Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Only Ever Yours is a book that’s divided readerships. I know some people who definitely praise it as the intelligent, sharp breath of fresh, feminist fiction that YA literature needs. I’ve heard others much more wary of it – worrying that the novels harsh message might be interpreted the wrong way by younger readers, who might pick up on the “women must be perfect to please men” overtone, whilst missing the subversive intention of the author. It recently won the inaugural YA Book Prize (inaugural is an ace word, note to self – must use more often), so I thought I’d better give it a proper read. I’d started it before, but I’d let it fall by the wayside (I am prone to this. Naughty bookseller.), so I opted to persevere, and set it as my YA Book Club read to see what they thought of it…

A creepy jacket that warns of the discomfort of the story within.

A creepy jacket that warns of the discomfort of the story within.

Only Ever Yours takes place in a Dystopian society in which the world’s population has been ravaged by an unnamed disaster. Women stop being able to become pregnant with girls, threatening the complete extinction of the Human Race until the Eve project is founded. The Eves are genetically engineered women, grown in labs and raised in schools across the world to fulfill the needs of men – to provide wives and mothers for the rest of the world. Frieda, the book’s protagonist is one such Eve – in a school where all her sisters are sculpted at the genetic level to be perfect, and trained from birth to understand that beauty is their value. Bombarded with what a man needs a woman to be every single day of their lives, and constantly surrounded by ratings on the prettiest girls in their class, the Eves are trained to starve themselves and behave as sweetly and perfectly as possible to please their future husbands. After all, an Eve who isn’t chosen by a man becomes a concubine – not something Frieda plans on degrading herself by allowing to happen. She may not be the highest ranked girl in the year, but she’s in the top ten, and that means she stands a good chance of becoming the dutiful wife of someone powerful in the world outside. She diets and starves, she picks striking outfits, and she jostles with the girls around her in an all-or-nothing struggle to be seen as worthy enough of a good man. Once upon a time, Frieda and her best friend Isabel planned on becoming mothers and wives together, but now in their final year all Eve friendships are off – scheming, backstabbing techniques hidden behind perfect makeup and a warm giggle rule the school. The rest of their lives are ahead of them, and it’s a struggle to be perfect enough to come out on top.

Oh wow. Okay, honestly I can’t say how I sit with Only Ever Yours. Much like Kevin Brooks’ The Bunker Diary, I can’t deny that this is a powerful, explosive novel… But did I enjoy it? Enjoy is not the right word at all.

Louise’s characters are a conundrum. It’s easy to see these girls as bitchy, unlikable or just plain messed up, but as a reader you have to remember that each one of them is a product of her environment. Frieda is often weak, doing the wrong thing to stay on the good side of the number one beauty, Megan, and it’s easy from the outside to judge her for that, but as the book unfolds, and Frieda begins to unravel with it, it’s easy to see how desperate she is for acceptance. After a life of being told that beauty is the sole value in life, it’s impossible for the Eves to not seek out acceptance and assurance from others who are considered attractive. They’re messy, difficult individuals with complex motives, and that lends the story a constant lilting sense of unease. Frieda’s slow descent into madness, as her desperation begins to unravel her world, is when the book really started to shine for me. The way O’Neill writes her slurring speech, her sleep-deprived hallucinations and her all-or-nothing actions really lend pace to the way the plot is unveiled, as well as creating a labyrinthine feel of distrust. Isabel’s desperate attempts to control her own body through food (“It is my body anyway. Isn’t it?”) is heartbreakingly powerful and defiant. Isabel I can’t praise highly enough, in fact, as a character that kept the moral grounds of the book constantly shifting.

