Tag Archives: diversity

UKYA Review: Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Wing Jones, Katherine Webber, (Walker, Jan 5th 2017)

Genres in the mix: contemporary, magic realism, romance

Age target: YA

Story basicsFor fans of David Levithan, Jandy Nelson and Rainbow Rowell: a sweeping story about love and family from an exceptional new voice in YA. With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing’s speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants.

I’ve been looking forward to this one for months. The cover was revealed at YALC last July and there had been chatter about it before then. All this hype made me slightly apprehensive about reading it, as it can be hard for books to live up to it (especially, for me, for contemporaries which so often rely heavily on romance – personal taste, but that’s not my favourite thing and a book which offers only/solely that is not going to satisfy). Anyway, Wing Jones does NOT disappoint – it’s a fabulous, diverse family drama told with a light touch which offers plenty of warmth and even some humour.

The emotional ride: dramatic and, at times, unrelenting. This is not a ‘quiet’ book, but one full of passion and emotion. It drags you through a range of emotions with poor Wing as she deals with tragedy, family, school and trying to just be fifteen. However at no point does it feel manipulative or gratuitous and there is often humour in amongst the drama.

Narrative style: Wing’s first person narrative is lyrical and beautiful, and we are easily drawn into her imaginative and metaphorical thought process.

Supporting cast: I feel that characterisation is a strength of this book, but I particularly loved Wing’s two grannies, LaoLao and Granny Dee. They often brought warmth and humour to the story.

Hot buttons/classroom opportunities: the diverse make-up of the book’s cast is fantastic for addressing the narrow range of representation offered by the set GCSE curriculum. I’d love to offer this as part of KS3 or on a ‘reading for pleasure’ list to KS4 to offset the set texts. There are also plenty of SMSC opportunities: bullying, poverty, culture (especially biracial heritage) and Wing herself is a great example of resilience and could therefore be discussed in relation to learning power/four Rs and growth mindset. The writing itself is also beautiful and descriptive, often using metaphor.

Hearthfire rating: 10/10 Smoking hot!

Wing Jones is out now in the UK from Walker Books.

This is my first British Books Challenge review for 2017 – and what a brilliant choice of book! I’m also counting this for the Diverse Reads Challenge, as Wing’s dual heritage is important in the story.

Diverse Reading Challenge 2017

I like to look out for diversity in my reading matter, and representation is always something I’m aware of, so this seems like a good challenge for me. It’s a simple one, with a straightforward aim: to try to include diverse representation in your reading.

The challenge is jointly hosted across two blogs: Read.Sleep.Repeat. and Chasing Faerytales, and they define diversity broadly, following We Need Diverse Books’ lead.

There is a theme per month, but this is optional, and diverse books not fitting that theme can also be counted towards the challenge. I do intend to use some of the themes and the suggested reading list/recommendations on Twitter to help me broaden out my reading, though. January’s theme is ‘stories based on/ inspired by diverse folktales/culture/mythology’, so that’s a bit of a challenge for me straightaway. I’ve read Zoe Marriott’s excellent The Night Itself trilogy (Japanese folklore-based, UK-set urban fantasy YA), which is on the list for that section, but I’ll need to get a move on if I’m going to find and read something new and review it this month – eek!

UKYA Review: Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence

orangeboyOrangeboy, Patrice Lawrence, (Hodder, June 2016)

Genres in the mix: Contemporary realism

Age target: YA

Blurb saysNot cool enough, not clever enough, not street enough for anyone to notice me. I was the kid people looked straight through.

NOT ANY MORE. NOT SINCE MR ORANGE.

Sixteen-year-old Marlon has made his mum a promise – he’ll never follow his big brother, Andre, down the wrong path. So far, it’s been easy, but when a date ends in tragedy, Marlon finds himself hunted. They’re after the mysterious Mr Orange, and they’re going to use Marlon to get to him. Marlon’s out of choices – can he become the person he never wanted to be, to protect everyone he loves?

