He still possesses a haunting secret to his past, but he’s young enough to push it away, choosing instead to throw all of his hope & trust into Seth & Regine. His motivations are of pure friendship, often taking rash & brave actions because he’s a naturally positive individual who cares deeply about his friends. He’s really the innocent glue that holds the other two characters together & he’s often the funniest, most touching character in the novel.

Past some wonderfully complex, well written, & multifaceted characters, More Than This has a winding, gripping thriller of a plot, linking theology, philosophy & science fiction to create a really unique view on the Dystopian angle, with strong hints of the Matrix, but with a much stronger feeling of personal discovery. As with all Patrick Ness’ work, the moral dilemmas in the book are so much shades of grey than they are clear cut right & wrong, which I think is an important angle for young readers to learn at this sort of an age. There isn’t always a right & wrong answer to your questions, & sometimes people do awful things for the perceived Greater Good. This novel really explores that idea of the greater good, & also analyses the selfishness & selflessness of both teenagers & adults, showing both in an altogether more human light than a lot of books do. Normally, the adults are flawed, but selfless, the teens selfish, but able to grow, but here, some of the adults actions aren’t just selfish, they’re downright painfully horrific. Patrick clearly believes in the idea that teenagers are complete individuals, capable of just as much decisive action (right or wrong) as any other human being on the planet, & he really weaves that moral into the plot.

The mystery unravelled throughout More Than This kept me gripped from page one, & the writing style, the short, gut-punching chapters with sudden drop-off cliff-hangers really make this a rollercoaster of emotions, & an un-put-down-able read. Every chapter ending left me yearning to learn more about the bleak, abandoned landscape our characters are stranded in, & their desire to solve this mystery keeps the reader glued to the story. It’s a wonderful book, written in a poetic, fluid & dynamic style, with tense mystery & philosophical issues tackled. It doesn’t talk down to its readership, & pulls no punches on some very distressing but important themes. Pick it up the beginning of next month; it’ll blow your socks off.

D

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Fast becoming a household name, first through word of mouth, then by winning both the Costa Book Award & the prestigious Carnegie Medal, Dyslexic author Sally Gardner’s powerful novel Maggot Moon has a lot of hype surrounding it. You know what? It totally deserves the attention.

Maggot Moon's original cover for the Teen release.

Maggot Moon’s original cover for the Teen release.

The novel is set in 1956, in an unnamed totalitarian state, with many direct influences taken from post WW2 East Germany & other Soviet States, where the rule of the government is absolute, & those deemed “undesirable” are rubbed out, vanished without a trace: The Motherland. No-one asks why, because these people don’t mean a thing, & asking questions just gets you disappeared in the middle of the night as well. The story follows a young undesirable by the name of Standish Treadwell, a teenage boy who can’t read or write, with the imperfection of one blue eye, one brown. Somehow, Standish has flown under the Government’s radar, & he spends much of his time daydreaming in school (or being beaten with a cane for his inability to read & write), or scavenging a living with his grandfather in the house they live in, in the ghetto known as Zone 7. One day, someone new moves into Zone 7, a family with a son roughly Standish’s age called Hector. Hector sees Standish for what he truly is; not a dim-witted illiterate, but a person of powerful imagination who is able to think so far outside the box, the box is a dot on the horizon. Simply, Standish is a genius who just never bothered with the basics, because his brain was elsewhere. The two boys soon become inseparable, with Hector helping deal with Standish’s bullying problem (from students & teachers alike), & the two of them building a flying saucer in the loft to escape The Motherland & the Earth altogether, to their dreamed-up safe haven The Planet Juniper. The whole of this is set against the backdrop of The Motherland’s planned manned launch to the Moon, to solidify their power over the rest of the World (known as the Obstructors).

The stunning "adult" jacket.

The stunning “adult” jacket.

Wow, okay, so I’ve read Sally Gardner before & absolutely loved it (SEE: The Double Shadow), but she has absolutely outdone herself in Maggot Moon as a professional master of the English Language. Standish’s narrative is full of clever twists & unusual metaphors that really help drive home how his unique mind works & processes language… Just an example:

“Now I knew what a fish might feel in the plug was pulled on the sea.”

The whole book is full of these brilliant lines, language play & witty plays on double meanings of words, making it a total delight to read. At one point, Standish describes words as something he collects: He might not be able to spell them or read them, but that makes the sounds they make precious, so he builds his vocabulary as much as possible. I thought this was a beautiful way as teaching Children who struggle with Dyslexia & other reading/writing problems that words aren’t their enemy, & they can still be used in powerful ways. Standish is also described by his friend Hector in this amazing line:

“There are train-track thinkers, then there’s you, Standish, a breeze in the park of imagination.”

Aside from his great use of language, Standish is a powerfully bright, quick minded individual with an endearing love of his friends & family, as well as a strong sense of right & wrong. Despite the horrors that he has spent his whole life in, his imaginative daydreams still hold hope for a better future away from the Motherland. His Grandfather is also a man of strong convictions, but much less positive than his grandson. Nevertheless, he’s made up of some very powerful emotions, both towards Standish, & his mysteriously vanished parents, & his solemn, quiet style is a good parallel to Standish’s constant, disjointed inner monologue. Hector is a great, smart character with a dry sense of humour, & he acts as a sweet defender of Standish, helping the protagonist gain confidence & come out of his shell, leading to the actions taken towards the novel’s closing chapters.