The themes in Only Ever Yours are anything but subtle – it’s a sledgehammer to the stomach of  patriarchal society. At first, I really did struggle to get into the book. I felt like the message was overpowering the story and narrative, that O’Neill’s characters were overshadowed by a bombardment of the world that they lived in. But then I took a step back and remembered that I have never been a teenage girl (despite what the other kids at school told me) – I’m experiencing this pressure from the outside, and I have no idea how overwhelming the demand is on young women to be perfect and beautiful, to act in a certain way because it’s what men want – so I’m not the right person to say that the feeling comes on too strong. Anyway, it doesn’t matter because about 200 pages into Only Ever Yours, the plot suddenly explodes through the grey dystopian landscape, a freight train of raw emotional power that rips through the second half of the book and leaves only devastation and shock in its wake. It’s a bleak, harrowing and desperate second half that swirls with madness and energy. I was a little concerned, as others had been, that the themes of eating disorders and social pressures on girls would be potentially damaging to teenage readers, but the wonderful, intelligent and sharp girls from my club picked up on the subversive use of these topics immediately, and praised the book as absolutely on point. I think a lot of adults don’t give teenagers the credit they deserve. That being said, there’s definitely some strong, mature ideas explored in Only Ever Yours, I would recommend doing some research before passing it on.

O’Neill cleverly uses a lack of capitalization for the names of her Eves in the book, which takes some getting used to at first (or I’m dumb, maybe), but which creates the uncomfortable feeling that none of the girls are anything more than a product to be sold to the men. Her writing style is sharp and psychological, though I found it a little descriptive for my tastes, but as I’ve already said, it all lets up as the book gains momentum in the closing half. I can’t wait to see how her intelligent, strident style develops in her next title, Asking For It, which will be examining sexual assault and victim blaming.

Louise's next book is going to be just unflinchingly honest.

Louise’s next book is going to be just unflinchingly honest.

Only Ever Yours is an important novel. I can’t in anyway deny that. It deals with topics and themes that are woefully ignored in YA, and it should be read not just by girls, but by boys as well. It broke me with the unrelentingly unforgiving back end that it rains down on readers, and I don’t think it’ll be for everyone… But I’d rather live in a world with writers talking about these issues, holding them up to society and exposing them for the evils that they are, than live in a world without them.

Yikes. I need something uplifting to read next, for sure.

D

P.S. Only Ever Yours deals with Eating Disorders and Self-Harm/Suicidal Tendencies, so I’m slapping a MASSIVE TRIGGER WARNING on it, as well as recommending it for older teens. If in doubt, give it a read yourself first, or ask in the comments (or @ShinraAlpha on Twitter).

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

As Katniss knocked her first arrow, and before Tris was jumping off moving trains, there was the Maze. First published in 2009, James Dashner’s Dystopian YA trilogy has really starting to gain momentum in the last year, with a major film in cinemas RIGHT NOW.

Does it stand shoulder to shoulder with the two other major post-apocalyptic trilogies (Hunger Games & Divergent)? You bet it does. And then some.

The UK Jacket, which I think is nice & simple.

The UK Jacket, which I think is nice & simple.

Thomas wakes in a pitch black lift, rattling and humming as it heads upwards. He knows his first name, but the rest of his memory of who he is, is completely gone. As the lift shudders to a halt, the doors opening before him into a large, ramshackle village of other teenage boys, who speak in a strange slang, keep animals on a makeshift farm and know as much about their own past as Thomas does. They are the Gladers, the amnesiac residents of the centre of a gargantuan maze – A lethal, ever shifting labyrinth, patrolled by the unspeakable horrors known as Grievers. Some Gladers have been in the Maze for two years, unable to fathom an escape from a maze which changes layout overnight, every night. Thomas refuses to believe that the puzzle is unsolvable, but the other Gladers are distrustful of him – He seems to stir memories of betrayal and darkness within them, which he can’t account for, even though he feels a sense of familiarity with the Maze that he’s never been in before. Then something world shattering occurs, an unprecedented shift in the routine of the Maze – A new Glader arrives the day after Thomas, ignoring the normal Monthly newbie additions. What’s more, this new Glader is the first Girl to ever enter the Maze, and she has a message:

“She is the last one. Ever.”

What does this mean for the Gladers? Can they make it out of the Maze before the Grievers kill them one by one..?

The old style UK jacket.

The old style UK jacket.

