If this book were to have a pair of lips, I would be puckering up right about now. Seriously. I was losing hope that a contemporary romance could be authentic and deep, self-aware (but not bloated) and fun (without trying too hard) would show its face this year. Perkins threw me a life raft in a sea of bitterness and allowed me to ride the swell of her fantastic debut.
Anna gets plonked in a French international boarding school for her senior year and she's less than pleased. She doesn't speak the language, she knows no one and she's left behind a possible love connection. And with that the reader is off and running, swept away with a clipping pace that keeps the story propelling forward. Perkins manages to have Anna tread the line of rational and harried, cautious and brave, confident and insecure creating an authentic and layered protagonist that all readers can empathise with.
Anna and the French Kiss is complex title that interweaves many teen issues yet avoids the "issue book" trap. Whether an ugly parental separation, an absent friend, crushing on a taken boy, betrayal, homesickness and the difficulty in transplanting your life, it's all constructed with a light touch. Different elements of Anna's life highlight another part and assist in her burgeoning personal growth and understanding the different between what is, what might have been and what can be. As a reader with insight into boarding life and living internationally, I can say that Perkins could not have depicted the evolution of emotions more accurately. You're scared, thrilled, trapped and eager all at the same time. Even the funk is depicted accurately and humorously including being afraid to order food. Been there, done that. Still do occasionally.
In Etienne St Clair, Perkins has crafted a romantic interest that is fully formed as the protagonist. The guy isn't perfect. He's flesh, blood, flaws and a whole heap of other things that tug him in a plethora of directions. Anna and St Clair have a connection built on trust and friendship, it is the antithesis to the slam-bam-thank you-ma'am love connections that run rampant in current YA literature. While their feelings might evolve, their friendship and support of one another is always at the forefront. Instead of declaring their love for one another (over and over again) they have conversations about a variety of things, show interest in the other's passions and speak loud through their actions. The relationship between Anna and St Clair is layered, even if romance weren't on the agenda it would still be an interesting pairing.
While Anna and the French Kiss is an introspective novel about growing up, testing your boundaries and being true to yourself, not all of it is internal. Perkins has supplied plenty of dialogue that flesh out a range of characters, main and supporting, giving them unique voices and making them distinct. What I admire the most is the independence of Anna. She's a good friend and it's the conversations and lessons from these connections that are the foundation for the story but she's very much her own person.
Anna and the French Kiss takes the impossibility of an imagined connection and the pain of pining for someone who already belongs for another, jumbles then all up and adds a foreign language. It is continental chaos! Full of yearning, laughter and a touch of discord, Perkins has made her mark with great character beats, a genuine friendship and the minutiae that make overseas travel such a unique experience.
Anna and the French Kiss is a treat that should be dipped in chocolate so I can take a bite. Many, many bites.
While there is romance a-plenty in this title, the core theme of female empowerment and team work are conveyed well. There are a few cliches and head scratching moments but on the whole The Lonely Hearts Club moves alone quite well. There is an amusing Beatles thread throughout the story (never getting too heavy handed) that I particularly liked. The characters evolve in a gentle, yet developed way.
A fun read with a sassy protagonist.
A fun, fluffy take on the classic Austen novel. It presumes that you know how the story goes in taking quite a few narrative shortcuts but there is a sense of play that makes it pleasurable to read. The reimagining of the story within a boarding school setting works well and there's a bullying subplot that makes the class issues more high school and contemporary in approach.
A quick read with a flirty sensibility.
Nelson's debut novel is a largely introspective exploration of grief and how that affects your choices, actions and those around you. In the aftermath of her sister's death, Lennie starts living a different life - one without Bailey, one without colour and purpose. Lennie's existing rather than living letting her friends fall away, her music and even her relationship with her grandmother.
Death, grief, secrets and guilt are all strong themes throughout this novel which makes it an emotional read. That being said, the numbness that cloaks Lennie seems to permeate onto the reader at times. Nelson beautifully shows the movement of Lennie's feelings, memories and loss within poems that periodically appear but some are more effective than others.