Other than Standish’s brilliant use of language, the main draw of this book for me was the author’s simple but rich descriptive style for creating the world around her characters. Zone 7 really does instantly conjure up thoughts of WW2 shanty towns & prison camps in my head; such a bleak setting is developed effortlessly through Sally Gardner’s sparse descriptions, telling more about the Motherland with what is missing, and the things that aren’t said. The book is constantly under a heavy threat of oppression, the character’s dialogue always in my head as hushed, nervous & full of trepidation. The Motherland rules this story, & even the reader starts to feel an overwhelming sense of 1984 style restriction. It’s marvellous how little this shadowy regime is shown, but through their few brutal actions, their presence is constantly lingering over every page.

Maggot Moon joins the long long list of books that managed to make me cry (manly tears, you understand). Towards the end, the beautiful struggle is taken up by the younger characters, & their determination to change their world is really touching, as well as tense. I found the last third of the book really just flowed by in no time, so gripping that I could feel myself forgetting to breathe at points. That for me is the hallmark of a great book. Sally deserves her awards, because she is a master of language.

D

P.S. The publishers of Maggot Moon, Hot Key Books are a passionate YA publisher starting to make a name for themselves in the UK. Look out for them! They love the books they work with, & their staff are super friendly. You can find them on Twitter at @HotKeyBooks. Congrats to them on signing this superb, award winning book!

The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

OK, I haven’t blogged in a while… *checks* Since July actually, and the main reason is I haven’t been really able to get into much. I’ve been leaving half-finished books, and really only concentrating on non-fiction (Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Thinking in Numbers by Daniel Tammet), and I was seriously looking for a great, short novel to really spur me back into fiction. So, I reached out on the great Twitterverse, and the answer came back: You haven’t read The Perks of Being A Wallflower?! WHAT?!

So I opted to rectify this.

The beautiful new edition of Perks. Finally, a re-release that doesn’t suck!

The Perks of Being A Wallflower is an Epistolary novel (Thank you Wikipedia!), which means it’s narrated in the form of correspondence. In this case, letters from the 15 year-old Charlie, to an undisclosed confident, about his hopes, his fears and his day to day life as he adjusts to the difficult world of hormones and high school. Charlie is a pseudonym, as he explains, to protect the people he loves, whose darkest secrets are often exposed in these letters. As the book progresses, we here Charlie’s innermost thoughts, his difficulty with socialising and his problems coping with his unpredictable emotions. Charlie is a quiet, sensitive boy, who doesn’t like to participate in life. He just prefers to watch. The Wallflower. But he does make friends, a band of misfits, and through music, films and books, he explores a skewed, but beautiful view on life.

The more widely known cover for Perks.

The more widely known cover for Perks.

OK, so I know this is a very well received book. It’s sold 700,000 copies world wide since 1999, won awards & been highly controversial in that time. But, as ridiculously cheesy as it may sound, when I read this book, I felt like I was stumbling through some secret story that spoke only to me, and I felt every aspect of it keenly and deeply.

I’ll start with the problems I had with it. No book is perfect, and this book is fantastic, but I have to admit, the narrative style split me. The letter format made it quick, easy and enjoyable. They worked as superb alternatives to chapters, and it lead to a very rapid reading style (I was up until 2am because I physically couldn’t STOP READING). However, it was Charlie’s voice that grated on me. He didn’t write like a 15 year old to me. He sounded like a 9 year old at points, his nativity was clear, and obviously this was intentional so he could discover life, but the sentence structure was a bit… Sterile, almost basic. It was clearly written with great language in mind, but to me, it just didn’t resonate with how a 15 year old should write in a non-formal setting.

That all being said however, it did not stop the book from being FREAKING EXCELLENT. I don’t even know where to start. Normally, I’ll start with characterisation, and that sounds good. All the characters where wonderful, a band of thoughtful misanthropes, with the sense of angst and pretension that only comes from being a teenager.  Charlie resonated with me in a lot of ways (again, I know he probably resonates with millions of people all over the world), especially in the sense of finding joy in music and books, and finding social interaction not difficult, but often unpleasant. He over analyses, panics and never knows what the right thing to do is. He’s often frozen by indecision, and that’s an experience I know all too well. Bill was another superb character, and as all great English teachers in books, he reminded me of my own favourite teacher, also an English teacher. The books he recommends through Perks are made of several of my own favourites (including To Kill A Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye), so that helped me bond to both characters very well. Patrick and Sam are both wonderfully painted characters, that Charlie looks up to, despite their own shortcomings and downfalls, because that’s what friendship is to Charlie. You take the bad parts of people because the good parts are worth it. I think that’s a very good way of looking at it. Very honest.

Plot-wise, the book had me on tenterhooks for the whole way through. It was like a roller-coaster of emotions (another cliché! I’m doing well!), and I often found myself laughing, smiling, nodding along with situations I could remember being in. I also found myself gasping with disbelief and also in tears at several points. It’s been a very long time since I’ve stayed up until the wee hours to finish a book, and a long time since it’s left such a lasting impact on me (not since A Monster Calls).

The Film-Cover.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower will not be for everyone. There is an overwhelming sense of Teen Angst, & I can see where that would put people off. It can be melodramatic, and it is prone to being a bit pretentious, but I loved every second of it. It was better than Catcher in the Rye, by light-years, for teen-ridden coming-of-age. I’m sceptical about the film, I must admit that Emma Watson is very different to how I imagined Sam, but at least it’s being both written and directed by author Stephen Chbosky. That can only be a good sign right?

We are all infinite.

D

P.S. The book does contain several scenes of drug taking, under-age alcohol consumption and scenes of a sexual nature. I would recommend not for under 15-year olds.