Mini Book Reviews / Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes?, The Summer of Us & Lying About Last Summer

Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes? by Holly Bourne

Holly is an author whose books I’ll read no matter what: her mental health + feminist chat is always on my insta read list, so when Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes? was handed to me at work, I was super excited.

Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes? takes place in Camp Reset, which promises a shot of “normality” for Olive, whose poor mental health is a struggle. Olive, with help from fellow campmate Louis, comes up with a plan to solve everyone’s problems, hence #KindnessIsContagious. As with Clean by Juno Dawson, I adored meeting the campmates and learning about their individual experiences. It’s important to remember that other people’s experience of mental health won’t necessarily be the same as yours, which is one of the reasons why Olive doesn’t want to know her diagnosis; it can define you, how you see yourself, and how people treat you.

I adore Holly’s writing style and Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes?, like her other novels, tackles an important issue that people need to read about in a way that makes you understand. Self-care is a phrase that’s banded around a lot lately, but Holly shows us that it’s essential, not just for individuals, but for everyone.

“You don’t have to stop looking after yourself just to help the world. In fact, sometimes it’s better for the world if you put yourself first. That’s not being selfish, in fact looking after yourself is the greatest act of kindness you can give the world.”

The Summer of Us by Cecilia Vinesse

The Summer of Us was the first book from my summer TBR. Aubrey has two weeks before she leaves for college. She and her best friend, Rae, have planned one last trip across Europe to explore famous museums, sip champagne in fancy restaurants, and eat as many croissants as possible.

But, as usual, trouble arrives in boy-form. Jonah (Aubrey’s perfect boyfriend) is also coming along with his best friend Gabe (who Aubrey accidentally kissed, awks). And not forgetting Rae’s crush, Clara. For the past couple of years, I’ve enjoyed city break adventures with my friends, so it was fun seeing these five teenagers visit Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Florence, and Barcelona.

It can be tricky to travel with friends, especially as I’m the anxious Aubrey-type. You’re together 24/7. It’s stressful and intense. And that’s even without the relationship drama. It was difficult to read about the tension between Audrey and Rae, and I silently pleaded with them to just talk to each other (communication is everything, people!). I enjoyed the love triangle that is Aubrey, Gabe and Jonah, plus Rae and Clara were completely adorable.

The Summer of Us is a fun novel about friendship, travel and relationships… and it was the perfect start to the summer.

Lying About Last Summer by Sue Wallman

To accompany the slightly lighter novels on my summer TBR, I thought it’d be fun to add a contemporary thriller into the mix! Skye’s older sister, Luisa, was killed in a tragic accident, and her parents think that a camp for troubled teenagers, Morely Hill, might help Skye process the grief. But once there, she begins to receive messages from someone pretending to be her dead sister.

So, Morely Hill isn’t quite as relaxing as Skye’s parents expected. She has to deal with her fellow campmates, some of whom make life extremely difficult (aka Joe), being expected to join in with activities that remind her of her sister, plus the frankly terrifying texts from someone who has access to her sister’s group message. I really felt for Skye. I haven’t experienced the death of a sibling, but it’s a lot for one teenager to hold onto, especially because she lacks someone to talk to and support her.

Lying About Last Summer deals with grief, loss, memories and guilt, and I liked that the storyline is much about Skye’s recovery as much as it is about the mystery.

My Ideal Best Bookish Friends | Chloe Seager

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I’m delighted to welcome one of my interwebz BFFs, Chloe Seager, to Pretty Books to chat about her ideal Best Bookish Friends as part of her blog tour. Chloe’s the author of Friendship Fails of Emma Nash, the sequel to Editing Emma.

I’m slightly cheating by naming not one, but five ideal BFFs from a book, but I’ve always been weirdly jealous of the Bennet sisters.

Maybe it’s because I’m (sort of) an only child, (I have a brother and a sister, although I’ve never lived with them), but their sisterly bonds fascinate me. Growing up, I’d picture telling Lizzie my secrets whilst Jane brushed my hair, dancing with Lydia and Kitty at a ball and giggling with them in a corner, or rolling my eyes at one of Mary’s strops.

Partly, what I love about their relationships is that they’re not perfect. Lizzie can be tempestuous and hot-headed, which clashes with Jane’s passive and peaceful nature. Lydia can be loud and domineering and overshadow Kitty. Mary can be judgemental and look down on all the others. They get on each other’s nerves, steal each other’s things and can be spiteful to one another.

