Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Review of 'Our Chemical Hearts' by Krystal Sutherland

Review of 'Our Chemical Hearts' by Krystal Sutherland

I'm still obsessing over YA fiction at the moment, and Our Chemical Hearts is truly a beauty of the genre. I've heard so much about this and honestly it shows mental health in a truer perspective than I've seen it shown in a long time. Usually when I read a book about someone who's struggling with their mental health I get a niggling 'this isn't what it's really like' feeling welling up inside me, until I'm not comfortable with the contents of the book at all. But Our Chemical Hearts brought this idyllism that people create around mental illness up, analysed it and made me fall in love.

Henry Page is an average teenage boy. He's not lost 'the big V' yet, and his last kiss ended up helping his best friend discover that she's just not into men. Not a brilliant track record for keeping on the cool side of the tracks at school. He has cast aside attempts at romance for the time being, instead focusing on becoming the editor of his school newspaper, which he's been working on for the past two years. 

Henry's life is all going to plan, until Grace Town transfers from her old school to his. Her literary reputation at the previous school means that the head of the newspaper wants to make them co-editors for the year. She refuses. Henry reluctantly chases after her, requesting that she works on the paper with him. Despite her boyish clothes, limp and cane, there's something about Grace that lures him in.

Before he knows it, Henry's in love with Grace. But she has good days and bad. On the bad days, they barely speak a word to one another (Grace's choice, not his). On the good days, she might just brush up against Henry whilst they chuckle over a joke, making him blush. 

However, Henry's bothered by the fact that he knows nothing about her past. So, he checks out her Facebook page. At first he thinks he's got the wrong Grace Town. The girl in this profile picture is stunning. She has long hair, the biggest grin and is absolutely beautiful decked out in makeup and girl's clothing. Henry falls more and more in love with her.

Grace knows what's going on with Henry, but she's all too aware of why it can't be. You see, Grace was in an accident with her boyfriend, the love of her life. That's where she got the limp, and where she lost Dom. She's living in his room, and the boys' clothes she wears are his. She's not, nor will she ever completely get over losing Dom. He was her soulmate, and they'd been close since they were five. 

Grace knows what Henry doesn't want to admit, even to himself: he's not in love with Grace Town, he's in love with an idyllic version of her. He craves the 'good Grace' days, and can't handle her on the bad ones. He wants to fix her; he doesn't really want to be with the Grace in front of him.

The rest of the story is about a struggle for love that's based on an illusion. This is exactly what I meant when I said that the book doesn't shy away from the realities of mental illness. I was completely 100% suckered into Henry's love for Grace, and how noble it was, until Grace pointed out that it wasn't. Then I saw what was happening: he was in love with the girl without the mental illness. I realised that I'd overlooked the depression coming out of her grief, and I was waiting for Grace to miraculously get better, and become the girl that Henry was lusting after. But mental illness doesn't work like that. Loving someone can't cure them. 

If you're interested in YA fiction about mental health and love, then I'd really recommend this!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Review of 'Eat Pray Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert

Review of 'Eat Pray Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert

I don't use the word 'life changing' often, but this novel has totally made me put my life into a new perspective. I've heard Eat Pray Love hailed as an incredible read for years, but hadn't delved into it. It's now something that I want every woman ever to read. I want to lend it to all my friends and family so that they can embark on a journey to learning more about themselves and about life in general as they travel with Liz.

Eat Pray Love is a semi-autobiographical novel, based on the author's own travels to Italy, India and Indonesia. Liz, aka Elizabeth Gilbert, ended her marriage in a bitter divorce. After a passionate, if a little fiery and messy affair with a man called David and subsequent break-up, she found herself in a pit of despair. 

Depression had come knocking on her door, and she was tired of living the same life, just without a man. So, she started doing things for her. First she travelled to Italy, where she practised speaking a language she loves, and put back on the weight that she lost from stress through the divorce. Then she went to India. There she stayed in an ashram, spent time cleaning temple floors, meditating, and getting close to her spiritual core. Finally, she ended up in Indonesia to help an ancient medicine man learn English, and find a balance in her life that would keep her content.

The section dedicated to Liz's time in India was definitely my favourite, and resonated with me SO MUCH. Her time in the ashram helped her learn more about herself, about how to let go of the past and to accept change. It's something that I'd like to do too. 

Have you read it? What did you think?

