One of Us is Back by Karen M McManus

I feel like I have been waiting f-o-r e-v-e-r for this book. I could not give in to the hardback as it would have not matched with my other books, and as every dedicated bookworm knows, books need to match. (Although, I did give in to the black cover special edition, rather than the traditional white cover, but I just loved it).

So, ‘One of Us is Back’ did not disappoint (thank goodness, imagine if it had – haha). I absolutely loved being back with the Bayview gang as they faced yet another challenge as it appears that someone thinks it is ‘Time for a new game, Bayview’. I am not providing any spoilers other than that you are back with the gang as they tackle another deadly game. And they do not seem as free of Simon just yet, as much as they hope they are.

I just love these books (and pretty much anything I have read by this author); McManus writes brilliant YA thrillers which I wish had been available to me when I was the target audience. Although, as we all know, it does not matter who books are aimed at; as long as you enjoy reading them, you can read what you want.

I think one of the best things about the books of Karen M McManus is that she creates fantastic characters who are relatable; we meet so many brilliantly strong female lead characters who know their minds, and have no fear but love dearly. Which means they face so much head on, that maybe some of us would avoid. I think one of my favourite characters will always be Bronwyn, she is just simply a legend.

So, if you are fan of the Bayview books so far, I recommend this one because it does not disappoint at all – it is a fantastic thriller which is a real page-turner. The question is, do I now need to go back to the beginning of the trilogy to enjoy it all over again?

Two for Tuesday – Novels-in-verse

I was lucky enough to hear Louise Reid speak at one of The Book Taster’s live events and this led me to her books. However, I am ashamed to say that ‘Wrecked’ and ‘Gloves Off’ sat on my shelves for a little while before I picked them up (although you can find my post about ‘The Poet’ on my blog). However, I picked ‘Wrecked’ up and that immediately made me pick ‘Gloves Off’ to follow.

‘Wrecked’ is a heartbreaking YA novel-in-verse. I have actually thought about it every day since I finished it, and once I finished it, I needed a few minutes to just absorb it all. This novel takes the story of boyfriend and girlfriend, Joe and Imogen, and we meet them after they have been involved in a fatal car accident, which appears to be Joe’s fault. We follow Joe as he faces his trial for dangerous driving; the story moves between the present and the past as we discover the events that led to that fatal night.

The emotions in this book are intense, as the relationship between Imogen and Joes is slowly unpicked. Is it really love’s young dream, as Joe believes it is? Or are there cracks that could wreck not just Joe’s life, but those of his family and friends, too? I really do not want to reveal too much about this book, as I do not feel that I can do it justice. However, I will say that it is an emotional rollercoaster presented in verse, beautifully constructed with clever presentation on the page that reflects some of the events and emotions that are being presented. You are really invested in this book from the moment you start reading, and I could not put it down – and it will stay with me for a long time.

And this took me straight to ‘Gloves Off’…

Louisa Reid is not afraid to tackle some tough subjects in her books, and ‘Gloves Off’ is no exception. Again, verse is used in this book to tell to the story of Lily and her family. Lily is badly bullied at school and her safe place is with her family at home, although her mum, Bernadette, has her own struggles and worries that she is to blame for what is happening to Lily. However, simultaneously, mother and daughter begin a journey to transform from who they are into better versions of themselves.

After a particularly nasty incident, Lily’s dad introduces her to boxing to support her in being able to fight back. And that does not mean physically, necessarily, but to allow her to have the confidence to fight back. At the same time, Bernadette begins to fight back against the thing that has held her back, dealing with the shame from comments made to her about her appearance. Both journeys that the characters go on allow them to see life as something that is beautiful, and gives them both a second chance to show the bullies that they are not going to be held back any longer.

This was another page-turner for me that I could not put down, as it was just so stunningly constructed, and I want to support Lily in her fight against those who were holding her back.

I cannot praise these books enough, especially if you are a fan of novels-in-verse and powerful stories that will steal a piece of your heart. Do not get me wrong, there are some tough topics tackled, and it is not always an easy read, but I think each book is an important read with some important lessons among the pages. So, if you have not picked up a book by Louisa Reid, I really suggest you do, as you will be in for a treat.

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

This is a book that has all the hype – in fact, it has not just had all the hype, it also has a film.

I read this book with quite high expectations and I am still not entirely sure what I thought of it. I enjoyed the concept; it is brilliant to read such representation of the LGBTQ+ community in books. It is brilliant that this book does not just tackle boy meets boy, but also looks at some of those concerns and issues that follow those who are expected to behave a certain way due to their position and how isolating it can be for those who just want to be their true selves.