Review-in-a-tweet: Gripping, chilling and yet warm and gently told – this is a tale full of the poor (if somewhat inevitable) choices of a boy against whom the odds seem stacked from the first.

The emotional ride: edge-of-your-seat stuff. It’s easy to feel for Marlon from the beginning. I think having the first scene be what is so clearly a first date makes him so vulnerable that we readers easily identify with him and see what a fish out of water he is when everything starts getting serious.

Hot buttons/classroom opportunities: I’ll be recommending this for Black History month. Yes, I know it’s contemporary and very current and not at all historical, but there’s so much here about how young black people, boys especially, are treated and the expectations people have of them, that it seems really apt to me as a book about Black experience. I think that’s part of what Black History Month is about, so this goes firmly on my list.

Narrative style: The first person narration really helps to ‘get inside’ Marlon’s way of thinking, so it’s easy to understand why he does things, even when you can see (as an outsider) that he’s making the wrong choice.

Plotting and pacing: This is a strong aspect of the novel. It’s a pacey read, with plenty going on in poor Marlon’s life. There’s the whole ‘Mr Orange’ mystery, but there’s also plenty of conflict and mess in his family life too. I enjoyed the thread about his Dad, and the way this was linked in through music – I think that’s a key way a lot of people relate through the generations, which isn’t always noted, so it was nice to see it brought out here.

Hearthfire rating: 9/10 A scorcher!

Thank you to Hodder for allowing me a review copy via Netgalley. For more info on the book see Goodreads, Patrice Lawrence’s blog or Twitter or the publisher’s site.

YA Review: This Song Is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin

this song is not for youThis Song Is (Not) For you, Laura Nowlin, (Sourcebooks, Jan 2016)

Genres in the mix: Contemporary

Age target: YA

Summary from GoodreadsBandmate, best friend or boyfriend? For Ramona, one choice could mean losing them all.

Ramona and Sam are best friends. She fell for him the moment they met, but their friendship is just too important for her to mess up. Sam loves April, but he would never expect her to feel the same way–she’s too quirky and cool for someone like him. Together, they have a band, and put all of their feelings for each other into music.

Then Ramona and Sam meet Tom. He’s their band’s missing piece, and before Ramona knows it, she’s falling for him. But she hasn’t fallen out of love with Sam either.

How can she be true to her feelings without breaking up the band?

Reasons to read:

  • It’s a great presentation of how passionate and earnest musical teens can be.
  • The relationships are beautifully depicted.
  • It includes asexual representation, effectively done, without medicalising it like I’ve seen elsewhere (e.g. pairing it with anorexia or making it part of wider sensory issues in autism; it’s simply presented as a valid and existing sexuality, as it should be).

Narrative style: Three-way split narration, which allows clear access to the three main characters’ thoughts and feelings. Their voices are all distinct and clearly drawn. I loved them all and it was very easy to be sucked into their world and their dramas and ache for them.

Hearthfire rating: 9/10 A scorcher!

Literary Lonely Hearts: This Is Not a Love Story

this is not a love storySmart, social media-savvy contemporary with cosmopolitan settings seeks reader interested in identity and a range of human relationships – not just the romantic. Genuinely unusual representation in setting, ethnicity and sexuality offered for an intriguing reading experience exploring questions of identity and authenticity via a pacey mystery/thriller.

This Is Not a Love Story, Keren David (Atom)

Goodreads summary:

Kitty dreams of a beautiful life, but that’s impossible in suburban London where her family is haunted by her father’s unexpected death. So when her mum suggests moving to Amsterdam to try a new life, Kitty doesn’t take much persuading. Will this be her opportunity to make her life picture perfect?

In Amsterdam she meets moody, unpredictable Ethan, and clever, troubled Theo. Two enigmatic boys, who each harbour their own secrets. In a beautiful city and far from home, Kitty finds herself falling in love for the first time.

But will love be everything she expected? And will anyone’s heart survive?

