‘A Danger to Herself and Others’ – Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Only when she’s locked away does the truth begin to escape…

Hannah Gold is a top student, precocious and destined for great things. She insists on telling us this throughout the time we are with her. What Hannah doesn’t tell us is why she’s in an institute, meeting regularly with a doctor who makes notes on a sheet that states Hannah could be a danger to herself and others.

We learn that during her time at summer school, Hannah’s room-mate was hospitalised after falling from a window. Hannah is blamed for the accident, but is sent to the institute for a psychiatric evaluation.

As is the wont with unreliable narrators, we believe what Hannah tells us but slowly start to pick up on clues that perhaps all is not as she says.

During the course of the novel we learn that Hannah’s reality is not quite what she thinks. The friends she recalls don’t exist. Hannah is coming to terms with a previously undiagnosed mental illness, and it takes time for her to accept the fact she’ll need treatment for the rest of her life.

Hannah was not – at times – a likeable character. There’s more than one or two clear suggestions that she was, indeed, responsible for what happened to her room-mate. But to what extent can we hold her responsible for what happened when we understand that her reality is quite different to many?

I felt irritated by the parents of Hannah. Absent for much of the novel – with hints that this a theme of her life – their horror at learning their daughter was not ‘normal’ was palpable, and their answer seemed to be to throw money at the situation. While the situation would be a shock to them, I couldn’t help but think about all those people in this kind of situation who don’t get the help offered to Hannah, or who don’t get the treatment they need because they can’t afford it.

This is definitely a read to recommend and I’m grateful to NetGalley for providing me with access in exchange for my thoughts.

‘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.

‘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.

‘Clean’ – Juno Dawson

Clean. To be clean involves removing dirt. And, in this, there’s A LOT of dirt.

Due for release in April 2018, I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of this latest release from Juno Dawson. It brought back memories of the first time I read ‘Junk’ by Melvin Burgess, and I sincerely hope that this does not get ignored because people think teen readers can’t handle such topics.

We first meet our main character, Lexi, as she is passed out in her brother’s car on her way to a rehabilitation centre for heroin addiction. I’d read the opening some time ago, but it was just as disorientating and confusing this time around. Watching Lexi go through the first steps in her seventy day treatment is hard to read.

Dawson packs a serious punch here and we get a warts-and-all account of not just Lexi’s addiction but those with her in the centre. We relive some of the experiences that bring Lexi to this point and, though there were some alarming situations, there was no scare-mongering ‘just say no’ preaching.

What this novel conveyed so well was the deception that someone who is addicted might practise. Particularly on their sense of self. If you surround yourself with enablers, it’s easy to deny you have a problem.

Initially I did not think Lexi would be a character I felt much for. But, thankfully, she is not simply a shallow spoilt little rich girl. She, like a lot of the other characters we meet, is lost and needs help finding her place. As we learn more about Lexi it becomes easier to see beyond the persona she presents to the world.

There was a sense of knowingness to ‘Clean’. Sometimes the first attempt at rehabilitation is unsuccessful, but it doesn’t mean you should stop trying. There were moments of humour within this – which I wasn’t really expecting – and I found myself wanting to know more about some of the other characters Lexi meets. I also found myself really irritated by Lexi’s so-called friends and the ‘rich absent’ parents who seemed to be being held more than accountable for their childrens’ issues.

While it doesn’t give us all the answers, it certainly raises some interesting questions.

 

‘The Taste of Blue Light’ – Lydia Ruffles

 

Since I blacked out, the slightest thing seems to aggravate my brain and fill it with fire’

These are the things Lux knows:
She is an Artist.
She is lucky.
She is broken.

These are the things she doesn’t know:
What happened over the summer.
Why she ended up in hospital.
Why her memories are etched in red.

‘The nightmares tend to linger long after your screams have woken you up …’

Desperate to uncover the truth, Lux’s time is running out. If she cannot piece together the events of the summer and regain control of her fractured mind, she will be taken away from everything and everyone she holds dear.

If her dreams don’t swallow her first.

There’s no doubt about it that this contemporary YA read – due to be published in early February 2018 – packs a powerful punch.

Initially, Lux was not a character to feel empathy with. Her unwillingness to engage with things and people made her hard to care about. The environment in which she cloisters herself is alien to many of us.

Yet as the story progressed I found myself falling under a spell. Desperate to know what happened, we do get answers, and they are far more topical than we might expect. All along I had an idea in which way the book was heading (which wouldn’t have been awful), but Ruffles goes for something much bolder and braver…and it pays off.

This is one book I feel it’s best to know little about before reading. It is not immediately seeking to attract your attention, but it sneaks up on you. Once I’d closed the pages I was desperate to read it again.

