Am I Normal Yet, Holly Bourne

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All Evie wants is to be normal. She’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the girl-who-went-crazy. She’s even going to parties and making friends. There’s only one thing left to tick off her list…
But relationships are messy – especially relationships with teenage guys. They can make any girl feel like they’re going mad. And if Evie can’t even tell her new friends Amber and Lottie the truth about herself, how will she cope when she falls in love?

This book is great…. But it also pissed me off to no end. (I actually started writing this review while on page 249, because so many thoughts, and then updated it all the way throughout the second half of the book)

Because here’s the thing- It is wonderful. It talks about mental illness, it is honest, and at times, brutal. It talks about a lot of things most other books ignore (more on that later) and it attempts to be highly feminist. But that feminism only accounts for… well, straight, white cis girls.

I want to be able to shove this book in the hands of teenage girls, because it could have taught them so much, but I really don’t think I can. I kinda want to make sure teenagers avoid this book, because there are other books that teach about mental illness now, and other books that are trying with feminism and being far, far more inclusive.

Main Character Evie has OCD and anxiety. Goes to see a therapist once a week, is cutting down on her meds and trying to survive in college, between making new friends and flirting with boys.

While I didn’t particularly like Evie, I could relate to her. I loved how honest it all was about her anxiety. It pulled no punches, from her constant questioning of everything that happened, to the fear of what would happen with every ‘what if’.
Only pages in, she talked about the way mental illnesses were seen as jokes, and as every day things (such like ‘oh yeah I’m so OCD’ when you’re not) And I loved that- especially when it mentioned panic attacks. Because its true- people speak so lightly about these things, because they don’t understand. Trust me, when you have panic attacks, you do not speak lightly of them.

I also liked that in the first 240 pages, Evie has a date with two people, and starts to like a first. Because everything goes wrong with each (though Oli… she handled that awfully and I wanted to scream at her), and it’s rare, in YA books, to see someone even date more than one person. But in real life, teenage dating is messy. (all dating is messy, who am I kidding)

Though I, like Evie’s friends, still doesn’t understand what she saw in Guy.

I did like that it was trying to raise awareness of feminism and stuff. But at the same time…

Okay, lets talk about negatives

I feel like the feminism was almost a checklist in this book? Like, it ticked all those ‘buzzword’ comments. Mentioned the Bechdel test. Had pages of rants from the main characters (strangely, most were based around Not Needing a Guy… which isnt feminist, people.) Had the side character who Changed For A Boy, who was then criticised the whole time about it.

Added to the above side character, the three main girls are very… 2D as well. Like, theres only one thing that really makes each of them different. Evie has OCD. Amber just spends the entire time complaining about her brother, and Lottie… I have no idea. The three mains mess together until they cannot be told apart, because all three seem to have just been made so they can have page long rants where you cannot tell who is actually talking.

Okay, so, people. Feminism… its about equality, right. Like not taxing women’s products because they are for women (that was mentioned too). But it’s also about girls looking out for girls. It’s about knowing that everyone is allowed to be themselves and be cool with that- yes, not having a boyfriend may make one woman feel happy and good but that doesnt make a woman who does one one any less.  

And the lessons this book teaches about that is terrible. 

I mean, yay, this book has a female friendship that doesnt revolve around boys. Great. We need more of them. But those same girls put each other down, and other girls down just because they can (‘isn’t film studies for stupid people’ they say, in front of the girl studying films)

Talking of the main three of the book- whenever they talk about anything other than

And then, then we get to the real problem of the ‘feminism’ in this book.

Here, have a quote from the book, talking about periods:

“Because all women have them? I guess that’s what makes us girls?”

She beamed at me. “Yes! Exactly right.”

“Do I get a sticker?”

“Shut up. No. As you said, periods are what make us girls.”

No, no, no. Let me correct that. Having a period makes you a person with a vagina. Not a girl.

This form of feminism is so wrong, and makes me more angry than anything else in this book. People, its 2017. I think we are well past this form of thought. And for this to be in a book for 14+… it makes my skin crawl to think that this is the kind of thing that is being taught.

It’s so transphobic- and it completely erases anyone who is trans from being seen as the gender they are.

And that’s not even the only thing- two or three times (and bare in mind I am only half way through) there are throw away jokes about being a lesbian. People, being a lesbian, being gay, being trans, ect, it’s not a fucking joke. Okay. It’s harmful, and frankly, I’m shocked that for an author who spent so much time making sure to show that mental illness wasn’t a joke would go and act like being LGBT+ is.