The edge of the book comes in the relationship that forms between Lennie and Bailey's boyfriend, Toby. This pairing might come from left field for some readers as they had previously had very little relationship to speak of. In their united grief they find a connection, one that shows itself in an overtly physical way. Loss manifests itself in many ways and both characters have chosen to punish themselves while touching on the person they miss most. It's a complex idea, one strongly rooted in their ability to voice their emotions instead choosing to expend them physically. It's dark and hot and tinged with much sadness.
The light and shade of grief and all the emotions that colour it were truthfully conveyed throughout. The addition of Joe and his preoccupation with Lennie and their attraction for one another contrasts well with the primal connection she shares with Toby. The author has presented an emotional tug of war that Lennie can't voice or even choose, it just is. The boys are both layered and interesting without being "bad". They are distinct from one another and each offer her something different, immediate solace or the promise of forever. Both are flawed in that their previous relationships have strongly impacted their dealings with Lennie. It's an interesting conundrum - I do wish there had been further exploration of Toby's dilemma as it is by far the most complex of the three. There is no bad person in this triangle, only strong emotions, grief and compulsion.
Lennie is serious, contemplative and very aware of the beauty that exists around her in sight and sound. She is wallowing her grief and in some respects its the romantic in her that permits hers the missteps that she makes. She makes mistakes, she allows herself to make choices that would not have occurred before her sister's death. She's not a dynamic character but she possesses a soulfulness that you don't often read.
Nelson's language and depiction of grief is beautiful, thoughtful and at times complex. Lennie is a nuanced character who subtly and quietly navigated her loss. The language was slightly problematic at times as it felt forced when the majority of the wording was so effortless. Some of the transitions between Lennie's feelings, particularly the strength of her attraction versus that of her love could also have been smoother. Nelson's attempted something complex and subtle and she's largely been successful.
The Sky is Everywhere is an all encompassing study of grief, the strength of a sisterly bond, the power of attraction and love and ultimately the importance of being true to one's self. Jandy Nelson has debuted onto the YA stage with a sensitivity and sensuousness that conveys a multitude of feelings from grief to desire to love. An absorbing read.
I have had a continuous stream of tears running down my cheeks for the last few hours. Between Jenny Downham (Before I Die) and Gayle Foreman, I have cried a lifetime of tears this past week. My house mate asked 'why do you put yourself through it?' I had to think about it, for a fraction of a second, before I answered 'because every word is worth it'.
Simply, this book wouldn't be the emotional cruncher it is without some superb writing from Forman. Without giving too much away, she makes all characters in this story extremely real. It starts off as many YA stories do, some froth and a lot of great dialogue between Mia and her family. Once that chapter is finished, the tone completely changes. Mia and her family are involved in an accident and Mia's trapped in limbo, witnessing the lives of those who care for her, and those she cares for in return, without the power to do anything but watch.
Forman walks the line between Mia's recollections and the present with ease. Too often a book similar in intent would be manipulative, but I didn't feel this at all. I felt Forman's love for each one of these people, as if they were her own. That Mia's loss, was her loss. The empathy that courses through this book is both inspiring and astounding.
Despite the somewhat dark subject matter this is a story of hope, life affirmation and all that it brings. The relationship between Mia and Adam is honest, they might be in love but they have real problems and they aren't all solved with a snap of their fingers. Kim is an amazing best friend, sarcastic and strong, her appearances in the book are bold and bursting with love. I particularly love an incident in the playground that was the inception of the girl's friendship. Mia's parents made a huge impression on me, they sounded familiar, as if I had met them but avoiding anything resembling a cliche. The hospital staff, particularly Nurse Ramirez with her biting wisdom and infinite care, also made an impression on me. How much did she really know? Mia's grandparents melted my heart, I have always heard how outliving one's child is the worst thing imaginable but these two transcend the situation with some honesty and hope. I was shocked by how quickly this story and girl sucked me in - as the tears would attest.
Music has a large role in this book but it's never clunky or awkward. Mia is somewhat of a cello prodigy and her boyfriend, Adam fronts a band called the Shooting Star. Her father is a former punk and her mother was one of those feminist rock chicks, both parents still retain their rockin' sensibilities. When reading the acknowledgements I wasn't surprised to see that Forman had been listening to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's 'Falling Slowly' (from the movie Once) while writing this novel, you could feel the song's influence throughout each page. I think that could be the best comparison for this novel, it is to the written word as Falling Slowly is to your ears - emotive, heartwarming, stirring, powerful and memorable.