‘Turtles all the Way Down’ – John Green

I started this book a number of times and just wasn’t ‘clicking’…but I’m glad I got in the right place for this eventually. It’s a slow-burner, definitely, and I think I’d gone into it with a certain expectation. When this wasn’t there, I was a little non-plussed.
Basic story revolves around sixteen year old Aza and her best friend, Daisy. Aza has quite debilitating mental health issues. We watch these two girls go about their daily lives and there’s a side story involving a boy from Aza’s past, Davis, their fledgling relationship and the disappearance of his father.
At moments this felt very much like things I’d read before. The story about Davis’s father felt like a framework, and there was a real sense of episodes that we were bearing witness to rather than a cohesive story.
Those comments make it sound really negative, but that’s not the feeling I got from this read. The plot itself was fairly so-so; I wasn’t unduly bothered what happened. However, what I found absorbing was the inner workings of Aza’s mind.
This is a girl suffering. She’s very absorbed in herself, and constantly questions her actions. She is the kind of person who might be utterly draining to actually be around, but the attempt to get into her mind was fascinating. This will strike a chord with so many because of the way it explores mental health, and for that reason alone it’s a book I’d be happy to recommend. I cannot get the image of the spiral out of my mind, and I think the way the book ended offered hope without being saccharine-sweet and incredible. This doesn’t have quite the appeal of The Fault in our Stars, but I found it more satisfying as it forces you to confront your own misconceptions/views on mental health.

‘Kill the Boy Band’ – Goldy Moldavsky

Just know from the start that it wasn’t supposed to go like this. All we wanted was to get near them. That’s why we got a room in the hotel where they were staying. 

We were not planning to kidnap one of them. Especially not the most useless one. But we had him—his room key, his cell phone, and his secrets.

We were not planning on what happened next.

We swear.

How could you resist a premise like that? It sounds dark, full of black humour and a satire on the modern pop industry. Sadly, it doesn’t quite work.

Boy bands are an entity that inspire a particular kind of frenzied behaviour in their fans. Girls, specifically, have always been keen to show their love…but with the advent of social media, and the ability to pay closer attention to schedules etc I think things have become a little more frantic.

This story focuses on a group of four ‘friends’, bonded by their love of the group known as The Ruperts. They follow the band to their hotel and thus begins a strange turn of events. One of the band members is inadvertently imprisoned in the girls’ room…and so begins a dangerous game, which ends in shocking ways that you can’t even begin to imagine.

While this has moments that are entertaining, there wasn’t enough distinction between the voices of the author and the girls. I was never entirely certain whether we were applauding the girls, judging them or sympathising with them. The treatment of the boys themselves was scathing, but without really offering anything to explain this view. I really disliked the attitudes expressed towards Apple-such negative body images really don’t have their place without more care to put them in context.

So, all in all, a book that had its moments but which, ultimately, felt rather missing in something. A bit like the thing it’s focusing on?

‘Fix Me’ – Lisa M. Cronkhite

Pen is, to put it bluntly, a mess. Since her sister committed suicide a year ago, Pen has done everything she can to avoid dealing with her feelings about it. She and her friend Rose have spent the last year experimenting with Fix, a once legal anti-depressant that has become the go-to drug since it produces intense hallucinations.

When we first meet Pen she is high. She spends most of her time high, getting into more dangerous situations. While she recognises that she is playing a dangerous game, Pen is addicted to Nate – the ‘imaginary’ guy she sees during her highs.

Initially this seemed like an odd read. Pen is not a likeable character, but as we start to get hints of odd things happening around her she becomes a little more intriguing. At one point I wondered if she was doing something while under the influence, but her unreliability keeps us uncertain.

As one girl after another disappears it becomes clear that something very dangerous is going on. We question everyone, and there were moments when it seemed that Pen’s life was in danger for reasons other than the drug-taking.

I did feel that there were elements of the ending that were less satisfactory, but it was definitely an engaging story that will get under your skin. Thanks to publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this in advance of publication in exchange for my review.

‘Before I Let Go’ – Marieke Nijkamp

I’d really enjoyed This is Where it Ends, so was excited to be authorised to read an ARC of this by NetGalley and the publishers. Unfortunately, it didn’t hold quite the same appeal.

While the story focuses on some interesting topics – mental health, sexuality, suicide – it’s not the kind of book I think I’ll remember much about later. A bit like The Smell of Other People’s Houses there was something that jarred with me.

Our main character, Corey, has been at boarding school for a few months, and she’s desperate to get back to Lost Creek (her remote Alaskan village of 247 residents). Unfortunately, just before her scheduled return she gets the news that her best friend is dead.

Corey returns home, but she is treated as an outsider. People don’t talk to her, she is convinced she hears strange things outside her room and she can’t reconcile what she remembers of the place with what is in front of her months later. Nothing is as she left it, and though she has questions about what happened to her friend, nobody seems willing to give her answers. Corey is determined to find out what happened, but she isn’t aware of what price she may have to pay.

The depiction of the Alaskan village was atmospheric, but we got very little about the other characters which made it hard to understand their motivation. The timeframe jumped all over the place, and this gave everything a disjointed feel that I found off-putting.

 

‘Eliza and her Monsters’ – Francesca Zappia

On the surface, this is a clever book packed full of graphics and interesting text to support the main narrative. But, beneath the surface, it’s a story about finding yourself, coming to accept your strengths/limitations and – in part – addressing mental health issues and thoughts about the role the internet has in our lives.

Eliza has always been introverted. She feels she doesn’t fit in with her sporty competitive family, preferring to spend her time online. Here she is not the oddball she feels in real life; here, she’s Lady Constellation, creator of Monstrous Seas…a webcomic like no other.

When new boy Wallace joins her school, she finds an unlikely ally. The growing friendship between these two was well-handled, and I liked that Zappia showed us suffering can come in numerous ways and it’s all about how we deal with it.

Of course, not everything goes as smoothly as we’d like. There are bumps along the way, but Eliza comes through a pretty tough time…smiling. For those who like their reading a little different, this will be right up their street.