‘People Kill People’ – Ellen Hopkins

Whatever your views on gun ownership, the refrain ‘guns don’t kill people. People kill people’ won’t have passed you by. Of course, logically, we know that people are the ones who carry out the act, but it’s hard to dispute the idea that guns make it easier for someone to do something they might think twice about otherwise.

This contemporary read allows us insight into the lives of a lot of characters, each of whom has reason to be angry/to want to hurt people/to feel like they need the protection of a gun. We have a family grieving after a shooting; a young family finding their feet; White Supremacist supporters; a young man determined to take revenge on his old Scout Master and a young boy who’s made homeless after the death of his father, amongst others. These characters are connected, and all have things to fear/things they want to change.

Told partly in verse form, this will not appeal to everyone. There’s a deliberate attempt to personify the gun and lend it an element of seduction. With violence as the narrator, this book attempts to challenge the belief many Americans have that they should have the right to bear arms.

As someone who doesn’t share this belief, and who is appalled by the steady stream of horror we see after yet another shooting, I felt the way this was presented will certainly get people thinking. Ultimately, though, little changed and I don’t feel the key incident towards the end of the book will be enough to drastically change many views. Towards the end things felt rushed, and I felt certain stories were left too vague for my liking.

A simple message, but not one that really feels like it’s given with total conviction here.

‘What If It’s Us?’ – Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

I wanted to wait for my physical copy, but NetGalley gave me an ARC and I couldn’t resist…so now I’ll get to read it again, soon.

This did not go where I wanted to, it didn’t do a lot of the things I hoped it would but I still fell for it hook, line and sinker.

When Arthur and Ben meet one day in New York, the chances of them seeing each other again are pretty slim. But where would the fun be in that?

Through a varied range of ingenious actions they find each other and have a date. It doesn’t work brilliantly, so they try again…and again. There’s lots of other factors impacting on their attempt to have a relationship, but they keep trying. Even when things are clearly heading into car-crash territory these two come out of things smelling of roses.

Every character in the story sparkles on the page, and this was a gooey lovely thing. For the most part. Not always – because nobody’s life could be that amazing – but it came fairly close.

Even the ending – which totally goes against what part of me really wanted to happen – was perfect.

‘Sadie’ – Courtney Summers

It starts with a dead girl. Mattie, aged 11. Found in a field after being missing for days. Her sister, Sadie, then goes missing.

This felt quite different to the other books by Summers that I’ve read. There was an unusual style of writing, with excerpts from a radio podcast interspersed with the story of Sadie. The podcast lent an air of interest to the story – watching someone else uncover the events that we were already familiar with, but also piecing together the strands just that little bit after we had been told certain details. 

We follow Sadie as she tries to find the man she blames for her sister’s death. Along the way Sadie makes some deeply unpleasant discoveries, and it makes us think a little more about how easy it is for people to hide their true feelings/behaviours if they choose to.

Throughout, there was an ominous tone to the story. The threads surrounding Sadie pulled tighter and tighter, and it felt like the resolution was not quite what we hoped for.

Personally I found the ending to be frustrating as Sadie’s story was not clearly resolved. I liked the way this was left open to a positive possibility, but with what we know I can’t help but feel it wasn’t on the cards.

‘The Towering Sky’ – Katharine McGee

Welcome back to New York, 2119. A skyscraper city, fueled by impossible dreams, where the lives of five teenagers have become intertwined in ways that no one could have imagined.

So, last part in the trilogy and I really didn’t know what to expect.

The opening sets up an idea very clearly and had me wondering what on earth might lead to that conclusion. Then our action switches to three months earlier and we are shown some of the details that bring us to the end-point.

I found myself trying to recall some details from the previous two books, but here we see how the teens have been affected by Mariel’s death and the way they’ve been coping with events since then.

Avery has herself a new boyfriend, Max, and is toying with the idea of moving to study in Oxford. But her love for Atlas is not going to die easily, and their father’s election leads to some awkward situations.

Watt and Leda – possibly my favourites of the group – drift together and we see them piecing together the events of the last few months. Rylin and Cord are very different, but we learn sometimes the differences aren’t such a barrier. Calliope, stuck in her con for the first time ever, is struggling to stay true to herself. Thankfully, some matters aren’t left in her hands.

While the ‘ending’ was dramatic, I was pleased that not everything was as clear cut as we expected. I was surprised by one or two revelations, but it felt this could have been tightened up.

Summer Highlights part 1

Justyce McAllister is a young boy with a bright future. Captain of his debate team, a great scholar and well-liked by his peers Justyce is the kind of character you’d probably want your child to be. Sensitive and thoughtful, considerate of others and trying to be the best he can be it’s hard not to like him. So when we see things start to go wrong for him it’s a pretty bleak message.