This novel is about love. Love for your family and the family you make for yourself. The strength to follow your passion, to love your parents unconditionally and they for you, to have belief in people, to embrace music and life. It is also about choice, when no two options are easy, what would you do? I ask: how long will it take for you to get your hands on this book?
Dan's life is upended with the revelation that his father is gay. His parents' marriage dissolves, his mother is devastated, the family business goes kaput and he has to change houses and schools. The one bright spot is Estelle, the girl who lives next door and for whom Dan falls into immediate admiration (and somewhat stalker like tendencies.)
Teendom is all about life transitions whether emotional, physical, hormonal or situational and Wood plays this with subtle grace. Dan's got a sensitive soul buried beneath his outward frustration and it shines through beautifully. There aren't enough stories about teen boys and their mothers and Six Impossible Thingsfinds itself added with Boofheads (Mo Johnson) for it's authentic, pithy and always heartfelt depiction of this essential relationship. Both Dan and his mother were terribly hurt by there family's dissolution but he's trying to move one while she's left sabotaging her grieving process on several levels.
Dan's socially awkward in the best way possible - smart, completely unaware of his appearance and unable to stop staring at the object of his admiration. He's completely frank about his deficiencies in high school as he teeters between moments of maturity and the expected bouts of teen hysteria.
Wood has crafted a beautifully realised sphere of characters that colour Dan's experiences with humour, truth, bloodshed and the occasional leg up. There's a depth here that makes Six Impossible Things feel substantially longer than the two hundred and forty-four pages would suggest. Dan's such a good kids but that never stops him from being interesting. In fact, it was refreshing to revel in a story about a kid that makes the occasional poor decision but it ultimately a caring individual with a good, strong head on his shoulders. It is Dan's honesty that really grabbed me. He can't help but note his shortcomings even in the midst of a snotty retort to his mother and that level of self awareness was the source of great humour and even greater relatability.
This is Fiona Wood's first jaunt into young adult literature territory and I am so glad she's joined the party. Her adults are fully realised, never falling into convenient archetypes or being conveniently absent. They actively guide Dan in a myriad of ways whether they (or even Dan) realise this. His friends are delightful - especially that of Fred and Lou. They are two people destined to be together if nothing else. It is also refreshing to read a story that revolves around acceptance, as opposed to popularity. Dan knows who is worthy the time but he gives people the benefit of the doubt. He might be judgemental but he possess a true gentlemanly quality that many people don't deserve to be the beneficiary of. The bullying that is directed at Dan is particularly affecting due to his current state of vulnerability and the way in which he chooses to confront it. Dan's admirable and relatable and a fantastic character to eavesdrop on throughout this story,
What struck me the most about Six Impossible Things were Dan's moments of clarity in the somersaulting amongst his unhinged home life and swirling emotions. He (and by extension Wood) know what is important. Family, friends and a good sense of humour and this book has plenty of all three.
Raw Blue can be described in one sole word - powerful. It's a book that examines the tough elements and people in life with a roaring crash tackle. Carly has experienced something (deliberately being vague) that has wiped her previous life away, instead all she looks forward to is the joy of surfing.
Carly's one messed up, ball of anger. She's alone, vulnerable, and in immense pain. She also a walking contradiction - an absolute slob at home but paranoid about food poisoning at her cafe's kitchen. Eager fills the page with the minutia of Carly's work life - her responsibilities as a cook, her feelings and concerns for her co-workers and how to make Eggs Benedict. In contrast, her life outside of her work and that of her past, is spotty at best. It's an excellent depiction of the effect unresolved anger has on every facet of one's life.
It's a truly impressive debut work - dark, full of turmoil with the occasional cloud break - just like the ocean. The characters are all well crafted. Danny is one that particularly struck me because he was so unexpected, for the reader and for Carly also. He adds some vital whimsicality to the novel, his synaesthesia is a condition that I have never heard of and now wish to know more about. It's a book that challenges the reader to stick with it, just as Carly challenges those to stay with her.