Holy Tension Batman! The Maze Runner is a great balance of mystery and action, keeping just enough back to keep the reader guessing, but offering up enough pulse-pounding sequences to stop the reader from getting bored. Thomas’ lack of memory allows us as readers to discover the entire world first hand, instead of jumping through flashbacks, and it also helps create a sense of disorientating confusion that the characters live in a perpetual state of. He’s a headstrong character, and at times he can be a little bit bullish, but the secrecy of his fellow Gladers makes his behaviour make sense – he’s frustrated at his situation, and the mistrust he’s subjected to. His shady past is also a really enticing side to his character and to the narrative on the whole, creating layers to the back story of the book and adding depth to the world in which it’s set, without actually outright exploring it. The support characters are all pretty interesting too, be it the twisted Gally, the stoic Alby (and his slow, burning shift into madness), the troubled Newt, or the quick-witted Minho, they all create a really interesting cast of characters, and despite there being so many of them, they’re all fleshed out just enough to make the peril they face genuinely compelling. Teresa, the only Girl in the Maze, is probably my favourite character in the book, as she seems the most switched on and focused, despite also suffering memory loss like the rest. I’d like to see more of her, and how she relates to Thomas, but that is explored in books 2 and 3.

The writing style is punchy and fast, using short chapters and constant cliff-hangers to really drive the plot forward at a constant pace and a sense of unbalance. Like I said before, it manages just the right balance of mystery and action to create a compelling read, and by constantly shifting the plot’s direction, and introducing new, sudden variables to keep the reader guessing. The Glader’s slang language can get a bit irritating at points, but I suppose I can see the point for it, and to be honest, it doesn’t really bother you after a few chapters. You assimilate to it pretty fast. I can definitely see such a dynamic, mysterious and fast-paced book making an excellent film, so long as it incorporates the books hidden sense of scope and grandeur, without revealing too much straight off the bat. Less is more, and The Maze Runner totally understands that.

It looks like they've got the scope & intimidating feel of the walls down...

It looks like they’ve got the scope & intimidating feel of the walls down…

I read The Maze Runner along with my Teen Book Club at Waterstones Durham, and it was received really well, with plenty of our members saying they planned on finishing the trilogy! All in all, a success all round, I’d say!

Thanks for Reading!

D

 

YALC: Books, Authors, Warmth and Joy. – DAY 1

So, this weekend, I happened across that most rare and elusive beasts when working in retail – A Weekend OFF! And because I’m a painfully disorganised human being, I decided last Monday that I would grab a train down to London for a chance to drop in at YALC, the UK’s very FIRST Young Adult Literature Convention, and a smaller subset of the London Film & Comic Con. I was super excited (as I often am when it comes to YA books), and in a hectic rush to get down there, so I grabbed the first train to London on Saturday morning (5:29am, a sickening time of day to be a functioning human being), burdened with a holdall filled with books, clothes and the bare minimum of essentials. In total, I took 16 books, with the intention of getting as many signed as physically possible.

Because I had decided to attend at such short notice, I was forced to buy tickets for the event on the door, which required standing in a queue of Wookies, Judge Dredds and Vulcans for two or so hours, under a punishingly cruel sun, with no water or food (I’d like to thank the random lady I shared the queue time with, she stopped me losing my sanity), before I managed to even step foot into the gargantuan Earl’s Court 2. Once I made my way in, I navigated the staggering crowds, past some stunningly elaborate (and just plain awful) cosplays, to the back where YALC was taking place. The very first thing I did was head over to the Waterstones stand to check in on the super shiny Teresa and Jenn, who had kindly offered to look after my bag of books (I couldn’t check in to my hotel, so I had ALL of my books with me for the weekend), a kindness that I don’t think I could ever repay – that bag was SERIOUSLY heavy, I think I dislocated both shoulders by Sunday night. With that dealt with, I wandered around for a little while, briefly bumping into Patrick Ness (literally bumping), and his lovely publicist Paul Black, who I’d previously met when I interviewed Mr. Ness in Waterstones York. Much to my shock, both remembered me, and even introduced me to Department 19 author Will Hill as “ShinraAlpha” from Twitter. That was pretty shiny.