When the book opens Justyce has gone out late one night because his ex-girlfriend has been drinking and is trying to drive home. He is in the process of trying to get her home safely, when a policeman cuffs him and arrests him. Why? Simple answer…he’s black.

This incident alone had me outraged, and it certainly gets Justyce and those around him to talk frankly about some of the issues they’re facing surrounding race and how it impacts their lives. But it doesn’t change anything.

Justyce is surrounded by privileged white people, and he lives in a more stereotypical black neighbourhood. Inevitably, there are clashes in ideology and what people expect of him. Justyce turns to Martin Luther King whom he imagines writing to in order to ask questions he has.

The book could have continued in this vein for some time. Sadly I imagine there’s many stories that could have been used to illustrate the seemingly inherent racism in modern society.

Just as things seem to be settling into a bleak but known place, Stone places Justyce and his best friend, Manny, in an all-too-common situation. What follows is harrowing.

This should have been a 5 star read for its message and desire to encourage dialogue. However, unlike The Hate U Give the use of third-person narrative results in a rather detached reading experience. It meant I felt rather less engaged in Justyce’s life than I felt I needed to be. Still, definitely a read that should be shared.

A small town. One year five cheerleaders are killed within a short space of time. Seemingly unconnected incidents…but some people are convinced there was more to these deaths.

Monica is still coming to terms without her sister, one of those who died. She is convinced Jen wouldn’t have killed herself but nobody is prepared to talk to her.
Monica takes it upon herself to try to find out what happened. Her digging uncovers a lot of secrets, and it isn’t until the end of the book that we realise the significance of some of these secrets.

Plenty of twists and dark undercurrents to this. It wasn’t a book that felt like a long read but there were a number of details that I only recognised their importance once other issues had been resolved. It made more sense of some of the actions and events that took place, but it was frustrating to be left without really seeing all the dots joined.

 

A small town. One year five cheerleaders are killed within a short space of time. Seemingly unconnected incidents…but some people are convinced there was more to these deaths.

Monica is still coming to terms without her sister, one of those who died. She is convinced Jen wouldn’t have killed herself but nobody is prepared to talk to her.
Monica takes it upon herself to try to find out what happened. Her digging uncovers a lot of secrets, and it isn’t until the end of the book that we realise the significance of some of these secrets.

Plenty of twists and dark undercurrents to this. It wasn’t a book that felt like a long read but there were a number of details that I only recognised their importance once other issues had been resolved. It made more sense of some of the actions and events that took place, but it was frustrating to be left without really seeing all the dots joined.

 

This is definitely one of those books that I’d recommend with caution, but I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would initially.

Nita is not your normal teenager. Living with her mother, Nita has always had an affinity for cutting things. She turns a blind eye to some of the jobs her mother does, but she will dissect bodies and help with the sale of parts on the black market. However, when her mother brings a live boy back and asks Nita to cut him Nita cannot bring herself to do so.

Nita’s help in the boy’s escape sets in place an awful chain of events that results in Nita being kidnapped and put in a cage. People are intrigued by her ability to cut off pain and heal herself. They are prepared to pay serious money for her, and so we watch Nita in her desperate attempts to escape.

I don’t want to give the details away, but things are not what we’re led to believe. There seems to be clear hints of some kind of plot that Nita is unaware of. A lot of violence, and some sinister characters/events but there was an attempt to portray the humanity of characters who, in many eyes, would be seen as monsters.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for letting me read this.

 

If you’d have told me I’d read a book about basketball I’d have laughed at you. Until I realised this book must have something going for it because so many of my reluctant readers picked it up, enjoyed it and went on to try other things. So, I decided to give it a whirl. Not at all what I expected.

While basketball forms the backdrop to this story, it’s also about growing up, accepting change, family relationships and dealing with disappointment. Told in varying verse styles it picks you up and carries you along at a pretty brisk pace.
The brothers were crazy to prolong their feud in the way they did, but through their shared love/bond things were getting back on track. I sensed where this might go, but it still comes as a shock.

Now to go and dig out my copy of House Arrest.

‘White Rabbit, Red Wolf’ – Tom Pollock

Touted as the new Curious Incident this is a very different book, and I think if you go into it expecting a lovable main character trying to make sense of the world around him you may be disappointed.

Peter is a mathematical genius. He uses maths to manage his extreme anxiety, and is convinced that maths has the answer to everything. Being that bit older than Haddon’s protagonist, he’s also got a slightly different take on the world.
From the moment we first meet Pete crouched in his kitchen having eaten a salt cellar in an attempt to stem his overwhelming anxiety, it’s clear that this is going to be an unsettling read. I truly wasn’t expecting it to be as dark as it was.

