Mini Book Reviews / Nevermoor, Out of the Blue & I Was Born for This

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I love, love, loved Nevermoor. I know every children’s book under the sun has been compared to Harry Potter, but in this case it’s accurate and very well-deserved.

Morrigan Crow has the unluckiest birthday of all – Eventide. She’s cursed and therefore blamed for everything, from hailstorms to heart attacks – and it means that on the next Eventide, her 11th birthday, she’ll die. But just before, a mysterious man called Jupiter North appears and whisks her away to the Deucalion Hotel in a magical city called Nevermoor, and it’s there that Morrigan learns all about the famous Wundrous Society (I so desperately want to be member, please).

I couldn’t stop thinking about Nevermoor. I’d go off to bed, wondering what thrilling twists awaited my return, falling asleep dreaming of the dangerous trials, and desperately rooting for Morrigan to earn her place in the society. Nevermoor is fantastically crafted. It captures your imagination and doesn’t let go until you’ve reached the last page. And accompanying the magical story is a sensational cast of characters, from Jupiter and his colleague Fen (a giant sarcastic cat, if you must know) to fellow children Hawthorne and Jack.

Nevermoor is one of the most fun, inventive and brilliantly written children’s books I’ve read, and I cannot wait to go on another adventure with our heroine in Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow. 

Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron

A YA novel set in Edinburgh? Yes please! Edinburgh is one of my absolute favourite places. I’ve visited a few of times and recently took myself there on a solo holiday. I was grateful to Out of the Blue for taking me back.

Jaya and Rani set off to the city because their father’s chasing angels. 10 days after their mum died, angels fell from the sky, smashing down to Earth so fast that not one has survived. Until now. Jaya discovers one on Arthur’s Seat and brings her back to their rented flat, where she’s named Teacake. As someone who’s very particular about paranormal, I was wary! And yet the fallen angels plot line felt comfortable within the contemporary setting and storyline. Through Teacake, Jaya begins to explore her grief and make new connections, particularly with siblings Allie and Callum.

I adored the trio’s antics across the city as they learned more about each other – Allie is disabled and bisexual – and enjoyed seeing the relationship between Allie and Jaya become something more. Out of the Blue has a lot happening in such a short book, but at its core, it’s all about finding your place in this world.

I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman

Alice Oseman’s I Was Born for This was one of my most anticipated books of the year – I adored Radio Silence and couldn’t wait to see what Alice came up with next.

Angel Rahimi is off to London (and a fancy part at that) to stay with her best friend Juliet from the interwebz. They have tickets to a meet and greet/gig for their favourite boy band of all time, The Ark aka Lister, Jimmy and Rowan. For Angel, there’s nothing more to life than The Ark. And her encyclopaedic knowledge of them rivals any fan’s. The book’s second point of view is from Jimmy. He’s constantly in the spotlight due to being a member of one of the world’s most famous bands, previously outed as being trans to the incredible support of his fans, and secretly suffers from severe anxiety. Both characters think they know what the other is like, until their lives unexpectedly collide…

I Was Born for This brilliantly weaves in someone vs. the idea of someone. Angel thinks she knows everything about the boys, but she can only know how they’re portrayed. And, as soon as she meets her bestie Juliet, their friendship dynamic isn’t quite how Angel imagined. As a huge music fan as a teenager – I blogged about music, went to monthly gigs, listened to music all morning/afternoon/evening, and even did my university dissertation on music and fandom – I resonated with I Was Born for This. I remember reading that blogpost by Josh from Paramore and questioning everything I thought about the band – it made me feel funny inside, and affected how I interpreted their album Brand New Eyes.

I probably don’t even need to tell you that the characters that Alice creates are honest, accurate and realistic. Alice does an absolutely brilliant job of writing about the teenage experience and making it read from someone who actually gets it because they’ve gone through it – from fandom to mental health. I Was Born for This is for anyone who’s ever been a fan.

Mini Book Reviews / Orphan Monster Spy, The Exact Opposite of Okay & Becoming Betty

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

I love the tagline ‘A teenage spy. A Nazi boarding school. The performance of a lifetime.’ and was gripped by Orphan Monster Spy from the start.

Orphan Monster Spy begins with 15-year-old Sarah, on the run from the government following her mother’s death. She meets a mysterious spy and persuades him to let her work alongside him, certain that her mother’s acting tuition will pay off – and he does. Her high-stakes mission is to infiltrate the Rothenstadt Academy as ‘Ursula Haller’, befriend the daughter of a scientist, and steal the blueprints for a bomb that could take out an entire city in one fell swoop. Because Sarah is Jewish – and also blonde and blue-eyed – she experiences terror from both sides, from fascist soldiers to cut-throat students.

