Sunday, 27 September 2015

September Reads

You can tell the school term started this month because I read a lot of YA novels, a staple for when I can't get my head around complicated non-fiction and want to be able to start and finish a book in the same weekend.

1. In What We Left Behind*, we meet Gretchen and Toni, who fell in love the first time they saw each other at a high school dance. So going to college in different cities presents a challenge for their relationship; Toni's gradual coming to terms with her trans identity an even bigger one. A valuable story for teens, whether they are trans themselves or not.

2. I raced through Everything Everythingin the space of an evening, powered along by the strong narrative voice provided by Madeline. Seventeen years old and confined to her house by a life-threatening allergy to the outside world, Madeline is perfectly happy studying, reading, and hanging out with her beloved mother. But everything changes when Olly moves in next door, together with his troubled family. Although I found the 'twist' in Everything Everything easy to guess, the characters of Olly and Madeline, and their sweet love story, made it a more than worthwhile read.

3. I'm not the first, and I won't be the last, to compare Only Ever Yours to Mean Girls crossed with Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. In a future dystopia, a class of thirty 16-year-old's - designed, created and hatched - are preparing for a future either as wives and mothers of sons, or as concubines. A scathing indictment of the cult of celebrity and beauty, a terrifying vision of misogyny, and a pitch-perfect evocation of teenage girlhood all in one, Only Ever Yours will stay with me for a long time.

4. High school senior Mercedes has an absent father, an emotionally absent mother, a Christian best friend who she joins for regular prayer circles, and a big secret: she's the go-to girl for losing your virginity. Firstsread to me a little like the movie, Easy A, but if Olive actually had slept with all the guys (that, by the way, is a compliment: I love Easy A), and I especially loved the characters of Zach, Mercedes' chemistry lab partner and Wednesday lunchtime shag buddy, and Faye, the new girl in school. The novel has a weirdly ambivalent attitude to rape, however: several scenes clearly describe non-consensual sex, or the attempt thereof, yet the term 'rape' is never used once.

5. I found myself feeling rather disquieted in Waterstones recently when I realised just how many YA novels there are about suicide. In I Was Here Forman (author of If I Stay) again demonstrates her talent for tackling the complex issues of grief and loss. Narrator Cody has lost her best friend - bright, beautiful Meg - to suicide, and we follow her as she struggles to make sense of Meg's actions.

6. An outcast and oddball at school, Francis's life becomes a lot more complicated with a diagnosis of leukemia. In Bloom grabbed my attention from the first page; Francis is an engaging and entertaining narrator, with shades of Adrian Mole, even if he does sometimes sound a bit too articulate and contrived to be a modern teenager.

7. After reading Sarah's thoughts on Furiously Happy* I hotfooted my way over to NetGalley to snag my own review copy, and I'm glad I did. Furiosly Happy is best described as a memoir of mental health; I didn't think tales of mental breakdown, depression, anxiety and mania could be this funny. Jenny Lawson's writing has been compared to David Sedaris and there are hints of Tama Janowitz and Sloane Crossley, too.

8. Not being a particular fan of Girls, I was pleasantly surprised by Lena Dunham's memoir/confessional Not That Kind Of Girl. The chapters on falling in love with jerks and choosing better for yourself would have been helpful to me at the age of twenty (and twenty two, and twinty five...), and she writes with a light wit and self-deprecation that is immensely likable.

9. I wanted something quick, formulaic and comforting to read in front of the fire on my day off, and Murder On The Orient Express fulfilled that nicely. One of my favourite Poirot's, both for its ingenious ending and for the wonderful period detail: it'll make you want to jump on a long-distance train.

10. Prior to winning plaudits for Room, Emma Donoghue tended to write lesbian romance novels; not of the Mills & Boon ilk, but quiet domestic relationship dramas, of which Landing is one. Following museum curator Jude in Ireland, Ontario and flight attendant Sile in Dublin, Ireland, who meet by chance when Jude is on one of Sile's flights, this is the story of their courtship by letter and email and subsequent long distance relationship. There's a sense of roman a clef about Landing once you know that Donoghue moved from Dublin to live with her now-wife in Ontario, and I suppose it's this that imbues all the drama of the novel with a sense of real emotion.

11. I really wanted to love The Versions Of Us, and not just because it's one of the most beautifully designed books of recent years. But sadly, I just wasn't feeling it and in fact didn't manage to finish it before it was due back at the library. The story of Eva and Jim, whose paths cross in 1958 in Cambridge, we are then presented with three differing versions of their lives based on how said meeting pans out. I think my problem was that three versions was one too many for me to keep up with; I kept having to turn back and check which was which. More importantly, I just didn't care enough about either Eva nor Jim, leaving me feeling pretty "meh" about the outcome of all the versions.

* An e-pub of these books were kindly provided to me by the publishers, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.