It was fascinating to get under the skin of Pete, but the actual story was more focused on the thriller element and it had to be this way in order for the plot to work.

When Pete’s mother is stabbed as she goes to receive an award for her work, his sister is missing and he quickly learns that no one around him was who they claimed to be. We’re plunged into a nightmare world of spies, scientific manipulation and some gruesome deaths.

I don’t want to reveal too much more. Suffice to say, nothing was quite as it seemed and every time I thought we were getting somewhere there was another detail given that turned things on their head. This would have been an all-out recommendation, but for the sense of everything feeling rather rushed by the end and being left rather uncertain about a few key details. Still one I’d heartily recommend.

‘The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their World’ – Dashka Slater

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

A seemingly innocuous action, done with little thought of the potential consequences, and I’m fairly certain that many teenagers could identify – to some degree – with this scenario. What will be quite different is that for most of us who carry out a ‘dumb/risky’ action there will be no further impact. Richard was not quite so lucky.

From the outset we are told exactly what happened to the two students involved – Richard and Sasha. Sasha fell asleep on a bus travelling home from school, Richard put a lighter to their skirt and then watched as they were seriously burned. The consequences for both could have been so much more severe, but what we are privy to here is enough.

We begin by focusing on Sasha. Born as Luke this section outlines how they came to view themselves as agender and what that meant for them and their family. There’s a lot of info packed into this section, but it gives a clear insight into some of the issues facing teens exploring their identity.

Next we’re introduced to Richard, a cheeky young boy who wants to achieve. Circumstances seem to play a huge part in his life and the options open to him, but each person has to take responsibility for their actions and live with the consequences of their actions.

As we watch the bus journey unfold, the moment Richard sets Sasha’s skirt on fire is fleeting. However, the repercussions of this moment are enormous.
The story takes us through court appearances, how both families reacted and some of the wider issues involved. It poses a number of questions about hate crime, how teens are treated in the justice system and how we can accommodate difference.

I felt quite humbled reading this, and very fortunate to not be faced with so many of the issues touched on within the pages. While the writing style had an inevitable journalistic tone, the story was engaging and one that needs to be shared. Thank you to NetGalley for granting me access to this book.

‘We Are Young’ by Cat Clarke

Another Cat Clarke success, but at a heavy cost. It’ll put you through the full range of emotions, but the messages are so important to be heard.

When Evan’s mum marries new partner Tim it should be a happy moment. But on the same night his son, Lewis, is involved in a car accident.

Three teens die and Lewis is in a coma. Rumours about the crash are rife, and people are curious about why four people who don’t know each other were together.

With the help of friends, her father and a bit of luck, Evan decides to pursue the truth behind the rumours and find out what really happened. Along the way she has some issues of her own to deal with, and gets to expose her new step-father’s controlling behaviour before things get too bad.

There’s a lot going on, and there were times everything felt rather too easily resolved. That aside, there’s definitely plenty to think about here.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for my thoughts.

‘All of this is True’ – Lygia Day Peñaflor

A group of teens go to a book signing and end up being befriended by the author. They are given unlimited access to her home and time, and she seems genuinely interested in getting to know them. Except, then her latest book is published and it is – in fact – the story of their lives.

The book idea itself was fascinating. I liked the inclusion of excerpts from the fictional book. Unfortunately, the group of teens were not particularly interesting characters. They had potential to be, but they were focused on in relation to the fictional book so we don’t see much beyond the surface.

Stylistically it feels choppy. We cut from interview to interview, to messages, to novel excerpts and it’s difficult to get a sense of quite where it’s going. It always felt like we were second guessing events/characters and those I’d really like to have heard from were not given a voice.

An intriguing idea, but one which didn’t quite come together for me.

‘Second Chance Summer’ – Morgan Matson

Having lost a relative to this illness only a few months ago, there was always going to be an emotional investment in this for me.
Taylor is having to spend the summer with her family after they learn her father has pancreatic cancer. Setting aside the inevitable turmoil she feels at coping with such an event, Taylor also has unfinished business at the resort and this bothers her.
To cut a long story short, the novel is set in summer and nearly every interaction between Taylor and other characters links to the idea of second chances in some way.
The story allows us to take pleasure in the small moments, those moments it’s too easy to take for granted until you no longer have them. Matson explores the physical impact of illness with sensitivity and there were some genuinely moving moments (even if you’ve not been in a similar situation).
Alongside this we have Taylor learning to deal with her emotions and friendships. The romance is not overdone, and the growth Taylor experiences as a character felt realistic in its portrayal.
All in all, one of those books that got me far more emotionally invested than I was expecting.