It's an extremely real, tense book that will move you. It's an impressive start to a promising career.
If you've ever been to Australia you know that the further inland you travel the more red the dirt, the more barren the landscape, the more quiet the surrounds and the more extreme the temperature. Reading this book is like taking your shoes off in the middle of these surrounds and letting the hot sand fill the space between your toes, soothing and burning at the same time. It was an entirely sensory experience that I don't believe I have ever experienced in reading before. It was home, but it was alien.
Stolen is such a visceral experience. While there are plot points, character evolutions and dialogue that all work wonderfully well, it is the surrounds that truly paint the picture. Christopher has crafted a wonderfully intense and vivid world that reflects Gemma's internal conflict as well as her external need to escape.
Christoper has woven a tale that leaves the reader conflicted at the end. Conflicted when there really should be no grey areas. Conflicted when there is clearly a wrong and a right but she's masterfully crafted an antagonist that is entirely formed and sympathetic. This isn't a character or book that you can pigeon hole, it swims in the muddied waters of Ty's motivations and we are carried along with it.
When you open the cover of a Melina Marchetta novel you have certain expectations. If you're a newbie, you expect to be blown away. If you've read her work before, you expect character depth, memorable dialogue and an intriguing family full of skeletons, battened down resentments and fierce love. The Piper's Son will meet both criteria with aplomb.
Arguably The Piper's Son is Melina Marchetta's most adult work. Some may even argue that it doesn't fall within the parameters of what might be considered young adult literature. It spotlights on two members of the Finch-Mackee family - Tom and Georgie (his aunt). Already wisened Marchetta readers will be familiar with one half of the equation having read Saving Francesca, though this does not mean you need read this book knowing the events of the previous one.
Tom's still delightfully chaotic but in the five years since we've left him, he’s travelled an increasingly darkened path. Georgie is new to the fold but provides a welcomed voice of reason and perspective on Tom’s life and those of her family. Their perspectives alternate throughout, shedding light on how Tom and Georgie hit rock bottom after their beloved Joe is killed. While this event quickens their descent into self imposed isolation, it wasn't the initial cause. Georgie is in the midst of a dysfunctional and uncommunicative relationship , while Tom's father's alcoholism and resultant family breakdown has weighed on him. Marchetta's introduce both characters at their lowest ebb and yet it is not a depressing journey.
The Piper's Son is a darker themed book but it never feels overwhelming. Instead it makes the lighter moments feel earned. Marchetta has lovingly crafted the Finch-Mackee family in all their flawed, bawdy brilliance. They are loud, emotional, demonstrative people, unfortunately not when they need to be. The legacy of the first Tom, the cursed Tom, and the tragic death of Joe, casts a shadow over all of them, seeping into the cracks and splitting them apart. There is an overwhelming sense of family history that permeates this tale. Each character is delivered to the reader as a complex, broken individual. There's three generations of stories, slights, fights and silence that influence everything. They are loyal to one another, even in silence. It is what is not said that holds importance for the majority of the book...something true for most families.
Addiction, pride, anger, regret and oblivion are all strong elements of Tom and Georgie's family story. They have addictive personalities-whether people or substances, they hold tight. They don't do anything by halves; even self-destructive behaviour is a gold medal event. Loss, grief and forgiveness filter through strongly, without ever being a clanging anvil.
Whereas the emotional push really derives itself from the internal machinations of the Finch-Mackee family, some comes from Tom's attempts to right him life outside of his family. This throws him back into the friendship fire that is Francesca, Justine, Tara, Will and the rest of the gang. No one has had a particularly easy road since high school and yet this group of people feel the same despite their growth. The text messaging and emails alone will have you chortling as the spirited interchanges and random jokes.
Marchetta has woven a beautiful somewhat saddened tale about loss, hope, family and the realisation that your parents have never been perfect (in fact they might even be more screwed up than you are.) The world is textured and real, the characters nuanced and the plot involving. The Piper's Son is a welcomed addition to the Melina Marchetta library. It will weave its way into your thoughts with the eccentricities and scars of these wonderful people.