Soulmates by Holly Bourne
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publishing Info: 2013 by Usbourne (kindle edition)
Star Rating: 3/5
Back Cover Summary:
Every so often, two people are born who are the perfect match for each other. Soulmates. But while the odds of this happening are about as likely as being struck by lightning, when these people do meet and fall in love, thunderstorms, lightning strikes and lashings of rain are only the beginning of their problems. After a chance meeting at a local band night, Poppy and Noah find themselves swept up in a whirlwind romance unlike anything they’ve ever experienced before. But with a secret international agency preparing to separate them and a trail of destruction rumbling in their wake, they are left with an impossible choice between the end of the world, or a life without love…
This book takes the popular cliché of soulmates and puts an interesting spin on it. It was interesting to see a different side to the idea, but although the concept was good, the story was a little weak. One thing I did like was that it was set in the UK, as most YA books are set in the US. This made a nice change for me since I’m from the UK.
It was very slow in places and fairly predictable. There were points where I found myself getting bored but decided to persist to find out what would happen in the end. Some scenes dragged too much. A lot of the book was orientated towards building the characters and showing their relationships to each other, which was done well, but there was just too much of it. The characters were likeable and well rounded, but the lack of plot and conflict dragged the book down.
The last quarter picked up the pace but then it lost me again with such long explanations about the science behind soulmates. It wasn’t that it was overly scientific, Bourne did a good job of explaining it, but it was just too drawn out for me and my interest dwindled. The emotions were written very well in the last section of the book, and it was heart wrenching to read at times. The ending was one of the strongest parts for me. It didn’t fall into the formula of typical endings and provided a sad, but more realistic, ending than many books.
I didn’t hate it, but it’s just one of those books that isn’t very memorable.
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Poetry
Publishing Info: 2010 by Margaret McElderry Books (first published 2004)
Star Rating: 4/5
Back Cover Summary:
Kristina is the perfect daughter: gifted high school junior, quiet, never any trouble. Then she meets the monster: crank. And what begins as a wild ride turns into a struggle for her mind, her soul–her life.
Ellen Hopkins, whom mediabistro.com has called “the bestselling living poet in the country,” exploded onto the young adult scene with her first novel, Crank, which has become a national bestseller. School Library Journal acclaims Crank as “a stunning portrayal of a teen’s loss of direction and realistically uncertain future.” Publishers Weekly raves, “[Hopkins] creates a world nearly as consuming and disturbing as the titular drug.”
Crank is a transfixing look into the tortured lives of addicts and the people who love them.
Crank is the second book by Ellen Hopkins I have read and, like Impulse, takes the form of the novel in verse, or verse novel. I was pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed the verse novel form when I read Impulse, and was keen to read more by Ellen Hopkins. Once again Hopkins tackles a serious issue head on. While Impulse looked at mental health, Crank follows its protagonist through drug addiction.
I don’t know much about drug addiction and have never read a book about it, so I found Hopkins’s blatant and open address of the issue difficult to read but enlightening. The verse novel form particularly suits the subject matter in this case, and Hopkins uses the verse brilliantly, fully capitalising on its potential. The poems are written in erratic stanzas that range across the page, with some of the verse in ‘normal’ stanzas and some spread across the page, others formed in shapes, and many other myriad and interesting styles. This reflects the erratic Kristina and the highs and lows of her addiction.
The other characters were fairly typical and flat as they weren’t given the time to become well rounded characters. However, I didn’t feel this was as big an issue as it would be in other books since the focus of the story is very much on Kristina’s internal conflict with her addiction. The plot was also fairly predictable in places, with some eye rolling on my part at some points which appeared to be presented as ‘twists’ but which weren’t all that surprising. Yet, as with my previous point, it didn’t really matter that much to me because it’s more of a character and emotion driven story that a plot focused novel.
The book was well paced and being told in verse didn’t hinder it carrying a strong narrative. However, the ending felt quite rushed compared. The last several poems summarised the end of the story too much, meaning it lost the emotional impact it had carried in the rest of the book.
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publishing Info: Walker Books (first published 2010)
Star Rating: 3.5/5
Back Cover Summary:
Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life – and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.
This remarkable debut is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Francesca Lia Block. Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie’s struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.
What first attracted me to this book was the many poems spaced throughout the book, which are designed to look like they’re written in Lennie’s handwriting on an assortment of things including crumpled notepad paper and paper cups. I can’t imagine how that would look on an eReader, so I think this is one of those books which is best experienced in paperback.