Sarah is a brave, intelligent and quick-witted teenager, whose story gave me the same thrill that Wolf by Wolf did. As a reader, it’s exciting to be one of the chosen few to know the protagonist’s real identity. On her journey, she meets the Captain, close friend Mauser, who has more strength than she knows, and popular Elsa, whose life isn’t all that it appears, amongst many terrifying characters. Orphan Monster Spy is one of my favourite books of the year so far – super exciting, dark and intense story. Pick it up even if you’re usually not a fan of historical fiction!

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

18-year-old Izzy parties, drinks, dances and… sleeps with a boy. But that’s her business. Until a slut-shaming website is set up and she becomes the centre of a national scandal because the boy in question is a politician’s son. Thankfully, Izzy doesn’t have to deal with it alone. I adored Izzy’s friendship with her best friend Ajita and her wonderful and close relationship with her grandmother. It was also refreshing to see Izzy build a rapport with her supportive teachers, who encourage her to pursue her dream of being a comic writer. I loved Lauren Steven’s exploration of life as a teenager today – and it’s not always pretty.

Izzy gets up to mischief more than once and that was great to see. She may not make the ‘best’ choices, but this doesn’t mean she deserves to be judged and abused as a result. Izzy could’ve been a stereotypical ‘innocent’ and ‘perfect’ character to make it easier for us to feel sorry for her, but she’s not. No one is.

The Exact Opposite of Okay is a feminist, hilarious and topical UKYA novel set in the US, covering everything from online bullying to revenge porn.

Becoming Betty by Eleanor Wood

16-year-old Elizabeth aka Lizzie is nervous on her first day of sixth form college, wondering how she’s going to make friends, watching the cooler girls fit in easily like they’ve been there the whole time. But luckily she meets super cool Viv and they become instant best friends – even though she already has two perfectly excellent friends at her old school. Viv decides that Lizzie is to join her band and voilà, Betty is born. But is that who she really is?

Becoming Betty is set against the colourful and quirky backdrop of The Lanes in Brighton. I love reading books set here as I went to the University of Sussex and lived just outside of Brighton for three years. It’s easy to be jealous of Viv – who lives in her own flat with her boyfriend – but being friends with Viv isn’t all that great for Lizzie. I constantly wanted to shake her and shout “stop listening to Viv!”, but Betty has to make that decision on her own.

Becoming Betty is a fun snapshot into the drama-filled lives of two music-loving sixth formers. I need more feel good UKYA in my life!

Mini Book Reviews / Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Suicide Club, The Sun and Her Flowers & Milk and Honey

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“I find lateness exceptionally rude; it’s so disrespectful, implying unambiguously that you consider yourself and your own time to be so much more valuable than the other person’s.”

How could I not read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine?! It seemed like readers with all different tastes adored this novel and so, without knowing much about it, I jumped in.

Although Eleanor is not what other people consider “normal”, she’s a 30-year-old woman who’s competent at her day job, a Tesco fangirl (home to her weekly frozen pizza and vodka), and, minus the weekly frustrating phone calls with her incarcerated mother, she’s doing perfectly all right. That is, until she becomes friends with Raymond, the new guy from work. He’s a man-child and quite disgusting but they seem to be becoming… mates? And so Eleanor is forced to break her routine. Even if she refuses to admit it, she is lonely. Throughout the novel, we watch Eleanor open herself up to other people and discover that she doesn’t have to do everything alone.

“LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is all about our quirky protagonist. There is an intriguing backstory to Eleanor, but it’s the present that kept me reading. Her life is often mundane and yet Eleanor herself is anything but. I’ll watch the adaptation featuring Reese Witherspoon, even if I can’t see it doing justice to this fantastic character who has the sort of “deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit” that I’ve never experienced before. Her story is emotional and brilliant and warm. Now that I’ve finished reading, I’ll miss E.

“When you’re struggling hard to manage your own emotions, it becomes unbearable to have to witness other people’s, to have to try and manage theirs too.”

Suicide Club by Rachel Heng

It’s so much fun delving into science fiction. I used to read sci-fi often, mainly the YA dystopia and post-apocalytic type. I love reading about societies that are similar to our own, but feature advanced technology and despotic governments – although I guess this is becoming more fact, less fiction!

“In near-future New York, life expectancy averages three hundred years. Immortality is almost within our grasp. It’s hell.”

As soon as I read the above tagline, I knew Suicide Club was for me. It’s like an episode of Black Mirror but much less likely to make you feel funny afterwards. It all starts to go wrong for Lea Kirino when she spots her estranged father on the way to work. She’s a “Lifer”, so she’ll potentially live forever due to her genetic makeup, successful career and covetable relationship – if she follows the guidelines, including no fresh food, no running, no heavy music. Upon pursuing her father, Lea’s eventually drawn to the Suicide Club, a group that rejects society’s ambition and strict regulation surrounding immortality. Members are set on a life in which they get to choose whether they live or die, when, and how.