I enjoyed reading about these characters and I think it really had some thought-provoking moments, but there was something that just stopped it having real sparkle. Now, this could be a moment of ‘it is not you, it is me’ – I could just have been too tired to invest in this book the way it deserves. But I think for me it was just a little too long and my focus wandered occasionally, and I feel I probably skim-read some of it rather than really taking it in.

I understand why this book is so loved, and Casey McQuiston knows how to write a story that will make you really think about the world we live in. And she creates characters you would quite like to hang out with and have a catch-up (and discuss a little bit of politics or the state of the world, potentially). But, for me, it just missed the spot ever so slightly.

However, do not get me wrong, I will probably invest an evening on the film, as I would love to see how this book has gone from the page to the screen. Always happy to see if the hype is deserved.

And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness

I have finally joined the local library. In fact, it was listening to the author Jan Carson that convinced me that I had to make use of my library, and so I did.

And the first book I took out: a YA graphic novel, one that had been on my wishlist quite some time – ‘And the Ocean Was Our Sky’ by Patrick Ness.

This book is absolutely stunning; the illustrations are truly beautiful and so clever. They are sybmbolic as well as supporting the story, and you are left with some of them to use your imagination to add more to the moment. They are, in every way, just enough to bring the story to life for the reader.

I guess I should talk about the story. Inspired by ‘Moby Dick’ (which I have not read, despite Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse insisting that I should), it is the story of the whales as the hunters of man, rather than the other way round. And what a powerful story it is. Patrick Ness has really flipped the tables on the classic, in such a sophisticated and meaningful way. This is not a gimmick of a story, but one that really makes you think about the impact of whale hunting on those beautiful mammals of the sea – and Patrick Ness really brings them to life for the reader.

However, this is not a tale that preaches to its readership; it makes the reader think. You will consider how not everybody that hunts supports what is happening, but there is also that survival instinct kicking in. It is fundamental to all to want to survive, even sometimes when the things that are needed for that to happen may not always sit comfortably with our ideology. So, on the pages of this book, we have quite a study of human and animal nature.

If you like a thought-provoking and powerful read, then this is a book I would suggest you pick up, I would love to know how other readers respond to this graphic novel. And always remember: YA books are not just for younger readers.

Five Survive by Holly Jackson

‘Five Survive’ has been one of my most anticipated reads, so when I spotted that I could grab a copy in the Waterstones post-Christmas sale, I could not turn it down. I mean, it has sprayed edges, so what more persuading did I need?

This book brings together a teenage road trip with a thriller. As a group of friends get stranded off the beaten track on their way to their break, they discover that maybe it was not as much of accident as they orginally thought. In fact, was this ‘breakdown’ all a set-up – but by who and, more importantly, why?

This is a fantastic read: absolutely thrilling, and you are on the edge of your seat at points as the drama intensifies. Told hour by hour in ‘real time’, you live through every event the characters do, feeling their panic and fear intensify as the time passes. And you are desperate to find out, as they are, exactly why it is happening.

For me, this really reminded me of a modern ‘Lord of the Flies’. How the relationships break down and change with no ‘adults’, and various people attempting to take different roles. Especially because, as more and more is revealed about the characters, the more the relationships and roles change and develop.

I was absolutely hooked. Holly Jackson has created a thriller that moves her writing on well from the ‘Good Girl’ crime fiction trilogy – and I am keen to see where else her writing takes us in the future.

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

I can not tell you why, but this was the book I was least excited about on the Carnegie Shortlist, I think possibly because I was judging the book by its cover (a bookworm’s crime, I know) and it did not seem to appeal to me in quite the same way as the others.

However, I was again wrong and had made an error of judgement; this book was a great read. I am not (as I have mentioned before) a fan of short stories as a rule, but I am always willing to give them a chance. And this collection of short stories was excellent, as to me it read just like the regular chapters of a book, as each of these stories linked together to give us the bigger narrative.

‘Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town’ tells the story of a group of young people in the aforementioned small town in America’s west. A town that holds secrets and was once hit by the tragedy of a young girl going missing, which appears to make no sense to the community, as everybody knows everybody and nobody ever seems to visit. However, as we read about each of the characters, the mystery is slowly solved and the community is shaken to the core.

Although some of the secrets make for uncomfortable reading, this is a story that needs telling. Especially thinking about the ease of abuse of power, and the blind respect that many have for those who are supposed to be pillars of the community. Also, alternatively, how easy it can be sometimes to misunderstand a situation without all of the information.

This is such a well-crafted novel that I think will stay with readers a long time after the final page has been read.

The Outrage by William Hussey

This has been on the TBR pile for a while, for no other reason other than that there are so many books and so little time. ‘Hideous Beauty‘ is one of the best LGBTQ+ books I have read and, although ‘The Outrage’ is very different, I was sure it would not disappoint…

…and I was correct.

