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One of our 2018 Books of the Year | In a Nutshell: Summer of romance, revelations, friendship and feuds Stars collide and sparks fly in this electrifying story of a wildly unforgettable summer. Thought-provoking, funny and flooded with energy, this is contemporary YA at it’s finest. After discovering an unpleasant revelation about her dad, astronomy buff Zorie agrees to go on a glamping trip organised by a drifting friend. The trip goes hideously wrong when the group is expelled from the fancy site and wind up setting up camp out in the bear-ridden wilderness. Matters further disintegrate when Zorie and Lennon, her former best friend and sometime boyfriend, are left alone in the wilds with no transport, and a whole lot of frazzled history between them. Add to this a family feud, unvoiced anger and raging hormones, and the stage is set for an explosive story that’s played-out against a majestic wilderness backdrop. There’s something majestic about Lennon too - his thoughtfulness, his respect for the wild, his respect for Zorie, who also had me hooked from the off. She’s genuine, witty, knows who she is and deals with life’s challenges with strength and maturity. Both she and Lennon kick off clichés and well-worn tropes at every turn, and I relished every moment of their story. ~ Joanne Owen
In a Nutshell: Fractured families | First love | Fresh starts | 16-year-old Holly feels like an outsider, except when she’s swimming at her local pool: “Under the surface, deep in the blue-lit water, nobody can see me. There’s nobody to judge the clothes I wear, or the way my hair frizzles”. It’s at the pool she meets Ed, who’s “not like the boys at school who are either geeky or cocky and smart-arsed and think they’re all that. He’s different”. While romantic feelings, evoked in all their dizzying wonder, swell poolside, at home the seas are stormier. Struggling with depression, Holly’s mum has “become so inward-looking that she hasn’t a clue what I do with my time”. But as Holly’s home-life begins to brighten, Ed reveals that he’s grappling with a serious domestic situation of his own. Warm-hearted, highly readable and romantic, with the bleaker elements of both teenagers’ lives handled with a sensitive lightness of touch, readers will undoubtedly root for Holly and Ed to find their happy ever after. ~ Joanne Owen
One of our 2018 Books of the Year | May 2018 Debut of the Month | Picture this. You’re an honors student with a top university in your sights. You work hard, and you follow your mother’s advice to always put your best foot forward. So how come, when you help a friend in need, you’re man-handled by the police and arrested? How come the cops tell you that they “know your kind...Just couldn’t resist the pretty white girl who’s locked her keys in her car, could ya?” As Yale-bound African American Justyce knows only too well, “things aren’t as equal as folks say they are”. At every turn he’s caught between worlds: a white classmate attributes his success to positive discrimination, while he’s accused of being a race traitor by some of his black peers. He airs this elemental conundrum with SJ, his debate partner: “white people hold most positions of authority in this country. How do I deal with the fact that I DO need them to get ahead without feeling like I’m turning my back on my own people?” And what’s he supposed to do when he falls for SJ and his mama’s dead against him dating a white girl? As the compelling, gut-wrenching story unfolds, Justyce writes a journal to Dr Martin Luther King Jr. to work through his thoughts, vent his frustrations and to ask what Dr King would do in his situation. Then a tragedy strikes that threatens to disarm Justyce’s pledge to do as Martin would do. Important, timely and unforgettable, this powerful exposé of racism, injustice and the injuriousness of profiling articulates the persistent everyday battles faced by thousands of kids in Justyce’s shoes with scorching lucidity. Quite simply, everyone must read this poignant punch-packer of a debut.
***Recommended for 16+ due to content. Book of the Month for May 2018 | Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2018 |In a Nutshell: love, truth and the power of release | A gripping, soulful novel about a life-changing day, which will surely change the lives of those who read it. "Where on earth had this day come from? And where was it headed?" remarks 17 year-old Adam as a single day unfurls wave after wave of shattering disruption: first a revelation from his brother, next an ultimatum from his foul boss, then a destabilising announcement from his beloved best friend. And alongside Adam's unraveling, there’s the mesmerising narrative of the ghost of a murdered girl who’s risen from a lake in search of release. Partly modeled on two of the author’s most admired books (Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever), with this remarkable novel Ness once again demonstrates his profound understanding of the complexities of being a young adult, and of the human condition more generally. Adam’s story is pinpricked with truly nerve-touching moments, perhaps most poignantly between him and the overbearing father he fears coming-out to. At one point his dad reveals that he wishes Adam could be honest with him, and then Adam begins to let go. While revealing truths can be excruciatingly painful, doing so might also bring refreshing, life-affirming release. Heartbreaking, intense and acutely honest, this novel casts a subtle spell of hope. ~ Joanne Owen
Brimming with coming-of-age dilemmas, romance and tonnes of transformative on-the-road experiences, this is an ideal summer read for fans of friendship-driven contemporary YA. Introverted history fanatic Abby has had it with feeling abandoned, what with Mom having left the family home and best friend Riya leaving their Californian hometown for Berlin. Moreover, she and Riya parted on bad terms and life hasn’t been the same since. But now, thanks to Riya’s grandmother, they have an opportunity to fix their fractured friendship during a two-week trip around Europe. Being chaperoned by Riya’s cousin is initially annoying, but he and Abby find themselves bonding while things run less smoothly for her and Riya. Matters come to a head in Edinburgh when Riya’s secret is revealed, and the eruptions they experience in Iceland aren’t only of a volcanic nature… “Funny how life has a few of those visible moments, where you can actually see someone turn a corner,” Abby observes, which captures the heart of this novel. Growing up can suck - people evolve, they move, they move on, but that doesn’t mean a friendship has to end, and it doesn’t mean you’re left behind.