Suicide Club isn’t a fast-paced, action-adventure novel. It’s a slow-burning exploration of Lea’s world and the society she grew up in. As Lea begins to question everything she thought she knew, we’re introduced a variety of fascinating characters, each with their own motivations. What would it look like to live in a world where people lived for more than 300 years? What if only some people did, and others lived for less than 100? Rachel Heng’s near-future NYC isn’t so different to our present, where luck, money and knowing the right people can get you far. Nonetheless, I’m happy Suicide Club is mostly fictional, for now.

The Sun and Her Flowers and Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

it takes grace
to remain kind
in cruel situations – rupi kaur

I have a funny relationship with poetry. Whenever I’m asked whether I enjoy poetry, I say “no”. It makes me think of studying school poetry anthologies, when I would’ve much rather have read a novel. And yet I’ve enjoyed Sarah Crossan’s novels in verse. I’d seen so many of my friends talk about Rupi Kaur’s work that I finally bought a copy of The Sun and Her Flowers whilst visiting Pages of Hackney bookshop with my friend Louise last year. I read it over a couple of evenings and instantly saw why people adored it so much. Even if Rupi’s experiences aren’t the same as mine, I could take the poetry as my own, especially thinking about loneliness, sadness and relationship breakdowns. A friend then gifted me a copy of Milk and Honey which I found less relatable than The Sun and Her Flowers but appreciated Rupi’s talent to explore moments in life that many women around the experience, from negative body image to abusive relationships. I’m definitely up for giving more poetry a shot!

“it isn’t what we left behind
that breaks me
it’s what we could’ve built
had we stayed” – rupi kaur

Mini Book Reviews / Eliza and Her Monsters, Moxie & Stargazing for Beginners

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters isn’t published over here and yet I’ve seen so many of my bookish friends rave about it on Twitter. I loved so many things: the slow romance (in a this-is-basically-a-friendship kind of way), the fandom chat, the discussion of online friendships vs. making new “real life” friends, the excellent family dynamic (Eliza’s parents actually play a huge role!), and the realistic portrayal of anxiety and depression, to name a few. I mean, Eliza attends a party in a bookshop for goodness sake. What’s not to like?

Eliza Mirk is shy in real life, but online she’s the super famous webcomic artist, LadyConstellation. And no one knows. But when Wallace joins her school and Eliza discovers he’s a huge fan, there’s a risk that her identity might be revealed… I finished Eliza and Her Monsters in two days (quick for me!). I hated having to put it down. Like all wonderful books, I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it. I’m a child of the Internet and it will always mean something much deeper to me than to my parents and grandparents – and in that sense I related to Eliza, who is quite similar to teenage me.

Eliza and Her Monsters is Fangirl meets Radio Silence. I genuinely think if you loved them (as I did), you’ll love Eliza – I want more books like this! Francesca, please may we have a sequel with Eliza at college?

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Moxie was one of last year’s most popular feminist YA novels. Viv Carter has had enough of how girls are treated at her school: the sexist dress codes, the harassment, the disgusting comments. Viv has always kept to herself, but now it’s time to recreate her mum’s Riot Grrl past – she designs a feminist zine and slowly begins to start a girl revolution.

At first, I couldn’t understand why Viv was so anxious about getting into trouble, but it’s easy to say that as an adult who knows that it isn’t the end of the world. And then I found myself getting angrier and angrier. At the boys, at the school, at the parents. Maybe I’m fortunate because I don’t think my school would’ve reacted the same way; I don’t think girls were targeted when it came to the dress code, and I like to think that they’d have dealt with sexual assault severely. But maybe I was oblivious. Maybe I didn’t see it because it didn’t happen to me.

Viv’s character development was fantastic. She never did anything out of character but was a different person by the end of the book. Moxie shows healthy, strong female friendships. It’s a brilliant book for teenagers, especially those who shy away from the word “feminist”. I want so many people to borrow Moxie off me!

Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan

Jenny McLachlan’s stories make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and Stargazing for Beginners was no different. From the lovely opening scene describing a young Meg sitting in a cardboard spaceship that her grandfather made her, I knew it was going to be a powerful story – I love YA novels featuring female characters with a passion for science.

15-year-old Meg is forced to grow up fast when her mother takes off on a somewhat charitable trip for ten days, leaving Meg to take care of her baby sister Elsa alone. As if that wasn’t stressful enough, she needs to work on her competition entry – the prize is a visit to the NASA headquarters. Meg. Must. Go.