My reaction:

Really enjoyed this. Great characters and very strong diversity – it’s unusual to see Jewish representation in a UKYA novel, so I enjoyed that. Also a very engaging depiction of Amsterdam (which I’ve never visited). Overall, it feels very ‘now’, perhaps due to Kitty’s Instagram obsession – and I loved the subtle exploration of identity in ‘Amsterkit’ versus the old ‘London’ version of Kitty.

The male characters, Theo and Ethan, weren’t always as clear-cut as Kitty and I liked that – and none of them were always sympathetic, in that they made choices that many of us wouldn’t/couldn’t support, but that’s realistic and helps to make them interesting as characters. The complicated relationships around them – families and friends – also add another level of interest as well as further diversifying the representation within the novel.

YA Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands, Alwyn Hamilton, (Faber & Faber, February 2016)

Genres in thRebel of the Sandse mix: Fantasy, Western Adventure

Age target: YA

Goodreads summary: “Tell me that and we’ll go. Right now. Save ourselves and leave this place to burn. Tell me that’s how you want your story to go and we’ll write it straight across the sand.”

Dustwalk is Amani’s home. The desert sand is in her bones. But she wants to escape. More than a want. A need.

Then a foreigner with no name turns up to save her life, and with him the chance to run. But to where? The desert plains are full of danger. Sand and blood are swirling, and the Sultan’s enemies are on the rise.

Review-in-a-tweet: Heady, beautifully written adventure combining romanticism of the 1001 Nights with Western genre’s witticisms and wisecracks. Recommended.

Hot buttons/classroom opportunities: Diverse representations aplenty, good underlying message about ethnicity and ‘blood purity’. Plenty of opportunities for moral dilemma-type discussions and a definite sub-theme about truth and deception that could be exploited in a school/college reading group situation.

Narrative style: Strong first-person voice with plenty of wit. Past tense.

Plotting and pacing: Lots of tension and action. Although I said it was beautifully written, please don’t read that as ‘slow’ – this is no ‘nothing happens’ novel! The story is pacey and gripping, but well-balanced with descriptions of exotic (and sometimes terrifying) desert landscapes.

Main character: I loved Amani. A cross-dressing girl to escape her fate is always going to attract my attention, and that level of ‘go-getting’ is apparent throughout, even though this is clearly a world in which her gender is a limitation (at least in others’ eyes). Her sass is also part of her charm, and it’s great that she has this skill in shooting. That said, she does also have weaknesses, which makes her a more realistic character. It’s very easy to root for her!

Supporting cast: There are some great supporting roles in this novel. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’m not going into specifics, but it is worth pointing out that Alwyn Hamilton has created some fantastic secondary characters with depth, who I’m hoping to see a lot more of in the second and third books in the series.

Hearthfire rating: 10/10 Smoking hot!

Reading is… #2: Reading is a chance to step outside yourself

Welcome back to my (very) occasional series Reading is… where I’m exploring the reading experience, along with some recommendations for books that fit that particular category for me. Last time, I discussed the ways in which reading is like a comfy blanket, offering the comfort of the familiar.

reading outside self

Today’s topic is how reading offers us a chance to stretch our experience beyond the confines of our world. This might be in seeing someone else’s experience of that world, or in visiting another time, another place, or even an invented place.

It was really really hard to come up with just a handful of recommendations for these categories, so please do be aware that these are by no means the only books I would recommend here; they’re just ones I’ve read fairly recently and are somewhat fresh in my mind.

Others’ Experiences of the World

This category is really all about diversity in reading. I am a great believer in the power of reading to show us, to an extent (of course), what it’s like to be in another’s shoes. Unlike other media such as film or TV, the action of a book takes place entirely inside your own head, so that lends an immediacy to experiences that you just don’t get with visual media. (aside: that’s one of the reasons that reading fiction is noted as a useful pastime for the development of empathy).