The poems added an interesting element and created another level for looking into Lennie’s thoughts and feelings. The idea is that Lennie writes these poems on random scraps and they’re dotted around the town. The issue I had was that it randomly says Lennie scribbles a poem on a few occasions in the story, but then the reader isn’t given any insight into why she has written that particular poem, what her thoughts were when she was writing it. It’s flippantly mentioned that she writes the poem, and then that’s it the story moves on. This meant that it felt disconnected. It contrasted with the high level of access the reader gets to Lennie’s thoughts through the whole narrative and just seemed odd that her thoughts just disappear whenever she writes a poem. It just felt strange to read and inconsistent.
The book kept me reading and I found Lennie’s narration charming and at times humorous, as well as her quirky family putting a smile on my face. Grief, I think, as a major part of the book was portrayed well. I could feel Lennie’s emotions and the metaphors Nelson used meant I could really put myself in Lennie’s position and understand her grief. Everyone copes with grief in different ways, and I think this was shown well through the members of Lennie’s family.
I was dismayed to find that the cliché love triangle had snuck into another young adult novel. It wasn’t completely despicable though, unlike others I have read. There was a reason for the pull both boys had on Lennie, and the ‘love interests’ were both fully formed and unique characters rather than cardboard cut-out stereotypes. Also Lennie was only really in love with one of them, so the book wasn’t full of irritating ‘ohhh who should I choose?’ dilemmas that drive me up the wall.
As a young adult contemporary romance it is by far one of the better ones I have read, with likeable characters and some humorous moments amidst the heart-wrenching portrayal of grief. It’s just a shame that the poems aspect of the book wasn’t effectively tied to the narrative.
The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Publishing Info: April 2012 by Hodder Children’s Books (kindle edition, movie tie-in) (first published 2010)
Star Rating: 2.5/5
Back Cover Summary:
Beauty really does lie in the eye of the beholder…
Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is smart, cynical, loyal – and well aware that she’s not the hot one in her group of friends. But when high-school jock and all round moron Wesley Rush tells her she’s a DUFF – a Designated, Ugly Fat Friend – Bianca does not the see funny side. She may not be a beauty but she’d never stoop so low as to go anywhere near the likes of Wesley … Or would she? Bianca is about to find out that attraction defies looks and that sometimes your sworn enemies can become your best friends … With a wry and tell-it-like-it-is voice, The Duff is a witty and poignant story of a teenager struggling with the rules of high school attraction, along with the breaking down of her relationships with family and friends. It is a novel about what it means to be sexy, in a world where we feel we have to be perfect!
I’m not sure why I decided to read this book since I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t like it. That doesn’t usually dictate a book choice. I’ve had this on my Kindle for a while, I think I got it in a deal. But really, it’s been a couple of years since I would have enjoyed this kind of book so I’m not sure what I was thinking.
It could have been worse, I’ll say that. But it could have been way better too. One of the upsides was that the main character’s voice and personality came through the narration right from the first page. I can see why people would like Bianca’s character and associate with her. She’s a pretty normal girl and isn’t one of those main characters who seems to be perfect, or who spend the whole time moaning about how they aren’t perfect/beautiful. Bianca only really starts thinking about her appearance when Wesley calls her the DUFF. She has flaws and did stuff which seemed really stupid to me and would have been annoying, but Keplinger put her thoughts across really well so I kind of understood Bianca’s reasoning, even though I thought she was being an idiot.
In terms of the other characters, Wesley was okay but didn’t really break the mould much. The jock-who-sleeps-with-everyone-but-then-meets-the-main-character-who-changes-him trope has been done before. Jessica and Casey, Bianca’s friends, were quite flat and 2D at the beginning and I couldn’t even distinguish between them, but as the book went on I gradually could see their individual personalities. They’re pretty good friends.
So many teen romance stories just bang on about the hot guy and the romance stuff. But The DUFF actually deals with some more serious topics too. It looks at Bianca’s home life, at issues of divorce and alcoholism. I was pleasantly surprised to see these serious issues in there, as I’d been expecting it to be over the top teen romance. It made the book more realistic.
However, as the book went on there were just too many stereotypes. Way too many. At the start when there were some I could see why, because the whole point of the book is about stereotypes and perceptions, but as the book went on they just kept piling up.
