Unboxed by Non Pratt

Unboxed is a short novel by the brilliantly talented UKYA author Non Pratt (author of Trouble and Remix), published by the wonderful people at Barrington Stoke who specialise in shorter books with intelligent and articulate plots designed to encourage reluctant readers without talking down to their audience. They also use fonts and paper colourations designed to help dyslexic readers. They really are superb – check out their website.

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Even the jacket makes me emotional

Unboxed is the story of four friends, who when they were younger created a time capsule of their perfect Summer. Time has passed since that Summer, and the friends have now drifted apart, in contact mostly through social media and memories. When they made the box, there was five of them, but stomach cancer claimed Millie a few weeks ago. So despite the wedge driven between them, they meet up once again to open the box and peer into the past, to a simpler, happier time. It isn’t easy – everyone’s changed in ways both huge and small. Alix has told none of them about her girlfriend, afraid they wouldn’t understand. The whole night promises to be a mess of dredged up emotions and awkward silences, but it was what Millie made them promise to do. You can’t break a promise to a dead friend.

I’ve said it before, and I am certain I’ll say it again – Non Pratt is hands down the most authentic voice in YA fiction. You can keep your poetically lyrical teenagers, Non’s characters swear and screw up, they’re awkward in ways that are frustrating as opposed to endearingly charming – she just writes real characters in a way I’ve never come across in YA elsewhere. Unboxed is no exception – from the very plot outline I knew it was going to break my heart (and I finished it on a train, naturally), but Non captures the teen atmosphere perfectly. It’s all there – the sense of hope, the frustration, the nihilism, the fear of alienation from your friends. The fear of not fitting in. Unboxed dredges all these ideas up and mixes them into a short, punchy story that aims directly for the heart and nestles in there for life. I’m never ever getting this story out of my head. Alix is the perfect narrator for the story, hesitant and filled with regrets, but each of the four friends are perfectly portrayed and effortlessly nuanced. In just 140 pages we get a brief snapshot of these people, of who they used to be, who they are now, and where they might going. It’s a masterpiece that absolutely encapsulates the fears and dreams that come with being on the cusp of adulthood. It’s achingly real, smart, and honest. It’ll take you an hour to read and it’ll change you. Give a short book a chance.

Thanks for Reading, as always.

D

P.S. You can pick up Unboxed, and all of Non’s books right here.

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Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

The “What’s it About?” bit

Caddy longs for something to happen in her monotonous, boring life. Going to a private all-girls school, she’s the high achiever who never gets in trouble and always does as she’s told, and she envies her best friend Rosie, who goes to a regular school, hugely. She longs to the spontaneous girl, the one that people talk about, but she doesn’t even know how. There’s a new girl at Rosie’s school though, and she’s about to shake things up – the enigmatic Suzanne, beautiful and confident, is all of the things that Caddy isn’t, and Caddy soon starts to worry that this enigmatic new friend is going to steal away her Rosie. So she sets about uncovering the mysteries that brought Suzanne to them, but what she discovers is more complex than she expected, and as she and Suze become closer, the lines between right and wrong start to blur.

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The “What I thunk about it” bit

ARRRGH THIS BOOK IS PERFECT. So perfect. I almost don’t know where to start. The characterisations are perfect – I related especially well to Caddy, the one always so eager to be good and to do the right thing, who messes things up when all they want is to do what’s best for someone else. Her earnest good nature, as well as her unravelling frustration at the pressures of the world around her, make her character arc wonderfully complex and easy to empathise with, too. Suzanne is so accurately written, though. It’s hard to write a character like her without portraying too much romance in her tragedy, but Sara has managed to make her sadness and her mania mix to create an intoxicating girl with many layers. Suze’s self-awareness lends her character a darkness, too, because she always knows just what she’s doing, and is always the first to acknowledge that she’s messed up, and while she might do some reckless, dangerous things, it’s impossible to hate her. Rosie straddles the line between the two of them, sharp and sarcastic, but with fiery love that burns through everything she does. She’s strident, certainly, but level headed, and her ability to call out some of the more reckless behaviour makes her an unlikely voice of reason. I also really enjoyed that she stood up for herself when she thought something was wrong, and she was perfectly willing to let others make their own mistakes. The book has an excellent group of supporting characters as well, with realistically portrayed parents (a rarity) and two excellent older siblings.

