‘I Hold Your Heart’ – Karen Gregory

From a distance, everyone thinks they can spot the signs of an abusive relationship.

From a distance, you think you know that some actions are just not what forms part of a healthy relationship.

But when you’re the one in that situation, how easy is it to tell?

When Gemma first meets Aaron she’s confident and outgoing, has a part-time job, dreams of singing and is just starting A-levels. Within weeks of meeting Aaron things are shifting. She starts giving up things that meant so much to her. Is it because Aaron loves her, or is there a more sinister angle?

Reading this knowing what the story focused on meant I was on alert throughout, looking for signs that it was heading that way. But the way the story developed felt very natural, and it’s easy to see just how easy it could be to end up in a situation you’re not entirely comfortable with.

An emotional journey, which may not ring true for everyone, but it will certainly get people talking.

The link to the e.e. cumming’s poem has now given a much more sinister vibe to what always seemed such a heartfelt sentiment. The power of words.

‘How to Make Friends with the Dark’ – Kathleen Glasgow

The kind of experience that you’d hope nobody ever has to go through at such a young age, but you know it happens frequently. Grief isn’t something you’re ever really prepared for. Knowing how to feel when someone close to you dies isn’t always possible, and when you’re just a child it could so easily be over-whelming.
Grace – known as Tiger – is close to her mother, but she finds her restrictions hard to accept at times. They have a huge argument. Something that happens daily for some. But for Grace, this becomes a key moment…as later that day her mother dies suddenly.

At 16 Grace becomes a ward of the state and everything she knows has gone. We follow Grace through her time in foster care; her sudden learning of a previously unknown family member who becomes her guardian, and her brief foray into the depths of her darkness.

The story itself felt disjointed at times. So many strands were unresolved or left open in a way that felt a little frustrating. However, there were some wonderful characters helping a Tiger through her experience, and the eloquence with which Glasgow captures the grieving process was to be applauded.

Everyone’s experience of grief will be different, but this allows a brief insight into some of the things that might affect people and how they can deal with them.

‘Can You See Me?’ – Libby Scott and Rachel Westcott

Can You See Me? is a definite one to recommend.

We focus on the story of Tally, a young girl just starting Year Seven. She tries very hard to be ‘normal’ and to fit in but doesn’t always find it easy because she is autistic. While her experience might not be the same for everyone, it certainly offers a glimpse into her life and offers the reader a chance to walk in her shoes a while. However, it goes beyond sharing just her experience as an autistic child; focusing on how many of her peers also feel about the experiences they face.

I loved the authentic feel to Tally’s voice, and the perceptive comments about how those around her react to her/her ‘meltdowns’ and the quirks that make her who she is.

A great cross-over read for primary/high school students.

‘The Furies’ – Katie Lowe

With its references to mythology and classic literature, its private school setting, exclusive ‘study group’ and murders it’s not hard to see why I was getting a sense of The Secret History as I read this. Unlike that book, I never got the feeling that our narrator – Violet – was trying to establish herself as better than the group she joins. If anything, her naïveté and somewhat gauche decision-making is understandable and stops us totally disliking her.
Opening with what becomes a key closing image meant there was a definite sense of inevitability to the events contained within. At the beginning, when we’re told about Violet’s family situation, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for her. How wise the decision to go to this exclusive Academy to study A-levels was is not up for question – but, with an absent mother dealing with grief by opting out, it’s not hard to see how easy it was for Violet to be seduced by the camaraderie offered to her.
Violet does not seem particularly likeable. She ignores obvious issues with those attempting to befriend her, gets herself into crazy situations and seems content to put it down to being seduced by the thrill of what’s happening. The blurring of moral boundaries and the toxicity of the girls’ friendship seemed, to me, to be at the heart of the story. As it’s a theme often explored, linking it to the supernatural and the age-old obsession with ‘difference’ offered another way in.
As the events progressed, it was genuinely hard to work out exactly who was guilty of what. There were hints of so many characters doing inappropriate things that part of me couldn’t help but feel it was inevitable that they’d pay a price of some sort, eventually.
Though this bore resemblances to a number of stories, I felt it came into its own as we watch Violet at the end. Older, a little wiser, but still part of the ongoing cycle that seems to be so vilified throughout.