I’m also a little annoyed about the representations of mental illness in the book. I thought the alcoholism was done well. However right in chapter 2 is the mention of Bianca being ‘OCD’ when she is systematically folding her clothes, something she does every night to calm herself. I’m still not sure having finished the book whether Keplinger was genuinely trying to present a character with OCD, or whether she obliviously used the term inappropriately. It was only mentioned a couple of times and wasn’t really explored properly. It’s like it was just thrown in.
But the thing that annoyed me the most was this line, and I’m going to quote it, because I nearly threw my Kindle across the room with anger: “Maybe someone needed to slap me or put me through shock treatments like they give crazy people in the movies. That might have brought me to my senses.” What? I’m sorry, but you go and include alcoholism and OCD in your book, great, including mentally ill characters and all that, but then you can’t go and put in a line like this. Yes, a lot of people aren’t aware what mental illness is really like, and that’s why we need to raise awareness and reduce stigma (this is really important to me), but you can’t have a character say something like that. Representations of mental illness in films and other media often falsely represents mental illness and contributes to a culture of stigma. This is just going to reinforce the stereotype and stigma. The flippancy of this line as well made me really mad. I could rant about this for ages because really it just disgusted me that this reinforcement of stigma was allowed to be published.
That’s a pretty negative note to end this review on. I know it’s only one line, but words matter and even a few can make a difference.
I didn’t hate this book as much as I thought I would. It seemed like Kepligner was trying to do something different and meaningful, but fell into the inescapable pit of teen romance tropes.
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
Genre: General Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Publishing Info: May 2013 by HarperCollins (kindle edition)
Star Rating: 5/5
Back Cover Summary:
‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’
There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.
There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.
There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days.
The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.
The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.
The Shock of the Fall wasn’t what I expected. It was more. It was a rollercoaster of emotions and sometimes I felt like I was drowning in the words but I couldn’t stop reading. The words, so simple, but drew me in so much and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget this book.
I read the kindle edition, and I think it would be better to read it in paperback. It was fine reading it on kindle, but I think the experience of it would be better in physical copy. There are images and different fonts used, which I think would be easier to see in paperback.
There isn’t exactly a plot, so to say. It’s mostly the narrator, Matthew, talking about his past and life. He is mentally ill, diagnosed with schizophrenia in the book. It was a real delve into the character’s mind, of how his thought processes work and how he conveys things in his writing (the narrator is writing their story). I really felt like I was seeing things through his eyes. I was in his mind, feeling his thoughts and feelings.
I didn’t realise when I bought it, that it would be so much about grief, and I think if I had known I may not have read it. But I’m glad I did read it. I cried through a lot of it. It’s a far cry from my own life, but the loss of the sibling and the emotions and feelings were close to home for me. It made me incredibly emotional reading it. I guess that’s a good thing, because it must have been a realistic portrayal of grief, for the emotions of it to have made me stop reading for the tears in my eyes and streaming down my face blurring the words. I’m glad I finished it to the end, even though I found a lot of it upsetting.
I would full heartedly recommend this book. Though, I would warn that as it deals with grief and mental health it isn’t an easy read. But totally worth it.
Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publishing Info: May 2008 by Margaret K. McElderry Books (first published 2007)
Star Rating: 4/5
Back Cover Summary:
Sometimes you don’t wake up. But if you happen to, you know things will never be the same.
Three lives, three different paths to the same destination: Aspen Springs, a psychiatric hospital for those who have attempted the ultimate act — suicide.
Vanessa is beautiful and smart, but her secrets keep her answering the call of the blade.
Tony, after suffering a painful childhood, can only find peace through pills.
And Conner, outwardly, has the perfect life. But dig a little deeper and find a boy who is in constant battle with his parents, his life, himself.
In one instant each of these young people decided enough was enough. They grabbed the blade, the bottle, the gun — and tried to end it all. Now they have a second chance, and just maybe, with each other’s help, they can find their way to a better life — but only if they’re strong and can fight the demons that brought them here in the first place.
Although I have read plenty of poetry and plenty of novels, I had yet to read a novel in verse until Impulse by Ellen Hopkins. The book looks dauntingly thick, but is actually an incredibly quick read since there aren’t all that many words on each page. It explores how three teenagers came to be at Aspen Springs psychiatric hospital and doesn’t shy away from dealing with complex issues.