Beautiful Broken Things tackles some massive issues, and manages to do so with stark honesty and gentleness, which is what makes it such a triumph. But it also looks at the subtler ideas that come with growing up – conformity, friendships and fear of abandonment, and works those quietly into the story while the bigger arc is going on. Ultimately the book just kept me utterly glued to it, and every spare second I had was spent trying to fit another few pages in, because the pacing is so superb that the whole thing has that out of control feeling of certainty about it. You can feel the building anticipation of tragedy straight off the bat, and the way it’s hinted at throughout keeps you gripped by the story, like it’s woven hooks into your heart and brain, and each chapter ends leaving you absolutely aching to know what’s going to happen next, even though the horrifying twists feel like they’re going to emotionally break you into pieces.

A stunningly powerful début novel that I cannot recommend enough – Sara Barnard’s Beautiful Broken Things is a superb addition to the UKYA pantheon, sitting perfectly alongside other emotional driven contemporaries like Trouble or All of The Above.

Thanks, as always for reading.

D

P.S. Beautiful Broken Things contains some triggers based around abuse, self-harm and suicide.

One by Sarah Crossan

One is one of those books that it seemed everyone was raving about last year. It’s been on my tbr pile for ages as one of those “Oh I really need to get around to reading that!” Books. Well I devoured it in two sittings – It’s an outstanding novel. Believe the hype.

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Grace and Tippi are twins. Conjoined twins, in fact – they both merge into one single body below the waist. Life as conjoined twins is hard though, especially in America, where health care eats up most of their parent’s income. Eventually, home schooling stops being an option for the twins, and they have to attend a regular school. It’s a huge transition for them, but as their father’s alcoholism increases, and their sister spends more time at the local dance studio, the twins are desperate to get out of their stifling home atmosphere. School presents a huge amount of challenges, but Grace and Tippi soon make two great friends and start to settle into a new life full of possibilities. As money becomes more of an issue, they need to decide whether or not to let a documentary crew into their sheltered lives – to let millions of people become a part of their daily struggle to be a part of the world. Will it be worth it, to help give something back to their family who have sacrificed so much for them?

One is something else. In the scale of YA novels, it’s something very special and totally different. The contrasting personalities of Grace and Tippi work brilliant together – Grace is soft, a reader and a deep thinker, where Tippi is brash and outspoken, and the two of them balance each other as the story examines what it means to truly never be alone. Their extended family is vibrant and damaged, difficult to read about but utterly engaging and real; and their school friends Yasmeen and Jon are fantastic – flawed but so honest and blazingly fierce, and the way they take the twins under their wing is inspiring and heart warming.

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One of the things that makes this book stand out so much is the writing style, though. Told using poetic stanzas in short, dramatic and lyrical chapters, the whole book flows from Grace’s mind in haunting broken verse. At points it’s aching, and at others it bounces like a song, all the while creating a huge emotional charge like an electrical storm within the narrative. The use of metaphor, of Grace’s quiet observations on the world around her, makes the book an absolute joy to read, and really makes it stand out in the YA sphere by introducing such a captivating combination of poetry and prose.

One is uplifting, outstanding, and made me cry buckets. I strongly urge people to give it a try, it’s something totally unique and special.

Thanks for Reading,

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

So for those of you who maybe don’t remember – Alice’s debut, Solitaire, was one of my absolute favourite books in 2014. It was a smart, witty, apathetic coming of age story, a Perks of Being a Wallflower for the Tumblr generation or whatever. It was a great book. So when I was lucky enough to be emailed a final manuscript of her highly anticipated second novel, Radio Silence, I pretty much screamed. Out loud. On the shop floor. Which in a bookshop is frowned upon.

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Frances Janvier is Head Girl. Frances Janvier is a straight A student. Frances Janvier is on the fast track to an Oxbridge English Literature degree. She studies as often as she can, sleeping little and not really forming any friends – everything sacrificed for the hope of a place at one of the best universities in the country. The only creative outlet Frances allows herself is fan art for a podcast series called Universe City, where the androgynous Radio Silence battles a collection of horrific monstrosities in an inescapable science fiction landscape. As Frances steadily becomes more and more stressed out by her approaching exams and her entry interview for university, she starts to become more engaged in the fictional Universe City world. When she discovers that the mysterious Aled Last, who she’s lived across the road from for most of her life is also a massive fan of the podcast, she finally discovers what it means to have a true friend and starts to understand that life is more than academic achievement. But Aled’s life is a lot tougher than Frances realises, and while he helps her to grow, she starts to see the cracks in him. He needs her help, but he could never say it out loud – but his time is running out.