Set in a future England where the far-right have taken control and it is a crime to be gay, we meet Gabriel, a rule-breaker, with his biggest crime being his sexuality – something that he must keep hidden if he is to survive. However, when Eric joins the school, Gabriel falls in love. But there is an even bigger obstacle in the way, as Eric’s father is a chief inspector of Degenerate Investigations. Gabriel and his friends create their own groups of rebels, who watch banned films and understand that there is a much better world out there than the one in which they live. Until the secret is discovered.

This is a story of bravery; of relationships and the fight for what is right. I found it an incredibly emotional read as, sometimes, it was clear where fiction and, sadly, fact for some blurred. Nobody should be told that who they are is a crime and that they can only live in the way that is dictated to them. This is a book that so many young adults and adults alike should read, as there are so many important lessons within its pages that we could all take note from. After all, this tale could well be a warning of what could happen if bad decisions and bad people gain control of society…

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

My fourth title from the Carnegie Shortlist was ‘Punching the Air’. Another brilliant piece of free verse for a YA audience, tackling yet again an important subject in our society.

I am not sure I have the skill to review this book in the way that it deserves. I am not sure I have the words for how wonderful it is, despite the fact that it tackles such a difficult subject – and one that we all wish was not able to happen.

Inspired by the tragic true story of one of its authors, Yusef Salaam, who was sent to prison at the age of 15 for a crime that he did not commit, Amal Shahid is falsely imprisoned – the victim of the crime is the only one who can save him, but he is not able to share his story. So, Amal, loses the world he knows, his loving family, the chance to practice his art and his poetry, and is forced to adapt to a life behind bars. This is a story that, although incredibly sad and emotional throughout, is also a one of hope and finding joy in the small things – when the joy is there to be found.

Beautifully written, this free verse novel becomes a real page-turner as you hope that true justice will be served, and that Amal will have the strength to learn and grow from his experience, and have the future that he truly deserves.

This is the sort of book that I hope all young people will read and take some important lessons from – especially about the difference a simple choice can make – and that the consequences can be much farther-reaching than you could ever imagine.

Guard Your Heart by Sue Divin

My third title from the Carnegie shortlist is ‘Guard Your Heart’ by Sue Divin.

This was, again, a fantastic read (I am not sure how a winner is ever supposed to be picked) – this time, based in Derry, Northern Ireland. Somewhere many of us would believe now is a place of peace – the troubles not something that the younger generation have to face or think about. However, ‘Guard Your Heart’ reminds us that, sadly, it is not all history, but there are still the scars and struggles influencing people every day.

This is a love story between Aidan and Iona, 18 years old; school is over and they have their whole lives ahead of them. However, Aidan is a Catholic, with a complex family past and potentially a difficult future ahead of him. Iona is a Protestant, with a father who had been in the police during the height of the troubles, and a brother who has recently followed the same path. These differences should not be something that could keep them apart in 2016, but sometimes old ideals and beliefs are hard to shake off – if not for Aidan and Iona, then for their families.

This is a book that makes you want to learn more and understand more about a history that, for many, is still so raw, but may not have the same coverage as other events of the past. This, just like ‘Cane Warriors‘ and ‘The Crossing‘, is a book that can teach so much about acceptance, and the willingness to learn about and understand the people and cultures around us.

The Crossing by Manjeet Mann

Second from The Yoto Carnegie Shortlist is ‘The Crossing’ by Manjeet Mann. This is a wonderful free verse novel told from dual viewpoints that are cleverly linked together throughout the book.

I am not sure I can do this book the real justice that it deserves. It is a truly inspirational and heartbreaking piece of literature.

Natalie and Sammy’s stories are cleverly entwined through the free verse narrative, as the story of one leads to the story of the other all the way through the book. Both of these young people are feeling lost – Natalie after the death of her mother and her brother becoming lost to the world of far-right gangs, and Sammy, as he has fled his home in Eritrea for a better life in Europe. But his journey is set to be incredibly dangerous. They both face ‘the crossing’ of the channel: Natalie to feel she can achieve something her mother had always wanted by swimming the channel, and Sammy desperate for a better life. A twist of fate brings them together, but will they both find a way to mend their broken world?

I read this book from cover to cover one Saturday morning, as I felt so incredibly invested in their stories. I needed to know how the story would end – rooting for them both – and hoping that everyone who reads this book will understand the need for a better world and education that helps us all understand each other.

If this and ‘Cane Warriors‘ are examples of the calibre of book on this year’s shortlist, I do not know how the judges will make any kind of decision, because both of these books have been special in their own way – and carry an important message for all readers.