The book uses three different narrators – Vanessa, Tony and Conner – with headings to show which is which. It switches between the perspectives about every three poems. Surprisingly, I was mostly able to keep track, but there were times where I forgot which point of view it was, got confused, and had to flick back and check.
I enjoyed my first novel in verse, and liked that Hopkins didn’t go overly flowery and poetic with the language, as that would have come across as quite unrealistic for the voices of most teenagers. The characters were developed slowly, their personalities pieced together as different bits of their past were revealed. I liked that the three protagonists, although very different, had things that connected them. I thought Vanessa’s point of view was written very well, and found the way Hopkins described the experience of bipolar to be effective for imagining what it would be like.
While reading, I questioned the realism (and sense) of taking a group of patients on some kind of wilderness training thing as the last stage before they would be allowed to be discharged. However, after some internet searching, I discovered that wilderness therapy is an actual thing. Maybe it was just hard to keep track of the passage of time, but it seemed like the characters were able to get to that stage quite quickly, which seemed quite surprising (they would start at Level One and progress up to get different privileges until the wilderness training).
In future, I wouldn’t turn away from a novel in verse, and would consider reading more of Ellen Hopkins’s work, as this seems to be her narrative style of choice for her novels. The book was both quite dark and deep, exploring the troubled pasts of the characters and their thought processes.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publishing Info: September 2009 by Penguin UK (first published 2007)
Star Rating: 5/5
Back Cover Summary:
You can’t stop the future.
You can’t rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret is to press play.
Clay Jensen returns home to find a strange package with his name on it. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and first love – who committed suicide two weeks earlier.
Hannah’s voice explains there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
All through the night, Clay keeps listening – and what he discovers changes his life…
Where to begin. I don’t give five star reviews much. I have to love a book so much it hurts. A five star review, to me, isn’t about a book being perfect. A book can’t be perfect, it’s impossible. A five star book is one that will stay with me forever.
I’ve wanted to read this book for years, and finally found myself opening the cover a few days ago. I don’t usually write a review right after finishing a book. I give it a couple of days to let it sink in. But today I’m writing this review having finished Thirteen Reasons Why half an hour ago.
The book uses the dual narratives of Hannah and Clay as he listens to the tapes Hannah left behind. It was hard to get around my head that Hannah was dead before the book even started. Isn’t there any hope? Can’t Clay save the day? No. This isn’t a book about saving someone, it’s about exploring what happened to them to make them give up.
Hannah’s voice really popped out of the page. It was haunting, imagining her voice replaying through those tapes. Asher managed to capture her voice excellently since we only get to know her through her voice on the tapes (well, there’s some of Clay’s memories of her, but we don’t see those through her eyes so it isn’t the same). I thought the mix of the two narratives worked well for the format, with Clay’s actions and his reflections on what he was hearing mixed into the tapes. It means you get to see his thoughts and responses to what he’s hearing in real time, as he’s hearing it. It wouldn’t have worked so well any other way. However, I would have liked to know Clay’s character more. By the end of the book you know nothing about Clay, except the parts of his life that relate to Hannah. Which, in a way, makes sense because to me Hannah was the protagonist of the story, not Clay, even though she was already dead before the book started. Clay was just a vessel to carry her story. But Asher could have breathed more life into his character. I got a bit of a sense of what he’s like, but not much. But maybe that’s not important for this story. Would it add to the value of the story if we were told unnecessary details or back story about Clay? No, actually, it probably would have distracted from the point of the story. So maybe it doesn’t matter.
I’ve read other reviews about how the reasons aren’t really reasons why someone would commit suicide, how Hannah was whiny and needs some perspective etc. but actually that’s the point. And highlights the problems with attitudes to mental health in our society. You can never know exactly what someone is thinking and feeling. We only hear what Hannah wants us to know on the tapes. We know nothing else about her life. A lot of little things (and bigger things) can build up to make you feel really awful, so there might have been more to it than what was on the tapes. We don’t know. We have no way of knowing. Those are the things she picked out to talk about, but that’s not necessarily the whole story. There isn’t always an explanation or reason for the way you feel. Sometimes you don’t even understand what you feel, never mind why you feel that way. Maybe this is Hannah trying to understand herself as well, to understand why she’s gradually felt worse.