We Were Liars Board.

We Were Liars Board.

After that brief brush with authordom, I took myself over to the first talk of the day, “It’s the end of the world as we know it: the ongoing appeal of dystopia”, with a panel of Malorie Blackman, Patrick Ness and Sarah Crossan, chaired by James Smythe. As a massive fan of the dystopian genre, I was really excited to hear the authors take on why it’s so successful, and on how dark is too dark for teen fiction. Some brilliant discussion was generated, about how dystopia reflects the world teenagers feel they live in sometimes, and how the tension and drama of dystopia lends itself to gripping storytelling and paced writing that immediately catches attentions. It was while I was stood at this talk (all the seats had been nabbed) that I was ushered to one side slightly, and as I glanced across to my left to see what was happening in the queue for one of the photo events, I was stood level with the legendary STAN LEE, who was on his way to sign photos with fans all day. It was pretty startling, I didn’t process it until he was already whisked away to do his days work, but I’m never going to forget that. The panel was superb, with the passion of Malorie Blackman being a superb highlight, and all the authors taking their time to answer questions from the audience with intelligent, direct and satisfying answers. I stuck around for the following panel talk (managing, thankfully, to grab a seat) – “Going Graphic: From novels to graphic novels” with Ian Edginton, Marcus Sedgewick & Emma Vineceli, chaired by the wonderfully eclectic Sarah McIntyre, which was a fascinating insight into the struggles and freedoms that the change in medium allows a writer, something I’d not really considered before. Ian also revealed he was working on a graphic novel adaptation of Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, which I’m looking forward to!

The Dystopia panel!

The Dystopia panel!

After the first two panels, I swanned off for a bit, with the intention of getting some books signed. I joined the queue to meet Jonathan Stroud, who signed my copy of Lockwood & Co, and we had a great chat about horror and how much we loved anything creepy as kids. He was absolutely lovely, passionate and engaging, and we discussed the idea of doing some events in the North – so watch this space! After that, the queue for Malorie Blackman was far too intimidating, and the crowd for the next talk, “Superfans Unite” featuring Rainbow Rowell prevented me from seeing or hearing anything – the queue for her signing afterwards was a mindboggling snake of human beings that went on for what felt like hours, so I never did get a signed Fangirl for a prize at work… I got chance during this lull to meet the lovely people on the Hot Key desk once again (I’ve been annoying Hot Key ever since they started up), and managed to get my copy of Fearsome Dreamer signed by the fantastic Laure Eve, AND bought the sequel, The Illusionists. She was a total delight, despite clearly being so busy.

Laure says I'm AWESOME! I'm not.

Laure says I’m AWESOME! I’m not.

I can't wait to start reading.

I can’t wait to start reading.

Once the Superfans panel dissolved, with no real interest in the next panel (“Regenerating the Doctor”), I made a beeline for the signing for Andy Robb, the author of Geekhood, and a long time lovely Twitter friend of mine, who I always seemed to miss at events in London. After he encouraged me to hop the signing desk, I was sat chatting away to him for about an hour, while he signed books. At one point, a lady took my picture, clearly assuming I was an author myself… So if I show up tagged as Andy at some point, I’ll take that. I also caught up with Laura of SisterSpooky blog, who gave me what was left of her Sprite, making her a complete legend. It was the best thing I’ve ever drank. After Andy, I popped to the next panel, “Bring Me My Dragons: Writing fantasy today” and enjoyed a great discussion chaired by Marc Aplin with authors Frances Hardinge, Amy McCulloch, Jonathan Stroud & Ruth Warburton, about the difficulties of creating a brand new universe from scratch, as well as the freedoms that come with it.

Andy and Darran: A Discussion of the Universe.

Andy and Darran: A Discussion of the Universe.

Me being a pretender to the Robb.

Me being a pretender to the Robb.