Stargazing for Beginners is a stunning story. It’s exciting to see a teenage girl so determined to become an astronaut, fighting everyone who laughs at her ambition. I couldn’t help but feel angry at Meg’s mother. She’s selfish! And irresponsible, under the guise of being helpful. As for Meg’s grandfather, you can’t help but love him, even if he’s a little reckless. He encourages Meg to be a better version of herself, one who cares less about what people think and allows herself to shine.

Stargazing for Beginners even encouraged me to vote for Valentina Tereshkova – the first woman in space – in this poll of fantastically great women who made history.

Mini Book Reviews / Turtles All the Way Down, Release & Goodbye, Perfect

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I found that reading Turtles All the Way Down was a bit like coming home. It’s been more than six years since I first read The Fault in Our Stars. I’d just started my first job in publishing and was quite new to reading contemporary YA (it was around my dystopia/post-apocalyptic obsession), but I was as excited as the rest of the interwebz. The buzz was a little quieter this time (maybe because today’s 16-year-olds would’ve only been 10-years-old when everyone was reading The Fault in Our Stars). But, either way, a new John Green novel was always going to be highly-anticipated.

John Green has a specific, super iconic writing style in YA fiction. His hyperintelligent teenagers, elaborate and meaningful metaphors, and philosophical thoughts about the universe made me feel warm and fuzzy; it was good to be back. I became incredibly absorbed in the story on my commute to work. Aza Holmes has anxiety and OCD, and often feels like she’s being drowned by her uncontrollable, spiralling thoughts. It’s something that John Green struggles with himself – as does much of the YA community – and felt very realistic and honest. Turtles All the Way Down is Aza’s story of being reunited with old childhood friend Davis (not David), on a mission to track down his missing, criminal billionaire father – yet we also feel Davis’s loneliness. He’s rich (super rich!) but incredibly lost and alone. I enjoyed getting to know Aza, Davis, and Aza’s best friend Daisy.

Turtles All the Way Down is a quiet story. It was enjoyable and emotional, watching two old friends come together despite their personal challenges, and I still hold the line “your now is not your forever” close to my heart.

Release by Patrick Ness

I love that we get a new Patrick Ness novel every year – his upcoming book is And the Ocean Was Our Sky, if you’re wondering – but we never know exactly what we’re going to get. We never know what Patrick Ness will write next.

Release tells the powerful story of 17-year-old Adam Thorn. It’s an emotional, heartbreaking story – Adam’s gay and his super religious family don’t accept his sexuality at all. They’re so homophobic that I found it difficult to read a lot of the things they did and said to him. In contrast, he has an incredibly close relationship with his best friend Andrea. It’s a dream friendship: they can be themselves around each other and know that they’ll always be there for each other. Andrea’s pretty awesome.

As Release itself says, running parallel to Adam’s story: “all the while, weirdness approaches”. As Adam’s going about his (extremely difficult) day, we get a glimpse into another life: a meth addict-turned-queen and a faun. As a non-fantasy reader, I’ll be honest and say that I stopped reading these segments. I know, I know (I did the same with Fangirl, I’m sorry), but I adored Adam and wanted to continue on his emotional adventure, rather attempt to work out the message behind the magical realism.

Release takes us on a day of “confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope”. Wonderful.

Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard

Sara Barnard is one of my auto-read authors. I don’t need to know what her next book will be about, I just know that I’ll be reading it – I’ve really enjoyed Beautiful Broken Things and A Quiet Kind of Thunder so far.

Goodbye, Perfect is about 15-year-old Eden and how she deals with her best friend Bonnie running away with her boyfriend – especially as the boyfriend in question is their 30-year-old music teacher. The girls have very different personalities and yet remained close friends over the years. But Eden is forced to question their entire friendship and whether she even knew Bonnie at all.

Eden is such a fantastic, complex character – and a brilliant friend. Goodbye, Perfect isn’t just about Bonnie running away, but about the relationship that Eden has with other people: why it’s often tricky and fraught, and why she struggles to connect and let people in. It’s about Eden’s relationship with her sisters Valerie and Daisy, and how her being adopted has affected their closeness. Eden’s certainly a mighty and memorable protagonist.

Bonnie, on the other hand, is a Bad Friend. It was frustrating to see Eden take so much slack for her. As a 28-year-old, I wanted to drag Bonnie away and bring her back home, even if I could can see her reasons for getting into a relationship with an older man. I expected the teacher-student relationship to be slightly glamourised, as it can be elsewhere (I’ll admit, I’m a fan of Ezra from Pretty Little Liars), but Goodbye, Perfect brought us back to reality and made us think about the dangerous power dynamic, and why it’s such a problem.

Goodbye, Perfect is a story I worked my way through quickly – I really wanted to see how it ended. Can I have the next one now?!