“When your whole family is obsessed with Love and Romance it sets some pretty high expectations, believe me”, explains 16-year-old Tilly, the witty narrator of this bright and breezy book. Tilly’s on tenterhooks as her grandmother’s highly anticipated romance novel is published. Nothing unusual there - aspiring writer Tilly has long been involved with Gran’s work, from filing, typing and researching, to suggesting improvements. But this book is different. It almost wasn’t completed, due to Gran being hospitalised while writing it, which meant Tilly took on the tasks of copy-editing, proof-reading and (wait for it...) secretly rewriting the ending to Gran’s successful series. From her myriad “Meet cute” date moments, to her ritual of choosing a hat before writing a new book, Gran’s quirks are a joy, and the portrayal of her illness is incredibly touching. Tilly’s massively relieved when Gran is delighted with her ending, so much so that she asks Tilly to write her next novel. Tilly accepts the challenge, but how can she follow the “write what you know” rule when she’s never been in love? What’s more, after boldly resolving to fall in love for real, she discovers that real-life romance can’t be plotted. Rather, it brings twists and turns that are way beyond the author’s control. Delightful on the everyday dramas of family life, first love and fiction’s edifying allures, this is perfect for aspiring writers and fans of funny contemporary YA.
When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon. So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.
May 2018 Debut of the Month | In a Nutshell: Intense exposé of extreme misogyny and male privilege An unflinching novel about brutally toxic masculinity, male collusion and how justice systems and society at large are still appallingly rigged against women. Life is tough for Ellie and her dad in their decrepit ghost town. Ellie’s mom ran out on them when she was still a baby, she’s cripplingly lonely and her dad never fulfilled his dream of becoming a filmmaker. Convinced – and told by her peers - that she’s ugly, Ellie’s dream is “to be pretty. That’s part of what makes a girl,” she remarks. “Girls who are pretty are likeable. Pretty is power.” So when privileged Caleb tells her she’s pretty, she craves him, even though she also “hated how he made me feel uncomfortable”. His attention legitimises and comforts her, even when he dumps her, even when he’s humiliates her. And then it’s too late. He and his family are monstrous, and Ellie can’t escape. The brotherhood of abuse portrayed here will sicken and shock, while your heart will ache for Ellie, for her dad, and for the love and friendships she deserved to enjoy. Relentlessly raw and unusually framed, this is perhaps best recommended for fans of crime fiction with conscience. Bold in its bleakness, this steers well clear of any kind of happy-ever-after Hollywood ending. In real life baddies don’t always get what they had coming. In real life not everyone has a best friend to turn to. On a positive note, this might just enrage to the point of inspiring readers to take a stand on issues of systemic misogyny, and it makes a strong case for the need to take time to truly get to know people, to find friends you can open up to. ~ Joanne Owen
April 2018 Book of the Month | In a Nutshell: Falling Angels | Rising Hope | Falling in Love Compelling magic realist debut in which a fallen angel named Teacake helps heal a teen girl’s grief. Across the world angel-like Beings are falling from the sky. Their winged bodies seep golden blood on impact with the earth, and then they die. In the aftermath of the first sightings, the world exploded in an apocalyptic frenzy, yielding religious cults and angel-exploiting money-makers. Alongside this, Jaya is also dealing with a personal apocalypse – the sudden death of her mother. While Jaya struggles with her guilt-ridden grief, and with losing contact with Leah, the best friend who might also have been her girlfriend, she’s also irritated by her dad’s fanatical angel-chasing. But, as things turn out, it’s Jaya who’s there when an angel falls, and, for the first time, this angel survives. Angels don’t exist in Jaya’s mum’s Hindi religion so she pushes aside any thoughts that this is somehow a sign. But amidst the frenzy of the Edinburgh festival and the aggressive fanaticism of the Standing Fallen cult, Jaya does everything she can to protect this shimmering rose-gold Being from harm. The angels are never explained, or fully understood, but that isn’t necessary, for this isn’t about hard scientific facts, this is about matters of the soul. It’s a charming debut, radiant with humanity and heart. ~ Joanne Owen
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