Friday, 28 July 2017

Review of 'Where Rainbows End'* by Anne Marie Brear

Review of 'Where Rainbows End'* by Anne Marie Brear

I love a good comforting chic-flick read. I recently read The Savage Detectives (review here), and whilst it was a very interesting book, it was also a very heavy one. Where Rainbows End* provided the perfect respite. I was actually lucky enough to read another one of Brear's novels before publication, and loved it, so I was excited for this one.

Where Rainbows End* is set in 1850. The Noble family have travelled to Australia to rid themselves of the black mark against their name in England. Despite being a loving father, Gerald Noble has a gambling problem. Time and time again, the family has had to be bailed out by their wealthy relatives. Gerald has taken one last loan to get them to Australia and create a new life.  

Pippa, Gerald's eldest daughter, is more than happy to leave England. Not only is she ashamed of how her family has fallen down in the ranks, but she also declared her love to Gil Ashford, only for him to throw it back in her face. 

The family are to move into a valley and breed valuable horses there. Pippa is determined to make this venture a success. When her father falls ill, Pippa breaks tradition and becomes the head of proceedings. She orders the work men building their home in the valley about, processes invoices and manages the family's finances scrupulously. But is it enough? And will people accept this woman as their boss?

I'm all about the girl power, and I LOVED seeing this 1800s lady stake her place in the world of business. Things aren't idealised in the novel either; she faces real challenges due to her femininity.

Have you read this?

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Review of 'If I Was Your Girl' by Meredith Russo

Review of 'If I Was Your Girl' by Meredith Russo

I *think* this is the first book that I've ever read with a trans* main character. And it sucks that it's taken me so long, but quite frankly there just aren't enough in mainstream literature. I'm so glad that If I Was Your Girl was chosen to be part of last year's Zoella book club as it gave so many young people an incentive to read a book about a trans* character.

As the novel progressed, I began to get a little (very) concerned that it actually wasn't very progressive at all. Although our main character Amanda was bullied because of transitioning to become a girl, she did have things a little easier than most trans people. For starters, Amanda knew she wanted to be a girl from a young age. She's overtly feminine. She also gets hormone treatment and surgery to fully transition to a girl that honestly would not be available to the majority of trans* youth. I felt disillusioned by how idyllic the whole setup was. 

When I got to the end of the novel, however, there was a note from the author, Meredith Russo, who is trans* herself, to the reader. In it, she explains that this idyll of transitioning was purposeful; she isn't naive about how things really work. She wanted to show what being trans could be like if things were easy. It also makes it easier for cis readers to accept Amanda as a girl. In my opinion, this makes the novel a good step in to trans* literature, I just wish this note was at the beginning of the novel! Although dark subjects are discussed, it shows the positive sides to the practicalities of being trans*, like how easy it was for Amanda to get treatment. I would love to see Russo write a YA novel about an individual who couldn't get treatment, and how they struggled. 

In the novel, Amanda has just moved to a new school. She's come to live with her dad after a violent attack on her in her hometown. The attack came about because Amanda used to be Andrew, and some of her classmates couldn't accept the change. Amanda is keen to make a fresh start. She wants to keep her head down to make it through high school alive, get good grades and go to college. All goes well until she realises that she's falling in love with a boy at her school. Can Amanda really keep the past behind her?

Have you read it? What did you think?

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Review of 'The Savage Detectives' by Roberto Bolaño

Review of 'The Savage Detectives' by Roberto Bolaño

I was doing really well at keeping up to date on posting on this blog last month, and then I read this massive tome. So, sorry for my absence, but this novel took a while to work through. I was meant to read it two and a half years ago as part of my lit course, but it was big and heavy with small font so I avoided it at all costs and Wiki'd it for the seminar. I've read quite a few nice, speedy novels recently so I thought it was time to tackle it.

The Savage Detectives is one of Bolaño's longest works. Initially a poet, he turned to, in his opinion, an inferior form of literature: fiction. Bolaño was a traveller, and spent most of his life poor, finally turning to fiction as a way to secure income. 

Usually I wouldn't do a little author bio for you, but as one of the main characters, Arturo Belano is a loosely autobiographical figure, I felt as though it was important.

The novel is very much a South American novel. Not all of the text, or possibly not even the majority of the text, takes place in South America, and yet it remains an intangible zone throughout the entirety of the novel. It's there in the conversation between narrators, and there in the discussion of literature, which features heavily in the book. 