After the Fantasy panel, I shuffled forward for one of the panels of the weekend I was most excited for – “Heroes of Horror”, featuring Charlie Higson, Will Hill, Derek Landy & Darren Shan (chaired by Rosie Fletcher). I was treated to a very excitable, engaging and hilarious panel of authors, discussing with relish the gore and violence they weave, and how much fun they have doing it. All of them shared a love for the genre that stemmed from leaping from Children’s Books straight into Adult Horror books, which I can completely relate with myself. Derek Landy was a particular delight, giggling with glee about the characters he’d killed in increasingly violent ways, and at one point telling a fan “Everyone you know will die – Your parents, your friends. I’m just preparing you for the worst” in his singsong Irish accent, which was much funnier than it sounds written down…

WHAT a panel!

WHAT a panel!

Afterwards, I managed to catch Will Hill, who was more than happy to chat about Vampires as they should be, and sign my copy of Department 19 – The first proof I ever got in bookselling!

GREAT book.

GREAT book.

The day was exhausting, and after finally grabbing some food with some old Uni friends, I crashed into a hotel bed and was asleep before I even saw 10pm.

– D

LieToMeLieToMeLieToMe

LieToMeLieToMeLieToMe

The Fearless by Emma Pass

If you remember, last year I reviewed Emma’s debut novel, the Orwellian YA title ACID, and I was a massive fan – twists, action and a unique writing style that helped it stand out from the crowd. When I heard her second offering would be a dystopia with a Zombie flavour to it, I was sold. But The Fearless is far more brutal and harrowing than a mere jaunt with the walking dead…

The UK jacket for The Fearless.

The UK jacket for The Fearless.

Cass was just a child when the Fearless first invaded the UK. They hit hard, and they hit fast, taking the nation by surprise with their ruthless efficiency and cold violent nature. The Fearless used to be soldiers in the British Army, given an experimental drug designed to help combat Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. However, the drug had the unexpected side effect of turning the soldiers Fearless – an unfeeling, violent core who kill for the fun of it, and how share a singular goal: To use the drug on everyone in the world. Cass and her family secure a place on an island refuge called Hope, along with her best friend Sol, and his family, The Brightmans. The journey is short, but devastating, Cass losing her father to the Fearless and Sol losing his mother to a stray bullet, as well as the untimely birth of Cass’ brother, Jori. The Fearless then jumps forward seven years, where Cass is caring for Jori after her mother’s suicide, and she and Sol are on the verge of graduating into Hope’s patrol, dedicated to guarding the island’s perimeter from The Fearless, and stray survivors who might try to kill to get into their refuge. Sol and Cass’ friendship has become strained with age, as Sol loves her intensely, but has been rejected by her on multiple occasions, leaving him bitter and confused. Cass just doesn’t feel that way towards him, though. Life on Hope is bleak, but the inhabitants manage to scrape by an existence, trading with passing barterers, until one day a new boy is found amongst some of the island’s ruined buildings. The eyepatch wearing Myo isn’t Fearless, but he managed to slip onto Hope past the patrols somehow, and so he is immediately apprehended and roughly imprisoned. Later that same evening though, Fearless do arrive on Hope, kidnapping Jori, Cass’ brother, and all the family she has left in the world. The residents of Hope are forbidden to leave the island to pursue anyone, so Cass has to turn to the mysterious stranger Myo if she is to have any chance of finding her brother alive… and unaltered.

The opening prologue to The Fearless is a superb example of why Emma Pass is such an exciting writer in the Teen/YA bracket right now. It’s punchy, fast and downright terrifying, using explosions of action with claustrophobic passages of such tension that you’re unable to even blink reading it. Cass is a great lead, a good mix of powerful determination and (often) naive, heartfelt passion, and her isolation on Hope allows the reader to really uncover the desolated wastes of the mainland with fresh, unfamiliar eyes. One of my favourite things about Cass (and about The Fearless in general) is that it does away with the idea that the lead female character just HAS to fancy the main male/best friend, because he loves her. Cass is fully able to say “nah, you’re alright mate” in a way that so many other books aimed at Teenagers refuse to do, and I love her for that. She’s under no obligation to fall in love just because she’s loved. Myo is a surely, embittered character with a deceptive streak that allows the book to drop in back story to tease the mystery of the story out in stages, and his character arc is positive and yet harrowing at the same time – he goes through a lot for those he cares about. The only character I didn’t get one with was Sol, but I don’t think you’re supposed to. He’s childish and entitled, with a temper on him that is frustrating to read, but as the story develops, that makes more sense and it opens up some of the later sections on the book in a way that would otherwise make no sense. His actions are motivated by some pretty dark emotions, and using him as a perspective character along with Cass and Myo gets to show the reader the effects of the Fearless Invasion in terms of rage and paranoia.