It’s better. Radio Silence is better than Solitaire. I KNOW. Big words, but I mean them 100%. Frances and Aled’s friendship is absolutely everything I want in a fictional friendship ever, and Alice deliberately allows their friendship to never bubble into a romance, which was SO REFRESHING. Frances is fraught, confused and passionate – all angles and manic energy, where Aled is softer, creative and submissive. I have a lot of feelings for Aled, and a lot of empathy to how he seems to drift along with life doing things that are decided for him but never truly grasping what he really wants. Their co-dependent friendship is flanked by some excellent supporting characters too, Raine being a big favourite, especially as she represents the opposite of Frances’ academic obsession. Daniel too is stony-faced, but his unravelling as a character is really sweet.

Still love you though, bae.

Still love you though, bae.

One of the biggest themes in Radio Silence is the idea that going to university is not the only route available to young people – and it’s such an important subject that is never tackled enough. There’s so much pressure on teenagers to start attending higher education, when no-one is willing to admit that there are plenty of other roads in life to take. Alice lets her own scepticism towards the education system flow through the story, making it clear that happiness can be achieved through all sorts of less “traditional” routes. One of the other amazing things about the book is that it is SO DIVERSE. Not a single character is 100% straight, but no character is defined by their sexuality either, and she even touches on ideas of asexuality too. And it’s racially diverse too, proving that there really is no excuse to not write with inclusivity. AND it touches on mental illness with honesty and care. Seriously, it manages to wrap up so many themes with a fun plot driven by beautiful dialogue that made Solitaire feel for real and down to Earth. Alice has the perfect YA voice.

Plus, as a massive fan of Welcome to Night Vale, the podcast theme was absolutely amazing! Universe City feels dark, vibrant and perfectly crafted, the excerpts really breaking up the story beautifully with pieces of hugely lyrical writing. I want it to be a real podcast. Alice if you’re reading this let’s make Universe City. Please.

It isn’t out until later this month, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. She knows what she’s doing, and she makes it look effortless. This is Young Adult Fiction done flawlessly.

Hey, Thanks.

D

P.S. – You can pre-order the book RIGHT HERE so you should do that thing.

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Last year I lamented my own woeful writing skills when compared to the glowing writing talents displayed in Rundell’s multi-award winning Rooftoppers, a sublime children’s tale filled with heart and drama. So when The Wolf Wilder, her latest offering, promised a snowy adventure in revolutionary Russia, driven by wolves and a fiercely strident heroine, plus illustrations to boot, I knew we were in for a Children’s Classic of the future.

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Tell me that isn’t gorgeous. I dare you.

Feodora (Feo to you) and her mother live in the snowy forests of Northern Russia, distant from the prying eyes of civilisation. They’re Wolf Wilders, a mysterious group of independent forest folk who dedicate their lives to taking spoiled wolves from bored aristocrats and training them to become wild again – showing them how to hunt, how to run and how to howl. Revolution is blowing on the sharp winter winds though, and the Russian military is slamming an iron fist down on the freedom of people like Feo and her mother, preferring an orderly public to control and subdue. When soldiers arrive in the night, and Feo’s mother is taken into the freezing storm for crimes against the Tsar, only Feo, a reluctant young soldier named Ilya, and a her pack of wild wolves can hope to rescue her – although it means fighting an army, breaking into a citadel-like prison and maybe even sparking a revolution. All Feo wants is to live with her mother free to do as they please, and she’s willing to fight until the bitter end for it.

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Sublime black and white illustrations reflect the powerful words too.

Wow. Just wow. Where Rooftoppers was a sweet, touching tale, The Wolf Wilder is a swirling storm of power and emotion. Rundell has knocked it out of the park. This is seriously breathtaking writing and a book that stands so far out of the crowd that it refuses to be ignored.

Feo takes after so many independent and tenaciously wilful heroines before her (Lyra from Pullman’s His Dark Materials echoed throughout her), and her morals and bright, burning sense of right and wrong as vibrant and weave through the entire story. Her mother’s quieter wisdom helps aim the young girl with the wild precision of a hunting wolf, and the two of them have a fierce, beautiful relationship that made my heart ache and swell to read. Ilya is a superb companion for Feo too, gentle and softer, but just as idealistic and driven, and as we watch him blossom and begin to understand the different kinds of bravery that you can see in the world, we can’t help but love his open heart. One of the beautiful things about all of the characters in The Wolf Wilder is how expertly they shun any need for gender stereotypes, and I loved that any nod towards them is met with scorn and aggression by the protagonists. Of all the characters in the story though, the wolves are the ones who shine so beautifully, each with perfectly crafted personalities and instantly recognisable behaviours, they’re the literal representation of Feo and her mother’s world – helping to fight because they choose to, not because they’re forced to.