BFFs

But despite all this, the relationships they have with each other are stronger than anything. Lizzie and Jane are each other’s stabilisers; they keep each other calm in a crowded, frantic household, and against the pressures of society. Lydia and Kitty have more fun with each other, in their sitting room, than they do anywhere else in the world. They’re each other’s confidantes, allies, entertainment and support systems. They laugh together, hurt together, think together, dream together, and above all look out for each other.

I love the concept of having a best friend who is also your sister. I know Pride and Prejudice is most commonly labeled as a romance, but it’s the sisterly friendships that make it mean so much to me.

Thanks, Chloe! Friendship Fails of Emma Nash is out now. (You can also read her previous guest post on social media and anxiety here).

FF tour

Mini Book Reviews / Leah on the Offbeat, Clean & Bookshop Girl

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Leah is Simon’s awesome bestie from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, ready to tell her story. She’s a girl-band drummer, with a dry sense of humour, unashamedly bisexual – and in love with one of her best girl friends.

Leah on the Offbeat‘s main focus is friendship – much more so than Simon vs. – and everything’s unravelling in Creekwood. I loved seeing the gang back together, especially our faves Simon and Bram. But I would’ve loved a bit more romance, too! I was swayed by all the raving on Twitter and Instagram, and assumed we’d get to see Leah live happily ever after, coupled up with a girlfriend, but that’s not what Leah on the Offbeat is about. Leah is openly bisexual to her mother but it’s kept a secret from her friends – and that’s okay. There’s a lot of pressure for people to be open and out, but not everyone’s comfortable with sexuality being a large part of their identity. Even so, I wish Leah was a bit more open-minded when talking about sexuality with Abby – she was a little judgemental at times!

Leah on the Offbeat takes us back to Creekwood and into the lives of teenagers who are just trying to figure themselves, and everyone else, out.

Clean by Juno Dawson

Lexi Volkov is beautiful, sex-positive, a socialite, the daughter of a rich Russian… and addicted to drugs. When Lexi overdoses and her brother Nikolai takes her to an exclusive rehab facility, The Clarity Centre, she’s in for a shock. It’s here that she becomes friends with fellow teens, from ex-child star Brady to Kendall, who’s transgender and has an eating disorder.

Clean doesn’t hold back, and that’s what I loved about it – drugs, sex and swearing, it’s part of every teenager’s life Clarity. Lexi’s not someone I’d be friends with (or even meet!) IRL, but I couldn’t help but adore her and hope that she’d push past her addiction. But rehabilitation isn’t easy and Lexi’s about to go through some very dark times. There are many types of addiction, and Clean makes each and every character relatable, regardless of what they’re struggling with, from relationships to drugs.

Clean is my favourite Juno Dawson novel so far. The TV rights have been snapped up, and I really hope it gets made – it’s UKYA Gossip Girl for the 2020s.

Bookshop Girl by Chloe Coles

Bookshop Girl was written for teen Stacey. When it’s announced that Bennett’s Bookshop will close down, Paige Turner is having none of it. It’s her place of work; where she goes with her best friend and colleague, Holly, to buy her next favourite book; and a pillar of the Greysworth community. Paige won’t go down without a fight, even if there are pretty artistic boys around to distract her.

Paige’s bookshop campaign alights the fire in all booklovers. I’m from London and so I’m lucky enough to have loads of fantastic chain and independent bookshops around me, but what if the one local bookshop in my town was going to close? It’s a very real issue, and one that Chloe Coles – bookworm and bookseller – tackles with giggles, book tokens and feminism.

On a side note, I work at National Book Tokens and this autumn you’ll be able to get your hands on this Bookshop Girl gift card, which was super fun to work on and I can’t wait to see it in bookshops around the UK!

 

Top 5 YA Novels About Memory | Tracy Darnton

truthI’d love to welcome Tracy Darnton to Pretty Books today as part of The Truth About Lies blog tour!

In The Truth About Lies Jess has an amazing autobiographical memory. She remembers everything. Memory conditions are used to great effect in some of my favourite thrillers in film and fiction. We join the characters in slowly discovering what has happened in the mysterious past, working out who they can trust. We can wonder how we could function if we remembered nothing – or remembered everything – and if we would remove troublesome memories if we could. Black Mirror and Netflix find plenty to develop on the memory theme but these are my top picks for YA books dealing with memory:

memory

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Transport yourself to a languid summer on an East Coast USA island with a wealthy family. Cadence has selective amnesia after a head injury but returns to the island to be reunited with the other liars of the title to piece together what happened to her. This is one I had to re-read for all the clever little clues I’d missed.