ACID is superb. If you like action and mystery, give it a go.

ACID is superb. If you like action and mystery, give it a go.

I think unlike ACID, the plot to The Fearless is simpler. That’s not a bad thing though. Where ACID was a twisting thriller, this book is much more a survival horror, focussing on the resolution and grit of the main characters to achieve their goals despite the harsh world around them. The descriptive passages in The Fearless are great, creating a real sense of isolation, terror and panic that infuses the whole story… At no point does anything ever feel certain or safe, and some of the most brutal, harsh moments happen just as you’re uncovering some back story or character development, and it jars the reader out of any lull they might’ve slipped into, keeping you constantly glued to the pages. The very cold nature of the Fearless themselves helps add to the chilling feeling of unease – they’re brutal for no reason and violent at a moments notice, an unrelenting and unpredictable villain.

The Fearless is a great follow up to ACID, and it’s sure to be a big hit with fans of the darker side of Dystopian Fiction like Ashes or The Enemy.

Thanks for Reading, as always.

D

P.S. You can find author Emma Pass on Twitter HERE.

P.P.S. For more Dystopian reads, check my blog post D is For Dystopia.

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!

My 10 Favourite 2013 Reads!

So once again, Christmas is over & we stare down the barrel of a brand new year. I’ve never done one of these round ups of my reading before, but 2013 has been an absolutely storming year for YA, Teen & Children’s Fiction, hitting comedy, fantasy, sci-fi & contemporary with some exciting & passionate authors. So without further yammering by yours truly, lets get one with it!

10. Fearsome Dreamer by Laure Eve

FEARSOME-DREAMER-WIP

A stunning début from one of the hottest new publishers of YA literature at the moment (Hot Key Books), Fearsome Dreamer is a brilliantly paced fusion of Science Fiction & Fantasy, focusing around individuals with the ability to teleport. Laure’s novel is gloriously well written, with a deep, textured world & layers of mystery waiting to be unfolded. It’s set for big things.

9. Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

The UK Hardback Jacket

The UK Hardback Jacket

Part one of a brand new series from the Bartimaeus author, Lockwood & Co takes the classic ensemble style of Percy Jackson or Harry Potter, but with a delightfully gothic twist, replacing gods with ghosts. A book I just know I would’ve become obsessed with as a 9 year old obsessed with all things dark & spooky, The Screaming Staircase isn’t light on laughter though, & with a very Doctor Who/Sherlock style lead – It’s sure to capture imaginations as the series goes on.

8. Heroic by Phil Earle

9780141346274

Phil is a charming author with a deep understanding of troubled youth. Heroic is a harrowing story of war, told not just from the front, but from home, allowing the story to examine the effects tension & stress have under combat situations, as well as in the helpless environment of an East London council estate. Heroic also looks deep into the bonds of family & friendship, & has a powerful message behind it, lending it a serious emotional punch, as well as bringing attention to the very misunderstood subject of Post-Traumatic Stress in Young Adults. All in all, Phil has done a wonderful job at a moving story once more.

7. ACID by Emma Pass

ACID's jacket features protagonist Jenna, & tells you all you need to know.

A one-off kick-ass Dystopian novel set in a United Kingdom taken over by a harsh, totalitarian police force, ACID is an adrenaline fuelled ride full of action, mystery & plot twists, all topped off with a strong, direct heroine with a real edge to her. Blending Orwellian surveillance  & social commentary with pulse-pounding action, ACID grips the reader from the outset & doesn’t let go until the very last page. Perfect for people who’ve been devouring Hunger Games & Divergent series, Emma Pass is great at keeping the reader engrossed with high tension drama.

6. Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti

n431867

One of the books I’ve yet to do a full review of, Monkey Wars is a unique story of gang warfare between two tribes of Monkey’s on the streets of India. Despite sounding like a lovely animal tale, Monkey Wars is smart, sharp & brutal, soaked in gore & betrayal. It’s a classic story in one way, very reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet, but with an energy that literally crackles off the page. Constantly high stakes, with emotional turmoil & political rivalry, this is a visceral book that would be ideal for fans of fantasy & war novels alike.

5. Geekhood: Mission Improbable by Andy Robb

434656538_640

Archie the Geek is back, in Andy’s follow-up to Close Encounters of the Girl Kind – And the laughs are strong with this one. Crammed to bursting with references to nerd culture, & a big feature on Live Action Roleplaying, Andy fully throws his passion for all things Geek into his writing, & that honesty & passion makes the book feel so much more personal to him. Geek culture is big business write now, with shows like Big Bang Theory written by non-Geeks for non-Geeks, so it’s refreshingly satisfying to have someone doing it from the fan side of things. Also, as with the first Geekhood novel, Andy works in the true emotional sweetness & turmoil of being an adolescent teenage boy, & all the embarrassing scenarios that go with it, in naked, cringesome honesty – Helpful to every young adult struggling through not being the strongest, fastest, toughest kid in school.

4. The Last Wild by Piers Torday

9781780878300

A modern day Animals of Farthing Wood, with a post-apocalyptic twist, The Last Wild was funny, touching & engaging, blending environmental issues with a bold main character, determined to do the right thing. The world of The Last Wild is wrapped up in layers of mystery begging to be unfolded, but with a bleak beauty that admires the determined power of nature, & rather than taking the usual stance of man vs nature, it shows how greed can overcome humanities normal moral compass. It’s a book of passion, power & with a real message to get across, a must read.

3. Follow Me Down by Tanya Byrne

follow-me-down

A dark, beautiful story of friendship, young love & loss, Follow Me Down is surprisingly witty & even brings up a several chuckles despite the bleak tale of murder that weaves its way through this classic English boarding school tale. Tanya has a beautiful way with words, & her passages almost slide into your brain like poetry, creating a melancholy beauty to her writing that haunts your very core, yet makes you smile all the while. A rare talent to make something so horrifying still be so life-affirming.

2. Every Day by David Levithan

every day

Possibly the most unique book I’ve read in my life, David Levithan’s Every Day is a superb examination of life & humanity, a window into understanding the struggles & troubles that make us all different. From another superb YA publisher (Electric Monkey), Levithan brings his quirky style of modern language & pop-culture knowledge with an emotional punch & a dark, realistic & heart-wrenchingly bleak conclusion. With his examination of our differences & similarities, Every Day is one of the most important novels in years for promoting acceptance & understanding, & is perfect for fans of bittersweet romance.

1. More Than This by Patrick Ness 

001

Beautiful, compelling, shocking & lingering. Patrick Ness is possibly the best writer working in Teen fiction today, & More Than This is a true testament to that fact. Dark & thoughtful, the plot is constantly shifting, keeping the reader on edge throughout, with each chapter dropping a cliffhanger onto your head & blowing your mind. It examines life, death, survival, love & friendship with a soft eye, before ramping up the action & tension, turning a haunting mystery into a full blown thriller in the second half. This book left me unable to read anything for a week afterwards, & still makes me think about its themes even now.

That’s the lot! Well, the top ten anyway. There’s been dozens of fantastic books published in 2013, which is truly inspiring, flying in the face of people who say books are struggling. They’re not. You just need to know where to look.

Here’s to many more in 2014!

Thanks for Reading!

D

Fearsome Dreamer by Laure Eve

I’ve often been fascinated with the idea of blending elements of science-fiction & fantasy together in one story, so when I read the synopsis for Laure Eve’s debut novel I was eager to nab a copy & see just how well two of my favourite genres could be interwoven.

