What I’ve Read / Freshers, Love & Gelato, & And Then We Ran

Freshers by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison

Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison are two of my favourite YA authors and are among the funniest, loveliest people in UKYA. With Freshers, Lucy and Tom show that you can write YA about 18-year-olds and you can set in university, and it is not this mythical New Adult category. University stories are rare in UKYA – and I’d love to see more!

Freshers, narrated by Luke and Phoebe, captures the first year of university excellently. Both Luke and Phoebe’s experiences as first years are quite different to mine – let’s just say that university wasn’t exactly the best three years of my life – but it was great to read about (particularly the Quidditch society!), and I know it’ll be similar to lots of teenagers’ experiences. I loved the friendship dynamics and wish I’d made those sorts of intense, close friendships during my first few months away from home. I was a little sceptical about Luke (as I told Tom at one of his events), but grew to love him – and Phoebe was just brilliant. They’re two of the most realistic teenage characters I’ve come across (as we’ve all come to expect from Lucy and Tom!).

Freshers was as hilarious as you might expect from our duo, yet it covers serious topics that are vital to talk about at university, from sexual harassment on campus and one-night stands to ‘laddish’ behaviour and homesickness. I wish I had Freshers to read at university. It’s one of my favourite books of the year so far!

“He’s tall and fit and he knows about grammar and Quidditch and murder. He’s literally the perfect man.”

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Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

I love reading YA novels set in Italy (one of the countries I must go back to soon). I recently read One Italian Summer and it was so fun picking up another one, this time set in beautiful Florence.

Lina is suffering from terrible grief, forced to move from America to Italy because her mother passed away. She’s off to live with a father she’s never met in a country she’s never been to. Once she gets there, Lina’s not convinced she can stay in Florence (as pretty as it is). Her best friend is at home, she barely knows her father, and what even is prosciutto, gelato and a Margherita pizza (Americans, really?!). Once she starts to explore, she meets Italian-American Ren and is introduced to a whole host of Italian friends who love her straight away, and maybe, just maybe, she can start to call this place home.

Love & Gelato is Lina’s story, but it’s also her mother’s. I really enjoyed reading her mother’s diary, from when she was studying in Florence in her 20s, until she left after becoming pregnant with Lina. I did guess the plot twist quite early on, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying each characters’ journey, from the sweet romance between Lina and Ren – although I mostly loved how they became best friends – to Lina’s father, Howard, who is also super lovely. Howard made Lina feel welcome, from thoughtfully redecorating her bedroom to taking her out to his favourite pizza place.

A sweet story about love, family and secrets, Love & Gelato has made me want to jump on a plane to Tuscany…

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And Then We Ran by Katy Cannon

And Then We Ran wasn’t quite the summer road trip story I expected. It’s set in rainy, wintry Pembrokeshire, in the south west of Wales.

Megan and Elliot feel suffocated by their small beach town. Megan’s sister died not so long ago and Elliot’s given up on his future. Together, they embark on an adventure to take control of their lives – a road trip to Scotland’s Gretna Green to get married (of course), with plans to move to London and follow their dreams.

Megan and Elliot are flawed and flaky teenagers, and that made them fun to read about. Megan wasn’t exactly prepared for her big adventure – she’s spontaneous and decides to move to the capital to be a photographer, even though she doesn’t know what a career in photography involves. Meanwhile, Elliot is too busy being a Bad Boyfriend to work out exactly what he wants to do. But who, as a teenager, knew exactly what they’d be doing in their 20s?

I can understand how frustrating Megan’s parents were for her – constantly pressuring her to go to university, refusing to accept that their daughter might be happier taking another path. I’m lucky – my family never pushed me to do anything I didn’t want to do, but Megan has to constantly push back. Even so, I know what it’s like to feel compelled to run away and start a new life – I nearly did a gap year in Australia for this reason! – and so, then, And Then We Ran starts to make sense.

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What I’ve Read / One Italian Summer, The Upside of Unrequited & Truth or Dare


I accidentally read three YA contemporary novels all about siblings!

One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton

Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed a love of travelling. I’m happy to report that YA has, too. This year’s summer reads have involved adventures and road trips, and One Italian Summer sounded like the perfect holiday read. I’ve visited Rome and One Italian Summer brought back vivid memories of visiting gelato shops every day, doing the long (and very hot) walk up to the Colosseum, and relaxing around the Trevi fountain with a can of expensive Coke.

Milly, Elyse and Leonie travelled to Rome with their parents every summer. It has been a year since their dad passed away and a year since their last trip. This one won’t be the same, but they’re determined to let the tradition carry on.

One Italian Summer isn’t all gelato and sunny weather. Milly, Elyse and Leonie are dealing with a terrible tragedy that they’ll never fully recover from, and it affects each sister differently. I loved Keris’ way of writing this close sibling relationship. Siblings are completely alien to me and yet these sisters are essentially best friends so I could relate. (I think it must be amazing to have ready-made best friends, although I know it isn’t like this for everyone!). It was great to see such open, supportive conversations about grief, family, sex and sexuality. And hot on the agenda is Milly’s sort-of-relationship with gorgeous boy Luke.

One Italian Summer has everything essential for a splendid summer story: family, friends, boys and a stunning location.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of Unrequited is all about its incredible characters: twins! Molly and Cassie are adopted twins but, more than that, they’re best friends. So what happens when their lives start diverging?