Another thing discussed in other reviews I read was not getting enough emotion from Hannah, but I can see how someone who has got to that point may actually be quite detached from their own story. Hannah has already given up when she is making the tapes, she’s already made the decision to kill herself and it’s like she’s relaying her life from the other side of a glass screen. Nobody reached out to her, and so maybe the tapes are a last attempt to save herself, to go over what has happened to her, to get it out her system. But it doesn’t work, it just reminds her of all the ‘reasons’ to kill herself. There are so many interpretations to this story, because there are so many unknowns. All we have to go on is the tapes, and what Clay remembers about some of the events.
I think this book has an important message (or many messages, actually) – about how our actions influence others, and how even though it may seem insignificant in the context of the rest of that person’s life it actually has a bigger impact than you’d think. About how all it takes is someone to notice, to listen, to reach out, to tether someone to this world. Every action has a consequence.
Spin the Love by Lisa Terry
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller
Publishing Info: Self-published September 30th 2015
Star Rating: 4/5
Back Cover Summary:
It was supposed to be a game to heat up their summer—not ruin their lives.
Sixteen-year-old Whispy Callahan lands in trouble thicker than Florida’s humidity when she plays a twisted game of Dare. Everything would have been fine if she hadn’t fallen for one of the player’s “targets” along with dredging up buried murderous tendencies. Forget the game—now Whispy needs to find her boyfriend’s murderer, but that might prove difficult since everyone thinks she’s insane. They could be right.
In Spin the Love a game of dare takes main character Whispy on a bit of a roller coaster ride. A game of dare is quite an obvious tool for creating plot and tension, but what made it work really well in this book was the dynamics between the three characters involved in the game. The complications of their relations to each other made it much more interesting to see what would happen and how the plot would progress.
Whispy’s characterisation was great. Her voice and personality came through the first person narrative. Her mental health problems were dealt with with reasonable sensitivity to the subject, although the use of this aspect of her character for mystery in the plot is a bit of a trope. The other characters were also well described and fleshed out, with personal history that impacts on their present characters.
It doesn’t spoil anything to say that Whispy’s boyfriend is killed in the book, as that’s in the blurb, which is good because that’s something that didn’t quite add up to me and would like to discuss in this review. Her boyfriend is quite obviously murdered, and there is a funeral, but there doesn’t appear to be any investigation. I found this very odd and it doesn’t make sense. If someone is murdered there is an investigation, and people who know the victim are questioned. So why wasn’t Whispy questioned by police? It doesn’t make sense and I felt that was quite a hole in the plot.
The ending was phenomenal. There was a big twist that I didn’t see coming at all. I tried to piece it together as I read but I didn’t expect what happened. It kept me engaged and had a satisfying ending.
The book was well written and much more accomplished that the last book I read by the author, which while good wasn’t quite polished. Despite a couple of problems I had with the book, I really enjoyed reading it and it kept me hooked until the end.
The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi
Genre: General Fiction, Contemporary
Publishing Info: January 2009 by Faber and Faber (first published 1990)
Star Rating: 3/5
Back Cover Summary:
The hero of Hanif Kureishi’s first novel is Karim, a dreamy teenager, desperate to escape suburban South London and experience the forbidden fruits which the 1970s seem to offer. When the unlikely opportunity of a life in the theatre announces itself, Karim starts to win the sort of attention he has been craving – albeit with some rude and raucous results.
The Buddha of Suburbia is one of those books I neither love nor hate, hence the middling three star rating. It was an easy read that explores themes of identity, gender, belonging and racism. It didn’t take me long to finish it as it is a short book. It isn’t slow and doesn’t drag too much which probably makes it more palatable.
The characters are painted quite vividly, which is one of the best aspects of the novel. I found I had a clear picture of the appearances and personalities of Karim’s family and friends as we pick them up along the course of the novel. This is a coming-of-age story in which Karim takes a path to find what he wants to do with his life. He spends a lot of time floating around between the houses of his family, sleeping here and there, but not seeming grounded. Is he grounded by the end of the novel? I’m not sure. It seems that at the end he is on the way to this place, but maybe hasn’t quite reached it.
The book is supposedly a comedy. The cover is littered with quotes by authors and newspapers saying how funny it is. But obviously I just didn’t get it. There were some slightly amusing moments, hardly able to even lift a humoured smile to my face, and I certainly wasn’t laughing. Maybe I just didn’t get this kind of humour. It was at times rather odd. There are some strange people and some strange goings-on in this book. Maybe I didn’t get the 70’s references?
Overall, the word to sum it up is average. I didn’t think it was anything particularly amazing but it wasn’t exactly bad either.