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I strongly recommend this beauty too…

One of the things that made The Wolf Wilder such a superbly delightful book to read is Rundell’s use of language, which is quite frankly, second to none. I remember being enthralled by Rooftoppers and how it wove words and sentences, and this book really takes her skills as a wordsmith and lets them explode and blossom. She uses words the way musicians use notes, the way artists use paint, like an extension of her. Metaphors and similes litter the narrative in a lilting, poetic style that creates a lyrical feel to the whole story which makes reading every page an orchestra experience of emotion. It’s this level of sophistication that really fights back against the idea that Children’s Books are simplistic, unsophisticated stepping stones. The Wolf Wilder is a work of literary beauty that tackles themes and ideas that are just as important to adults as they are to children – right and wrong, freedom, family, strength, bravery, sacrifice. It’s emotionally articulate and fiercely intelligent, refusing to simplify itself and remaining one of the best Children’s Books of the last few years because of it.

Combined with hauntingly beautiful ink illustrations, The Wolf Wilder is the full package. A book that is going to be read for generations, and in hardback it makes a gorgeous classic to keep and cherish.

Thanks for Reading.

D

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I’m not just saying all this nice stuff because she signed my book. BUT STILL ❤

World Mental Health Day 2015 – Some Books to Try

Suffering from a mental illness is a terrifying experience. To the outside world, it seems trivial, harmless and invisible, but to those of us suffering, it’s anything but. And it isn’t just an illness of the mind – It can cause all kinds of physical effects too. 1 in 5 Young People are now being diagnosed with some form of mental health problems, from generalised anxiety and depression, to eating disorders and schizophrenia, and there’s no one-size-fits-all guide to what to expect from these illnesses. Stigma and misunderstanding, confusion and fear, are all rife when it comes to understanding mental illnesses, and I’ve always found that the best way to understand something is to read about people in down to Earth, sensitive and respectable Fiction and Biographical accounts. So as last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d throw together a list of fantastic YA and Teen Fiction titles that either deal with, or have characters who suffer from, mental health problems. Many of these have helped me in the past, and I’d love to know that they’ll go on to help others. People with these illnesses aren’t monsters – they’re not crazy, dangerous lunatics – they’re people struggling with an invisible, but deadly disease.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

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Themes – Depression, Suicidal Thoughts, Eating Disorders, Anxiety

Inspired by the author’s own experiences of hospitalisation for depression, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a brilliant mix of genuinely sharp humour and honest, heartfelt emotion that absolutely buzzes in the words he writes. Vizzini’s tragic death at just 32 years old makes the impact of these book painfully real.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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Themes – Depression, Suicide, Identity

The quintessential book when it comes to main characters with depression, Plath’s only novel is beautifully haunting and poetic and while it’s dated in some ways, the feelings at the heart of it remain as current and relatable as ever. The book touches on how the pressures of adult life can weigh heavily on young people, and ultimately has a hopeful tone to it.

 

All Of The Above by Juno Dawson

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Themes – Eating Disorders, Self-Harm

Juno’s first contemporary novel is by far her most diverse, intelligent and emotionally articulate offering to date. It examines the stresses and pressures that teenagers and young people go through in a chaotic, messy and heartfelt way, never pulling any punches, but always holding your hand, it looks at how people can hide things about themselves and how there is no definitive normal.

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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Themes – Depression, Suicidal Thoughts, Self-Harm

A wonderful, heart stopping, devastating and uplifting book, All the Bright Places is a beautiful tale of friendship and love told alongside some dark, complex themes, all in a sensitive and intelligent way. The words crackle with energy on the page, and the characters are wonderfully real and relatable.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

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Themes – OCD, Depression, Eating Disorders

Not out until later this year, but I can already tell you that Patrick Ness continues to be one of the finest YA writers working today. In The Rest of Us, our narrator Mikey suffers from near crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, frequently washing his hands until they bleed. Patrick paints his own self-loathing honestly, tackling the concept that OCD is synonymous with being neat head on with a sledgehammer of truth. He also touches on eating disorders with a secondary character, and really captures the helplessness and hopelessness that sufferers of these illnesses can feel.

When Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan

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Themes – Tourette’s Syndrome, Bullying

Shortlisted for this year’s Carnegie Medal for Children’s Fiction, When Mr. Dog Bites is one of the very very few books out there that looks at what it means to live with Tourette’s Syndrome, an often over looked and woefully misunderstood illness. Naturally, it’s rude and funny in places, but it’s also it bristles with an honest energy and has a brilliantly open and genuinely well-intentioned main character.

Solitaire by Alice Oseman

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Themes – Depression, Suicide, Eating Disorders

Alice’s debut novel is one of my favourite YA books of all time, and her drive to be inclusive is what makes her book stand out so well. Tory’s brother, Charlie, suffers from a number of mental health problems, highlighting that these things often aren’t as simple as the media makes them out to be. His anorexia is sensitively handled and I feel like having a male character suffer from an eating disorder is so important to have in fiction, and his relationship with his sister is absolutely wonderful. He’s a sensitive, intelligent young person who struggles with the harshness of the world, and Alice never lets him become a stereotype.

Heroic by Phil Earle

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Themes – PTSD

Phil Earle is one of the best unsung writers in Teen and YA literature, purely because of just how well he manages to capture the anger and confusion of teen life. Heroic is looks at friendship, the relationships between brothers and the dark and upsetting effects Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can have, not just of sufferers, but on their families too. This book is hauntingly real and gritty, but from there is its power, to overcome the darkness of the everyday and reach the light that we can find in each other. His characters are brilliantly created, snappy and intelligent, and by writing from two perspectives, we get a fully layered and complex look at a harrowing condition.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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Themes – Suicide, PTSD

Without any spoilers, I will just say that Perks is one of my favourite ever books ever ever. It made a huge difference for me in my life, and Charlie is the music obsessed, shy and sensitive young man I needed to read about. It’s a book that teaches that it’s okay to be who you are, that gender stereotypes are dumb, and that through each other, we can overcome even the most horrifying events. The way Stephen Chbosky flashes back through Charlie’s life in this book is haunting and gripping all at once.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Themes – Social Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder

Fangirl is a sweet story of love, friendship and coming of age that also works in an underexplored and worryingly misunderstood condition – social anxiety. In an age where everyone can be in contact with one another without ever actually having to see those people physically, Rainbow works it into Cath’s character without being dismissive or painting it too lightly. She also makes sure that we know it’s okay to be shy, to need space or prefer to be alone, and in doing so, she creates a character that is so easy to relate to, in a sweet novel that’s already becoming a massive bestseller.

Other recommended titles:

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (Depression)

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Suicide, Depression)

Panther by David Owen (Depression)

Every Day by David Levithan (Depression)

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green/David Levithan (Depression)

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle (PTSD)

A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook/Brendan Halpin (Eating Disorders)

Butter by Erin Lange (Eating Disorders)

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Eating Disorders)

Hello Darkness by Anthony McGowan (Psychosis)

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dallaira (Depression)

You can find more on this fab list on Goodreads too.

Part of the best way for us to tackle to misconceptions and stigmas that surround these illnesses is to talk about them, and share our own experiences as well as stories like the ones I’ve talked about here. These books aren’t just for those of us who struggle with these things every single day, they’re also for the people who have never had to cry when they wake up, who don’t know what it’s like to struggle with thoughts and feelings that can’t be controlled, and who can’t put themselves into those lives. Empathy is the key to humanity, and we all need to do our best to understand and care for one another.

Or something like that, anyway. I ain’t a great philosopher, I just read a lot of books.

Obviously, many of these books will contain triggers/upsetting scenes, so please always do some research and never be afraid to stop reading something that’s upsetting you.

If you need someone to talk to, The Samaritans are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to just listen, and never judge.

Thanks for Reading. I hope you find a book that helps.