Molly fears she’s losing Cassie – her partner in crime and the one person that gets her – and has no idea how to get her back. Molly has a crush on flirty Will, but her sister’s a lovesick mess and unavailable emotionally to deal with Molly’s new dilemma, probably because she’s too obsessed with Will’s stunning Korean-American pansexual friend, Mina. But Molly needs help! She’s sick of having so many crushes (26 to be exact) and no boyfriend. When Molly is confronted with co-worker Reid, she doesn’t have Carrie to help her make sense of it. Is she more than friends with Reid? But she’s in love with perfect Will, right? As a fellow introvert who has periods of anxiety, I completely got Molly’s frustration with being single and feeling powerless to do anything about it. Sometimes ranting about it to other people is all you can do, but what’s Molly to do when that’s taken away from her?

In The Upside of Unrequited, all of the characters shine, but I particularly loved Molly and Cassie’s mums – they’ve got the parenting/friendship balance just right. And then there’s their cute little brother Xavier! I enjoyed Becky Albertalli’s Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda too, so I’ll be eagerly reading her next book, Leah on the Offbeat, next year.

Truth or Dare by Non Pratt

Truth or Dare is one story told by two teenagers. Claire Casey volunteers to help Sef Malik create a YouTube channel in order to raise money for his older brother. Kam suffered a severe brain injury after falling into a river and the cost to provide support is astronomical. Sef feels emotionally powerless and fundraising is the only way he can manage the tragedy right now. Meanwhile, Claire’s dealing with her own drama after a nip-slip video goes viral. Hanging out with Sef provides distraction – and so Truth Girl and Dare Boy are born!

Truth and Dare features a whole host of diverse and wonderful characters. I adored Claire’s compassion for Kam, who she’s dedicated to reading to whilst he’s in care, and her willingness to help Sef even though he’s difficult to figure out. I also appreciated the sub plot featuring Claire’s BFFs Seren and Rich. I was super angry at the boys who caused Claire a lot of anxiety after she’s bullied and dubbed ‘Milk Tits’. As she’s a strong, funny, interesting and selfless character, her point of view was my favourite. Although I adored Claire, I probably wouldn’t be Sef’s best friend. I struggled to understand the relationship between him and his siblings, and he’s a not entirely likeable character… but I’ll leave you to read his POV!

Truth or Dare shows us there are always two sides to every story, and it’s not often that we take the time to discover both. It’s another realistic contemporary novel from Non Pratt, tackling bullying, disability, social media, and asexuality.

What I’ve Read / The Hate U Give, The Names They Gave Us & All the Bright Places

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

You won’t have missed how loved and praised Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give is. It is taking over the world, having made it to the top of the NYT bestseller list. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give is about 16-year-old Starr, who lives in two worlds: a world of privilege – not her’s, but surrounded by everyone else’s – at her posh, private school. And she lives in a world of injustice and poverty, at home in the poor neighbourhood she’s known her whole life. Suddenly the boundary is shattered when her unarmed friend Khalil is shot and killed by a police officer. Everyone knows. Everyone is talking about it. But will Starr be heard?

The Hate U Give tells the experience of a determined young woman and a frightened teenager, forced to be both in a society that values neither. Starr has a strong voice: witty, passionate and inspiring, and she knows how to play a role. It was fascinating to watch her alter how she speaks and acts depending on whether she’s with friends at home or at school. At the heart of The Hate U Give is a strong and poignant family dynamic. It’s the most important thing to Starr, even if not the most stable presence in her life, and it’s what gets her fighting for justice for Khalil. It was really refreshing to see parents feature so heavily in a YA story.

If you’ve not yet picked it up, The Hate U Give is a must-read for those who aren’t already aware of the discrimination that is prolific in our society, from racial bias in the media and justice system to police brutality against unarmed men – it’s not new, and it’s not limited to the USA, but it’s something that won’t go away by ignoring it.

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

I raved about When We Collided for months after it brought me out of a reading slump and became one of my favourite books. I wanted more of Emery Lord’s beautiful writing and so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on The Names They Gave Us. (I still haven’t picked up her first two books, but I very recently bought The Start of Me and You!).

Lucy Hansson has her life all figured out until her long-term boyfriend ‘pauses’ their relationship over the summer and her mum’s cancer comes back. To help her cope with the upheaval, her mum suggests that she work for a camp for troubled young people instead of her usual Bible camp, so Lucy heads to Camp Daybreak.

I thoroughly enjoyed the summer camp setting. It made me feel the same way boarding school stories do, probably because it’s something I haven’t experienced. I nearly applied to work for Camp America (and then shortly after remembered that children intimidate me, shh). I wish I had done it because it would’ve been an excellent life experience, as Lucy discovers. I loved watching Lucy make new friends and become more open-minded. I was hesitant about the religious aspect, being an atheist who went to a Catholic school, but there’s still a lot to enjoy about The Names They Gave Us. It has been nearly three months since I read this book but the scene of the campers being sorted into their Hogwarts Houses still sticks in my mind.

The Names They Gave Us hasn’t replaced When We Collided as my favourite Emery Lord, but I adored the entire cast of characters, from the camp counsellors to the campers and Lucy’s family.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

I missed out on All the Bright Places when it came out, but I was instantly intrigued after it was described as the next The Fault in Our Stars. It has been more than five years since Hazel Grace Lancaster met Augustus Waters, so I was ready for more!

All the Bright Places sees Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, two unhappy teenagers, become friends under unusual circumstances. Theodore is up on the ledge of the bell tower at school, contemplating jumping, when he sees Violet. After talking her down, there’s an unexpected bond between them.

In All the Bright Places, I particularly enjoyed seeing Theodore and Violet bond together. I expected to fall in love with both characters – like the world fell in love with Gus and Hazel – but Theodore and Violet are stuck playing a role with everyone except each other. It’s difficult to explain poor mental health to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, and so Theodore and Violet found solace in each other.

All the Bright Places doesn’t top The Fault in Our Stars for me, but it was wonderful watching them getting to know each other!