In terms of recent(ish) reads, I’ve particularly appreciated:

exploring the life of a young Japanese boy with a chronic disease in The Last Leaves Falling (Sarah Benwell, YA).

balancing friendship and first love with young Kitty, falling for a girl and uncertain who/whether to tell in Starring Kitty (Keris Stainton, MG).

willing Ashleigh to recognise and accept that her sexuality may not be what she has always assumed in Read Me Like a Book (Liz Kessler, YA).

Other Times, Other Places

Buffalo Soldier taught me loads about the period in US history around the Civil War and the Indian Wars, all while cheering on a young black woman masquerading as a man in order to join the US army and find purpose and (relative) safety (Tanya Landman, YA).

The Lie Tree, set in the Victorian era, has lots to offer about how the natural sciences were perceived in that period (particularly in relation to religion) and all sorts of weird and wonderful bits and pieces such as photography of the dead and the minutiae of women’s lives (Frances Hardinge, YA).

The Last Leaves Falling obviously fits here too, presenting a modern Japan that is completely unfamiliar to me and yet, through its evocation of core teen experience (the desire to fit in and have friends) was easy to relate to and empathise  with in a key way.

Other Realities

I’d also argue for the value of reading outside of reality, of reading about times and places which have not existed. These reading experiences can also allow us to stretch our empathy muscles and share human experiences in different contexts.

Sometimes, we need to connect with a character in a context that is very different to our own, far removed from ourselves, in order to understand something about our own lives, our own context. Appreciating the human core of a character who is unlike us can be a crucial step on the path to understanding, or at least a willingness to understand. Books from which I have derived such experiences recently include:

Seed, where Pearl’s undying loyalty to the nature cult is tested as she begins to lose faith in everything around her, just as many teens slowly gain the realisation that the adults around them are not perfect (not quite so dramatically though!) (Lisa Heathfield, YA)

Looking At The Stars, which presents an horrific refugee experience in an ahistorical and ageographical way, presenting the experience itself in a pure way, rather than getting drawn into the arguments around the conflicts which cause refugees (Jo Cotterill, YA).

All links will take you to Goodreads for a bit more information about the books in question. All are out now and definitely recommended.

Literary Lonely Hearts: are you a match for I’ll Give You The Sun?

I'll give you the sunLiterary Lonely Hearts

Soulful semi-mystic seeks fan of YA contemporaries for meaningful conversations about art, the many forms of love and the true self. Must be willing to invest emotionally and maybe shed the odd tear.

 

Goodreads’ Summary:

From the author of The Sky Is Every­where, a radiant novel that will leave you laughing and crying – all at once. For fans of John Green, Gayle Forman and Lauren Oliver. Jude and her twin Noah were incredibly close – until a tragedy drove them apart, and now they are barely speaking. Then Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy as well as a captivating new mentor, both of whom may just need her as much as she needs them. What the twins don’t realize is that each of them has only half the story and if they can just find their way back to one another, they have a chance to remake their world.

My reaction:

Gorgeous, lyrical writing which really suits the ‘arty’ subject matter. I loved getting to know this wacky family and their circle. The dual narrative works really well, with each twin getting to share a different slice of their story (Noah at 13-14, Jude at 16). This is a really effective way of increasing tension and mystery, as you can’t help wondering how they get from one (metaphorical/emotional) place to another. Wholeheartedly recommended for fans of contemporary YA, family dramas and stories with an arty angle. Also pleasingly diverse with different kinds of love (gay, straight, familial etc) all represented.

UKYA Review: Read Me Like a Book by Liz Kessler

Beautiful inside and out.
Beautiful inside and out.

I was really excited for this book and I am happy to say that not only was I not disappointed but blown away by its quiet brilliance.

Liz Kessler is an author I have enjoyed reading before and knowing how important this novel is to her I was desperate to read it for myself.

As you probably already know (but just in case…), this is an LGBT+ coming of age story, focused on Ashleigh’s developing realisation that she has romantic feelings for her teacher, Miss Murray. It’s a story that Liz wrote years ago and recently dusted off and updated. A story whose time had come. It is an important story, adding to the representation of LGBT+ experience within YA, but above all else, it is a compelling story, well told – and for that reason, I would urge you to pick it up.