So…. after all this, I thought, maybe I should read the rest to see if it improves. Mistakes. I should really know by now, if I get this angry half way through a book, the second half is going to be just as bad.

Once again, I love the way mental illness is portrayed. Evie doesn’t magically meet a guy and get better. Suddenly find herself ‘cured’ (which  happens in many more books than I wish to say). Nope. Her recovery is up and down- and no boy ‘fixes’ her.

But…. Once again, the three friends have got together to once more, talk about feminism and crap. And from what I’m working out from their conversation, you can only be feminist if you never date, never like boys, never admit to liking girly things, or…. anything really.

It’s just… I’m honestly too tired to talk about anything else for this book, I really am. Bourne’s first book- Soulmates- I loved it, because the premise was so different and kinda entertaining (I mean, really, being near your soulmate causes the world to basically end, thats amazing) but this one… I’m just angry.

This book- I would have given it five stars, if she had taken out all the fake feminism stuff, and just talked about OCD, mental illness and trying to find out what ‘normal’ really is (hint, people, none of us are normal) Because that book would have been brilliant.

But because of how angry the rest of it made me, because this book essentially boils down to ‘The Straight White Cis Girls Guide to Bad Feminism’, this book is getting no where near that.

So if you do want to read a book about mental illness, I can recommend you a whole load of other good ones. But this one, the good just isn’t worth the bad.

two-stars

Illuminae, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.
BRIEFING NOTE: Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

I don’t think I can talk about this book. I’m kinda just sat in a daze because I never expected it to be this good.

Take everything you think a book is our of your brain and throw it all away. This is not a book in terms of, it has no chapters. It has no massive descriptions you need to plunder through, waiting for the story to start. Nothing that you expect from anything you would normally read.

And it was wonderful, amazing, and refreshing.

I’m attempting to write this review about half an hour after I stopped reading the book, and I don’t think its the best idea, because all my mind can really think is AHHHHHHH and the temptation to go and throw it at people in the street are to read it.

The story is plotted out in a series of emails, interviews, classified document and various other things. You have to keep note of dates- because it sometimes skips weeks, or even goes back in time. And you have to watch for who is talking to who- because a lot of it is in ‘messenger’ style, there are nicknames for a lot of them.

I loved that every page was differently styled; documents had tea stains on them, some had ‘blood’ splatters on them, there are logos of different for what ships are talking,  and also different designs for some of the characters.

I loved loved the characters, especially AIDAN (the AI of one of the ships). Their pages are all black, their style of speaking really poetic and rather amusing at time, and it was great to see this…thing learning to ‘be’. The fact that I, at times, felt bad for an AI shows just how good the style of writing is, and the genius of both the authors.

It was also full of odd little bits that made me smile- like another favourite author’s name turning up at one point in the middle of it.

The design of the book and the writing, along with the plot, characters and almost thillerish mystery of it all just makes it a fantastic, different book

five stars

On the TBR pile: The Terror of St Trinian’s

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Ronald Searle takes us back to the world of the Gothic Public School in The Terror of St Trinian’s. In this gloriously anarchic academy for young ladies we witness shootings, knifings, torture and witchcraft, as well as many maidenly arts. The subject of many evergreen films, St Trinian’s is synonymous with the sort of outrageous behaviour that would make a convict blench.

The Call, Peadar O’Guilin

 

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Imagine a world where you might disappear any minute, only to find yourself alone in a grey sickly land, with more horrors in it than you would ever wish to know about. And then you hear a horn and you know that whoever lives in this hell has got your scent and the hunt has already begun.

Could you survive the Call?

This book is gruesome. And it is brilliant.

I didn’t know what to expect diving into this. The proof copy has been sat on my shelf for months, but when it arrived in the shop and I saw what it was about, I decided to finally pick it up. All I knew was that it was set in Ireland, there were evil fairies, and a death count almost as high as Game of Thrones.

Now, I am a sucker for anything fairy related. I have a weakness for fairytales, where happy endings are always there and magic is used for good, but I have an even bigger weakness- as in, I would kill for more books like it- for books where the fey want to lure you to your deaths and when hunting humans are their form of fun.

And in this book…. wow, the Sídhe take that that evil to another level, I swear.

So, many many years ago, Ireland managed to banish the Sídhe to the Grey Land, a place that sounds just as welcoming as its name. Then, 25 years before the book began, the Sídhe managed to curse all of Ireland in revenge, vowing to kill off Ireland’s humans. Any teenager between the age of 10 and 17 will get Called- they disappear from Ireland, leaving only their clothes, and appear in the Grey Land.