Fearsome Dreamer's UK Hardback jacket.

Fearsome Dreamer’s UK Hardback jacket.

Fearsome Dreamer takes place in a dark alternate Europe, where the mainland nations are mostly united as World, a dark, miserable land where most inhabitants dwell in a massive virtual online world known as Life. Across the sea from here, is the contrasting United Kingdom, in this world known as Angle Tar, a country where technology is all but shunned, & where witchcraft & superstition run day to day life. The story follows two individuals from both nations, both possessing a peculiar skill known as The Talent, allowing them to dream about other places in the world, even transporting themselves hundreds of miles with the right amount of practice. Vela Rue is an apprentice hedgewitch, in a small town in the countryside of Angle Tar, but she dreams of much bigger things in her life – dreams that often feel so jarringly real that she can’t ignore them. When a mysterious stranger arrives in the town & offers to help her train her dreams into something unbelievable, she jumps at the chance to leave her country life & head with him to University in the Capital city. White is a native of World, but despises his nation’s dependency on the online computer network Life. He dreams of fleeing to the mysteriously distant Angle Tar, using his strange power to vanish completely & starting a new life in a country free of Life. When his Talent attracts the attention of World’s authorities, White knows he only has a little time before his dreams of escape are crushed completely, so he takes the leap & teleports himself to Angle Tar. It’s not long before he’s recruited by the same mysterious man who took on Rue, the charming yet guarded Frith, who recognises that White posses the most potent jumping Talent he’s ever seen. But why does Frith have such a determination to recruit talented individuals? What lurks outside the castle in his dreams that makes him wake up in a cold, terrified sweat?

Fearsome Dreamer hooked me from the first page, with a combination of great writing & a darkly creative world that had me dying to know more. Rue’s dreamy character was immediately relatable to me (a hopeless daydreamer myself!), & her caring, heartfelt spirit really made helped me attach to her straight away, & care for her throughout. White’s guarded nature & slight traces of arrogance made him a bit of a harder character to get along with, but his strength of conviction, & his role as an amazingly talented outsider bring him into a more positive light – eventually allowing him to become genuinely sweet. My favourite character though, just has to be Frith. Witty, charming & casually mysterious, he manages to exude confidence whilst still being almost completely unknown to those around him, & he’s introduced whilst calmly dispatching a couple of would-be assassins, which just adds to his air of hidden secrets.

Laure Eve, total style.

Laure Eve, total style.

What really sparked my imagination in Fearsome Dreamer though was the concept of Life, the fully immersive virtual reality network that fills World, and the Avatars that inhabit the meetings Frith attends there. Ghost Girl is sinister & enticing, & her entire people – who stay shrouded by Avatars, refusing to interact in the real world – are so intriguing I was glued to any passages they appeared in. Combined with Frith’s strange, sinister dreams of something stalking him in a walled castle, the whole book is shrouded in tantalising mystery which is teased out in tiny fragments & subtle hints, as well as strange, shadowy dreams. The book is clearly the first part in a series, & as such it’s a slow starter, but that’s not a bad thing – It builds up the characters well, investing in them fully to create well rounded people for the reader to really root for. Many books skip this kind of development, leaving 2D characters in dramatic, perilous situations that the reader can’t feel anything for, because they just don’t care. Laure obviously wants readers to feel for her characters, & so she’s building the tension in this novel using mystery, no doubt to explode into some serious action in the next one, & I can’t wait to find out what’s lurking in this dark world she’s created!

I think Fearsome Dreamer’s setting is what really sank its claws into me, a combination of simple beauty without ambition & darkness without morals, and its two extremes that can’t possibly survive on their own, two worlds that need something from the other to really work – the ying & yang equivalent of society, & that bleak not-quite-utopia of World just really grabbed me.

Fearsome Dreamer is from the amazing new UKYA publisher Hot Key Books, a very exciting group publishing some superb novels for Teens & Young Adults.

As always, thanks for reading!

D