Here is my initial reaction:

Loved this fabulous coming-of-age tale. For anyone wondering: the beauty of the cover is absolutely matched by the beauty of the story inside. This is a sensitively told close-up view of a teenaged girl figuring out both herself and the world around her. Read Me Like a Book will (quite rightly) be on lots of LGBT recommended reading lists, but the central quandaries about identity, family and friends will be familiar to most if not all teens and former teens. Strongly recommended.

The plot revolves around Ashleigh’s life in her second year of sixth form and there are various complications with school, friends and family for her to negotiate, all while attempting to understand and deal with her own feelings. This is, in the end, a coming out story par excellance as this crucial part of Ashleigh’s growing up is explored thoroughly and set against a backdrop of other complications (just as it is in real life!). This means that there is plenty for any YA reader to relate to, regardless of specific orientation and experience.

Liz’s tight narration immerses us in Ashleigh’s experiences and thoughts, even while as outsiders we can often perceive things that she is not able to at that point. That’s always a sign of great writing, I think – when you’re willing the character to do the sensible thing or see the truth of something, even knowing full well that stories don’t work like that! I loved Ashleigh and found her easy to relate to and engage with, and I enjoyed the portrayals of her friends and family too. I also enjoyed (and found it unusual) that Ashleigh doesn’t actually realise herself that she is a lesbian initially, but just assumes she’s straight and has a relationship with a boy. I think this initial struggle with the very idea, and the uncertainty of your own sense of identity shifting are very well captured and add to the reader’s engagement with Ashleigh.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this beautiful book to readers of YA contemporaries, especially if you’re keen for a UK context.

Read Me Like a Book is out now from Indigo.

Speed Reviews: Recent UKMG Contemporary Recommendations

Today, I’m sharing two recent contemporaries for the MG audience which both have male protagonists, are set on/around UK housing estates and have friends and family as themes. However, they are different in tone and will appeal to different ends of the MG age spectrum.

how to fly with broken wingsJane Elson’s How to Fly With Broken Wings is the story of 12 year old Willem, who has Asperger’s Syndrome (although I don’t think this is stated explicitly in the story). He is given a homework project to make two friends and this is the catalyst for the story, which becomes very big and quite complex, taking in bullying, gangs, teen relationships, a riot on the estate and a local hero who works to empower the estate kids and keep them out of trouble. With all that going on, the story is relatively far-fetched at times in that rosy, improbable, somewhat heavy on coincidence way that children’s lit can get away with, and that’s one of the reasons that this book feels younger to me than my other recommendation here.

Willem is an engaging character and swapping the narration between him and Sasha, a school mate who lives on his estate, is a great way of opening up the story and showing Willem from other perspectives. It’s easy to see from the outside how Willem’s views on everything don’t necessarily fit with everyone else’s and understanding his thought processes makes him even easier to root for. All in all, I’d recommend this for the average MG reader who’s looking for a bright contemporary story about friendship and identity.

Joe All AloneJoanna Nadin’s Joe All Alone focuses on 13 year old Joe, whose mother goes away on holiday for a week with her boyfriend (of whom Joe is not a fan), leaving him to look after himself. Grittier from the start than Elson’s book, this brilliantly executed story explores poverty, neglect and the complexities of family life.

I loved Joe and really got engaged in his adventures, willing him on and hoping for things to work out for him. The book introduces a range of vivid and interesting characters and something that I really admired about it was the way it successfully combines realism and hope. With a 13 year old protagonist, the book is clearly aimed at the MG set and I think it offers this age group the perfect blend of (at times) hard realism and hope in friendship and humanity generally. Painful at times but a rewarding and enjoyable read, I’m absolutely recommending this, particularly to those readers who often find themselves between the 9-12 and teen/YA shelves.

How to Fly with Broken Wings is out now from Hodder Children’s Books; Joe All Alone is out now from Hachette. I am grateful to have received review copies via NetGalley.