In the real world, they are gone for three minutes. But time is different, and in those three minutes, they are hunted for a whole day in the Grey Land. Only one in 10 teenagers last those three minutes and come back alive. And even then, most that come back are different.

Though this book has one main character- Nessa (Who I will talk about in a moment)- all the other characters have their own starring parts. None of them are pushed to the sidelines, even though you realise by about chapter three that 90% of these characters are probably not going to be around for the whole book. When each character is Called, you see them in the Grey Land. Each journey is different, each character seeing a different cruel side of the land they banished the Sídhe to.

It was cleverly done- you wanted each of them to survive. Each of them has had such a cruel time since they went to their survival schools, where they spend most of their time. Every day is terrifying, a wait to see who would end up dead- but life is harsh as well, trying to toughen them up. So when their time came, and you turned the page to see their names at the top, you are sat on the edge of your seat hoping they will survive the next few pages.

And then… Nessa. 

Put your hands up if you’ve ever gotten annoyed at the lack of diversity in YA books. Mainly, this kind of action fantasy. Mainly, diversity in seeing disabled characters. And having a main character that is disabled.

So Nessa had polio as a child and as a result, her legs are twisted and weak. No one expected her to survive, but she was determined. She wanted to prove them all wrong. So at school, when they ran, she crafted herself crutches out of tree branches. She learns to fight. She watches all these people she grew up with disappear then appear again, hideous and mangled and more often dead than alive. And those same people give her pity. They do not punish her because of that pity, and she hates it.

More than anything, I loved that. I have a disability, and at school, it forced me to be behind many of my classmates. I used to be a big football player- until my doctor decided that football, along with many other sports- was too dangerous. There were many other things I couldn’t do, and if there was one thing I hated more than anything else, it was pity. 

So to see a main character I could identify with, who I understood, who no one expected to get anywhere but then did, it made my day completely.

The only issue I had with this book is that you have to wait a long long time to see Nessa in the Grey Land, and the blurb of the book makes it sound like she is there a lot longer and a lot sooner than she is. However, the fact that you see all the others go into it makes up for it.

I just… This isn’t a book for the faint hearted. It is cruel and harsh and almost horrorish with some of the things that happen. But then, that is what they fey are meant to be, especially the ones in Ireland. But it is a fantastic read with some brilliant characters and imagination.

four stars

On the TBR Pile: The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights

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King Arthur is a legendary British leader who, according to Medieval histories and romances, led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early sixth century. The details of Arthur’s story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and his historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians. The sparse historical background of Arthur is gleaned from various sources, including the Annales Cambriae, the Historia Brittonum, and the writings of Gildas. Arthur’s name also occurs in early poetic sources such as Y Gododdin. The legendary Arthur developed as a figure of international interest largely through the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fanciful and imaginative 12th-century Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain). However, some Welsh and Breton tales and poems relating the story of Arthur date from earlier than this work; in these works, Arthur appears either as a great warrior defending Britain from human and supernatural enemies or as a magical figure of folklore, sometimes associated with the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn. How much of Geoffrey’s Historia (completed in 1138) was adapted from such earlier sources, rather than invented by Geoffrey himself, is unknown. Although the themes, events and characters of the Arthurian legend varied widely from text to text, and there is no one canonical version, Geoffrey’s version of events often served as the starting point for later stories. Geoffrey depicted Arthur as a king of Britain who defeated the Saxons and established an empire over Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Gaul. In fact, many elements and incidents that are now an integral part of the Arthurian story appear in Geoffrey’s Historia, including Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon, the wizard Merlin, the sword Excalibur, Arthur’s birth at Tintagel, his final battle against Mordred at Camlann and final rest in Avalon. The 12th-century French writer Chretien de Troyes, who added Lancelot and the Holy Grail to the story, began the genre of Arthurian romance that became a significant strand of medieval literature. In these French stories, the narrative focus often shifts from King Arthur himself to other characters, such as various Knights of the Round Table. Arthurian literature thrived during the Middle Ages but waned in the centuries that followed until it experienced a major resurgence in the 19th century. In the 21st century, the legend lives on, not only in literature but also in adaptations for theatre, film, television, comics and other media. The Sir James Knowles version of King Arthur is considered as the most accurate and well known original story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Our Chemical Hearts

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I’m not big on giving up books. What can I say- I’m stubborn. But there are some books that you know from the first chapter will not be good, and only gets worse the further on you get.

I managed to read an entire 124 pages of this before throwing my hands in the air and the book in the ‘to give away’ pile.

Let me explain to you the various reasons that I stopped reading this book.