D

All of The Above by Juno Dawson

Juno is probably one of the most criminally underrated authors in the country. Despite her brilliant, often tongue in cheek, and often downright terrifying horror novels (Say Her Name, Under My Skin), not to mention her brilliantly important non-fiction work of gender and sexuality (How To Be a Boy, This Book Is Gay), I never quite feel she gets the praise she deserves for the huge amount of work she does. Well, I’m going to try! All Of The Above is her latest YA novel, and unlike her previous offerings, this one is strictly contemporary – no witches, no spirits and no murderous tattoos. It’s also probably her best novel to date. Here’s why…

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Toria is the new girl in the sleepy, dilapidated seaside town of Brompton-on-Sea, and being the new girl in a small town is a big deal. She’s concerned by all the same things that bother most new teenagers at a new school – making friends, passing A-Levels and getting to finally leave home. When she meets the bright, pixie-ish Daisy, the outspoken and chaotic Polly and their gang of misfits and freaks, she finds a group of fun, vibrant friends that make her online contacts overseas drop straight off her agenda. Toria is fascinated by the explosively chaotic Polly, and the two girls soon become best friends. Toria even meets a boy at one of the gang’s late night meetings at the seafront’s Crazy Golf Course – Nico is the most beautiful boy she’s ever seen, and there’s some serious biology at work driving the two of them together. It might not be love, but it’s inescapable and it’s the most grown up Toria’s ever felt in a relationship. Everything seems perfect, the Summer days stretching out forever, laughing on the beach with cheap wine fuelling them – this is everything TV has told Toria that teenage life with best friends should be like! But she’d be naïve to think that this is all there is to life, and slotting into a complex friendship group is never straightforward… Especially one as complicated as this one.

The full cover creates the tone of the book PERFECTLY.

The full cover creates the tone of the book PERFECTLY.

Why is All Of The Above Juno’s best novel to date? Because of all the reasons – that’s why. These are her most wonderfully messy and complex characters yet, and I love each one in very different ways, which I’m going to attempt to sum up in words now. Toria, our narrator, is a confused but determined main character, filled with a brilliant mix of bubbling emotions are feelings, and her worldview is forever shifting as she grows throughout the story. I love her fierce loyalty to her friends, as well as her vulnerability when it comes to being desperate for Polly to like her – friend crushes are a real thing and desperately wanting someone to be your friend is awful. Polly is something else entirely, a pure force of nature that often contradicts herself, but who never stops or looks back. She stands larger than life in Toria’s eyes, but gradually her layers are unraveled to reveal a diverse, eclectic and above all scared young woman. Her protectiveness over her friends is absolutely beautiful, and her gut instinct way of life balances Toria’s anxious overthinking superbly. But that’s not the end of it! ALL of this book’s characters are brilliant, and Daisy and Beasley are both wonderful – I love Daisy with all my heart, her gentle, peaceful and bright outlook fill the story with light and a gentle Summerness that helps tone down Polly’s whirlwind personality. Beasley is effortlessly sweet and flawed, but full of passion and love, and I found myself connecting with his desperate need for attention really well. Everyone is so distinctive and well written that they play across the page together so vividly that it’s impossible to not want to be part of their group.

I asked James to sign a special page in the book instead of the title page. Heartbroken.

I asked Juno to sign a special page in the book instead of the title page. Heartbroken.

As with Dawson’s previous books, her work as a teacher clearly shines through in her dialogue, which is downright hilarious, and effortlessly realistic and on point – she writes in the throwaway, snappy style that teenagers talk, complete with excessive swearing and pop-culture references. What makes All Of The Above stand so triumphantly above the crowd though is Juno’s dedication to diversity. She’s always been a champion of representation, but this new book really effortlessly pulls in some of the aspects of everyday human beings that are still so worryingly lacking in everyday fiction. It examines sexuality in an honest and open way, shunning simplistic stereotypes and instead looking at real, genuine people and their complex (and often messy) emotions and feelings, and it touches upon mental health in a subtle, heartbreaking way. Self-harm and eating disorders are touched upon throughout the story, and are thankfully un-romanticised and quite painfully honest and blunt.

Ultimately, what I think Juno has achieved with All Of The Above is a rare accurate glimpse into the painful, beautiful and messily confusing experience of growing up and finding out who you are. And by that I mean that the characters have about as much idea at the end as they did to start with – it understands that there is no universal teenage experience, and it isn’t afraid to look at the darkness that comes in adolescence (one that most grownups would like to pass off as “a phase”). But it also isn’t afraid to look at vibrant joy and love and friendship that comes with the intensity of being a teenager. The whole book filled me with hope and melancholy, and it’s one of the most powerful and adorable books to come out of the UKYA scene.

Thanks for Reading,

D

P.S. – You can buy All of The Above HERE

P.P.S. – You can follow Juno Dawson on Twitter HERE

P.P.P.S – Obviously, the book does cover some darker themes, and as such contains triggers for self harm and eating disorders.