How Not To Disappear by Clare Furniss

I loved the main character Hattie. Dealing with her own considerable problems she winds up on a road-trip with her great-aunt Gloria who’s in the early stages of dementia. I wanted to include a book with dementia, and there’s so much humour, poignancy and fantastic family dynamics in this one as the secrets of Gloria’s past are revealed.

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Another amnesia plot but this time the main character, Flora, has anterograde amnesia meaning she only remembers for a few hours. She writes herself notes to try to keep a hold on her life and knowledge. But is all as it seems with her condition? And as she heads off in pursuit of the one memory that sticks, I was totally immersed in the wilds of Svalbard.

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

Back to the US again for this one. Sam has a particularly nasty and terminal disease which includes progressive memory loss and dementia-like symptoms. She records her life in her ‘memory book’ to inform her future, compromised self. This interweaves a touching romance too and I admired how the writing reflected her deteriorating condition. However much I told myself I wasn’t going to cry, I did.

Unboxed by Non Pratt

OK so this one doesn’t have so much on memory themes but this super-readable short novel revolves around the memory box put together by a group when they were thirteen with their friend who died. It beautifully tackles identity, grief and friendship.

Tracy Darnton’s The Truth About Lies will be published by Stripes on July 12th. Follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton.

The Truth About Lies blog tour

Mini Book Reviews / Skylarks, The Astonishing Colour of After & From Twinkle, With Love

Skylarks by Karen Gregory

Joni is constantly worried about money. Her dad is unable to work due to disability, her family’s about to be evicted, and she might have to give up her job volunteering at the school library. Joni’s life goes in an unexpected direction when she meets Annabel, a fellow volunteer. Skylarks is about these two girls – one working class and poor, and one posh and rich – and their new relationship.

Skylarks sees Joni battling between doing what she feels right and what her family think she should do. Her entire family are hugely present throughout the story and in Joni’s life (much to her distress!), which I love because it’s not something we often see in YA, which is often full of deceased and absent parents.

Annabel and Joni are both adorable, and the relationship storyline also doesn’t go in the direction you might expect. I never felt like I was reading about characters, but real people. There was a lot of push and pull between the characters. Both girls have their faults, and it was lovely watching them work each other out as well as simply get to know each other. Skylarks also shouts about all the great things that teenagers experience and fight for: same-sex relationships, tolerance and open-mindedness, volunteering and political activism.

Skylarks isn’t a coming out story, but a beautiful tale of coming together.

The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X.R. Pan

“My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.”

After her mother commits suicide, Leigh travels to Taiwan with her father. Before they leave, she meets a curious bird – and is convinced it is her mother.

Leigh is such a fantastic character. She’s passionate about art and although she draws in black and white, colour is hugely important to her. Like a non-medical synesthesia, Leigh thinks and feels in colour. Leigh’s passion for art is tied to her friendship/romance with Axel. They kissed before Leigh left and now she can’t face talking to or seeing him again. I loved discovering more about their relationship.

The Astonishing Colour of After is mostly set in Taiwan. Leigh discovers more about her family, their culture, and learns Taiwanese. This is a story where magical realism is key. The flashbacks were fascinating and beautiful, and it’s as much the story of Leigh’s grandmother and parents as it is of Leigh. There’s also an exploration of mental illness that I haven’t yet seen in YA. Leigh’s mother has depression, and it just is. That can be the hardest thing of all for people to understand – Leigh’s mother couldn’t see a way out.

I discovered a lot to love about The Astonishing Colour of After. It’s a novel that I’ve been telling everyone to pick up, including people who don’t usually read YA!

From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon

I loved When Dimple Met Rishi, so I couldn’t wait to read From Twinkle, With Love.

Like one of my favourite YA novels, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Twinkle starts chatting with a boy via email who says he’s in love with her, and she cannot help but try to figure out who it is. And then there’s the romance between Twinkle and Sahil, the nerdy twin brother of her current crush. Will she pick Sahil, his brother, or the mystery boy?!

I enjoyed Twinkle’s passion for film, especially for her favourite female film-makers, and the story is told through letters that she writes to them. I would’ve preferred a narration like Dimple, but I did enjoy that this was a huge part of the story, and would’ve loved to see even more film fangirling – I loved seeing Sahil and Twinkle shop for film costumes!

In From Twinkle, With Love, we meet a lot of teenagers from Twinkle’s school. Maddie’s a half awesome best friend, half Mean Girl. As for Sahil, on one hand he’s delightful and the best boyfriend and on the other, he’s in love with the idea of Twinkle – the girl he’s made up in his head – more than Twinkle herself. There’s a lot of drama in Twinkle’s world!

I devoured From Twinkle, With Love in two sittings and I may have shed a tear at the end… !