  1. The way Grace Town, the Love Interest (henseforth known as LI) is introduced. With a list of three things, explaining what she wears, her looks, and ‘If all this wasn’t enough to really screw over her chances of fitting in at a new high school, Grace Town walked with a cane.’
    This entire section made me cringe. Because within seconds of her walking in, Main Character Henry (henseforth known as Mainy) has thrust across the page at you that LI is not your normal girl. Added to that… I don’t know. Maybe the fact that I have a disability made it more ‘painful’ to read for me was that I remember walking into a school and being judged automatically when other kids realised I was different.  So yeah, the whole point that Mainy judged her and within seconds when ‘she wont fit in here’ really really brought back memories that are not pleasant.
  2. Mainy says its not a love story on page two. But hes essentially stalking her by chapter three, their first kiss is somewhere in those 124 pages I did read. Here is an idea. Don’t call it not a love story if it is, in fact a love story. (I’ve been told some of how it ends and yes, okay, the end does say first love is first and things change and everything, but it still reads like a love story) (the only time the phrase not a love story should be used is when, in fact, the book is about something completely different, and not about first love- or when it is the second or third theme in a book about something entirely different)
  3. Mainy, honest to god, described himself as ‘Something like a male Summer Glau crossed with Severus Snape’
  4. Mainy likes to write. LI used to write. Of course, both are given the option of doing something with a school newspaper. LI says no. Says she no longer writes. Mainy ignores her words and (how I took it) basically assumes that what he says is better, despite knowing her like. Two days.
  5. Along the same theme- one of his best friends continuously stalks his ex wanting her back and not listening to her. IS THIS A THEME.
  6. All the characters are….not their ages. Really. I’ve never read a book where so many characters are pretentious, up themselves and just…. ughh. (Many of John Greens characters are kinda pretentious, but this was on a whole other level. At least Gus knew what he was like in TFioS. Mainy, I feel, would walk into a room and think him the best thing in there.) and so much of it is over the top, or just…no? I mean, I know I was 17 five years ago, but I remember no one talking or acting like this. And all my friends were the over the top theatre group, so I was used to strange drama. (Like, the party? A bath tub of alcohol? That even Mainy thought looked dodgy yet still dove into quiet merrily to get drunk? I’m pretty sure the next chapter should have been the entire year throwing up because really.)
  7. His parents just don’t care? YES MAINY, GO OUT DRINKING. BE FREE. BREAK LAWS. He doesnt go home after the party and they are not panicking?

And…. it was near enough this point that I gave up, hung up the book and asked someone online to tell me what happen at the end, because I was not wasting another week of my life reading this.

It was bad- this list has barely dug into why it was bad (really, really mainy, stalking LI after she drops you home is not cool.) but I can’t go on.

There were some gems in it. Like this sentence here, which is refreshing to see in any YA novel. And- as I have been told- the end is also refreshing and good, and also rare in a YA novel.

But really. Really. A good point every 5 chapters does not make a book worth reading.

one star

On the TBR Pile: Dream Days

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Featuring the adventures of five children – Edward, Selina, Harold, Charlotte and an unnamed narrator – Kenneth Grahame’s Dream Days was such a critical and popular success that The Wind in the Willows, published ten years later in 1908, was felt to be a disappointment in comparison. A century on, it is clear that this collection of humorous, lyrical and delicately evocative tales had a profound influence on children’s literature. Rather than idolising childhood, Dream Days is, as Julia Eccleshare says in her introduction, ‘a celebration of the imaginative play of children which sets them apart from adults and empowers them at a time when, within the realities of their lives, they are largely powerless’.

In ‘The Twenty-first of October’, Selina, a devoted admirer of Nelson, attempts to celebrate Trafalgar Day by lighting a bonfire – with disastrous consequences. In ‘The Walls Were as of Jasper’ the child-narrator escapes a dull visit to a neighbour’s house by losing himself in the pictures of a beautiful book: ‘Pictures never lied, never shuffled nor evaded; and as for the story, I could invent it myself ’. ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ tells of the friendship between a little boy and a gentle, poetry-writing dragon, who has made his home in the Berkshire Downs and is blissfully unaware of the alarm his presence has caused in the local village. It is up to the little boy to make sure that the imminent arrival of St George does not spell destruction for his new friend.

Dream Days is written from the point of view of an adult looking back, and captures the frustrations of children faced by adults who have ‘forgotten what it is like to be young’. Whether playing at pirates, inventing imaginary realms, visiting the circus or simply squabbling ferociously among themselves, the five children are vividly and convincingly portrayed. Enchanting illustrations by Debra McFarlane make this edition, the only one in print today, one to be cherished.