The Savage Detectives is written in three parts. The first is a story from the viewpoint of a 17 year old poet named Garcia Madero. He becomes entangled with a group of poets who name themselves the visceral realists. Even if you search this term, all you get are mentions of Bolaño and this novel. It's a form of poetry that is discussed at length in the text, but as with any avant-garde form of art, it's true form is never pinpointed. It's un-pinpoint-ability is part of what it is.

The second part features over 40 narrators. It's confusing, and at some times mindless. Some narrators only feature once, and some come in waves of repetition. It took me a while to link this mass of scenes, but the one thing they all have in common is that these people have met Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, the founders of visceral realism. These people tell stories that span twenty years as well as multiple continents. Movement between chapters and narratives is harsh and abrupt. It constantly keeps you questioning and leads you off into different realms of thought. Again, I feel as though this is part of the idea of visceral realism.

If you define 'visceral' you come across the idea of something relating to ones feelings rather than to ones intellect. This features throughout The Savage Detectives. We're met with  crude sexual scenes, scenes of abject poverty, alcoholism and the desire to learn. Belano and Lima do not do what they need to do in life, they do what they feel like doing. 

The final section picks up exactly where the first section leaves off. Belano, Lima and Garcia Madero are travelling across the desert with a prostitute they saved from her pimp. The pimp is hot on their tails, but they're also in search of a visceral realist poetess, who has only ever published one piece of work. This final section follows them in their journey to the heart of visceral realism. 

Have you read this? What did you think?

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Review of 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' by Johann W Goethe

Review of 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' by Johann W Goethe

The Sorrows of Young Werther has been heralded to me as a great work of European literature forever, and it's something that a lot of Romantic authors have alluded to in their novels. I was expecting a tome of intense language and powerful scenes, and I have to admit that I was left feeling a little underwhelmed whilst reading the first two-thirds of the novel. But, as the novel started to reach its end I finally saw why this has its own pedestal in the literary world.

Goethe actually wrote The Sorrows of Werther within six weeks, and it's a vaguely autobiographical account. The majority of the novel is formed through letters from Werther to his friend Wilhelm, whilst the last section is more of a narrative. 

Werther moves to the countryside at the beginning of the novel, and falls in love with a peasant girl named Charlotte. There's one problem: she's already engaged. But, Werther continues to befriend this motherless girl who is rearing her younger siblings. 

Soon, the sadness Werther feels at the fact that he cannot have a relationship with Charlotte begins to overwhelm him and he moves away. Eventually he realises that he cannot be away from Charlotte, and sinks into a deeper depression.

Werther returns to the countryside, and finds Charlotte married to her beau. The pain he feels is getting worse and worse, but he just can't keep away. Eventually, Charlotte is forced to ask him to leave her, and things go rapidly downhill from there ...

Have you read it? What did you think?

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Review of 'Room' by Emma Donoghue

Review of 'Room' by Emma Donoghue

People have been recommending Room to me for years. As in, I remember people telling me to read it when I was still in school, which is over five years ago now! But, I put it off and put it off and now I finally realise what I've been missing out on. Room is so well written, terrifying, thoughtful and endearing. I honestly could not put it down. It's also the first book I've read from the perspective of a child that actually nails what it's like to be a child. We see everything from Jacks perspective, and there are often times when he's confused or scared, and adult conversations go completely over the top of his head. But, he knows what he wants and what he needs. He isn't a perfect kid: he throws tantrums and annoys people, but that makes him seem even more real.

Room begins with five-year-old Jack and his Ma living in a room. Jack believes they have everything they need there: they've got Bed, Rug, Plant, Bath, Wardrobe and all his homemade toys. But, what Jack doesn't realise is that there's a whole world outside of Room ...

Jack's convinced that this is all there is to life, him and his Ma in room. And Old Nick, a man who enters in the night, makes the bed creak and brings them something they ask for as a Sunday Treat. Jack always wants to ask for something fun, but Ma says they need things like vitamins. Jack's Ma makes him keep fit by doing exercises each day and not just sitting in front of the TV.

Now that Jack's five, his Ma begins to backtrack on all the lies she's told him to make things easier. She tells him that there's life outside of Room, and that people on the TV are real, not just make believe. Jack struggles to get his head around it, and thinks she might be losing her mind ... hospitals and skyscrapers and helicopters and the sea can't be real, can they?

Soon Ma begins to hatch a plan to get them out of Room, but Jack's not sure he wants to go anywhere. He's happy to stay with his Ma in Room forever. 

This was such an incredible read, and I would highly recommend it if you enjoy thrillers!