Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Should you believe the hype? Yes, but it’s even better than everyone is telling you.

This is such an unexpected book because like a lot of people you may assume it is mostly about running, but it is so much more than that. In fact, I thought there was barely any running in it at all when you weigh that up with everything else going on in the novel.

This is the story of Wing Jones, her brother, her brothers best friend, but most importantly her amazing grandmothers. Wing thinks that her older brother Marcus is perfect, until one night everything changes.

Wing Jones is a story about one girl finding the strength within herself to rise above some pretty significant difficulties in life and discover a power and determination that no one, not even she, knew she had.

I loved this book for the daring way it chose not to have everything work out perfectly, for the brilliant diverse characters who I hope many young people will read and see themselves in. I loved it for the beautiful lyrical writing, weaving magic and love throughout each sentence. Mostly I loved it for the hope. Wing and her family face social and economic difficulties, but this is never sugar-coated or magically waved away, and that is so vitally important to read in a YA book. Instead Katherine presents us a vision of hope, that through hard work, determination, and the love and support of those around us, things can get better.

I can’t wait to read what Katherine writes next, because if this stunning achievement is her first novel, we’re in for a lifetime of brilliant stories.

 

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

25014114History Is All You Left me is a story that talks about first love, grief, and mental health, in a story so beautifully written it had me crying from the first page until the last.

Written in chapters that alternate between the past and the present, the reader can fall in love with the relationship between Griffin and Theo as they themselves fall into each other, while in the very next chapter we’re brought crashing back down to earth with the devastating grief of the present day.

The portrayal of the grieving process and the different ways in which people deal with death was the most moving part of the story for me. I could identify with Griffin every step of his journey, and felt his devastation, anger, confusion, and hope that love was still alive in some way.

One of the first things that stood out for me was the realistic portrayal of OCD and how it affects every part of someone’s life. It is rare to read about OCD in fiction, nevermind in such a carefully and sensitively handled way.

Another thing I loved was the realistic presentation of sex. To not present it as an unusual thing that two young boys would want to have sex (not only with each other, but with other partners as well) was fantastic to read. The relationships and sex lives of the characters were so well crafted that the characters jumped off the page and became very real and very complicated people as a result.

 

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Flora Banks suffers from amnesia, but there is one thing she remembers, she kissed a boy on a beach. Now she’s going on go on an adventure to find the boy who’s brought her memory back.

I thought this book was going to be a love story. It isn’t. This is a story about Flora, about her strength, bravery, and determination to be ‘normal’. This is a story about a young woman who desperately wants to remember who she is and what is happening with her life. This is a story about vulnerability and the attempt, against all odds, for Flora to gain control of her life and not let her vulnerability control her.

When I finished this book I felt like I had been completely swept up in a whirlwind of emotion. The story is written superbly so that the reader really feels like they are inside Flora’s head, full of confusion and desperation. The constant repetition of facts is a fantastic tool for drawing us into Flora’s world. The final few chapters show us how unreliable it is to rely on memory, and how even memories we think are true can be manipulated by others.

This novel is a uniquely brilliant and thought-provoking read that you won’t want to put down.

Buy a copy of The One Memory of Flora Banks 

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

We’re barely into 2017 and this is an early contender for book of the year. It is simply beautiful.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

The slowly building friendship that turns into love between Steffi and Rhys takes us on a journey as they both discover more about themselves and the depth of their strength of character. This book is a sensitively handled insight into social anxiety and I was impressed by the way Steffi’s personality developed. Her own lack of confidence, despite evidence to the contrary of what she could achieve, was realistic and cleverly conveyed to the reader as we follow her on her journey.

You should read this book if you want to understand the quiet people in your life, and how they aren’t broken and don’t need fixing, but are able to communicate in their own way and in their own time.

This book is full of hope and love, both romantic as well as friendship and family love, and is the perfect way to start 2017. Utterly and totally mesmerising. A brilliant second novel from Sara Barnard.

 

Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t been in the cards for him—at least not yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything’s about to change.

This is a book about love, but about what it means to really be in love with a person and everything they are, not just the idea of what you want them to be.

This book is about grief, about how there is not one way to try and live after you’ve lost someone you thought would always be there.

This book is about the way we build a dream of what our future will be, and how we cope when it doesn’t quite come true.

A brilliantly paced intimate look at love and loss narrated by the instantly relatable and funny Henry. This is a story for anyone who wants to laugh and cry in equal measures and who wants to follow flawed human characters (who don’t always behave in likable ways) as they grow through their responses to adversity.

George by Alex Gino

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George and her class have been reading Charlotte’s Web and when the teachers decide they should perform it as a play, George knows that she wants to play the part of Charlotte. The story follows George’s attempts to convince her teacher that she should be allowed to play Charlotte, even though everyone thinks she’s a boy. We also go on the journey George takes in telling her best friend, mom and brother the thing that seems obvious to her, but not to them. That she’s not a boy.

There is a line that made me stop, take a moment to breath, and realise why this is a perfect book for adults as well as children to read. When George says that trying to be a boy is really hard. The representation of what it is like to be trans is the best I have ever read and I think it was conveyed in a way that will make sense to younger readers.

I’ve read some interesting reviews of George online, and once you get past the blatant transphobic ones, there seems to be a lot of criticism that I think needs addressing. One strand of complaint is that the constant gendered language used towards George is excessive. That people don’t use phrases or words all the time that mention to children what gender they are. This is, of course, blatantly untrue and what Alex Gino is doing in this story is pointing out how often this does happen, and how this makes someone like George feel when she is constantly reminded how other people see her.

Another criticism I read frequently is how the story is too simplistic. Yes, the plot is quite simple but the subtle nuance that Alex Gino draws through it, and the way in which they demonstrate the realities of life for a transgender child, adds a depth that is subtle but profound.

The most depressing criticism I have read, other than the obvious ones that are just fuelled by hate, are those expressing that children shouldn’t read this book, that they wouldn’t understand it, and that they would be confused by the content. It depresses me that adults don’t give children more credit. I think you’d be surprised by what they do understand and by the depths of their empathy for each other. This is absolutely a book children should read and every school library should have a copy or two.

Whilst George’s experience of talking to people about being a girl is one of optimism and happiness in the end, this is not the typical situation for many trans children and adults. That is why this book is so important. It is vital to present the idea that yes, many trans children do have happy outcomes when they speak about their identity, and many adults deal well and are understanding. There can be a happy ending, and I’m so glad this book exists to prove that.

 

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park Book CoverEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is not a new release, first coming to our shelves back in 2013. I picked this up from my local library. Then I bought a copy. Then I started to tell others to buy a copy. I think it is safe to assume I adore this book, a lot.

Eleanor and Park meet for the first time on their school bus and are an unlikely pair to start a friendship. They slowly start to fall for each other in the most subtle and beautiful way. What I loved most was the realistic way Rowell portrays their journey from two people who dislike each other for no reason, to full on deeply in love. Realising that you hold a bias against someone just because you expect them to be a certain way, and then struggling to break down that barrier and admit to yourself there is a connection between you. This is a common story in people’s lives and Rowell portrays it effectively.

The end is heartbreaking and I was in denial for awhile that it could have ended the way it does. I wanted more from these characters and didn’t feel emotionally ready to leave them behind.

Rowell’s brilliance is obvious in the way she manages to draw in themes of child abuse, domestic violence, and bullying, whilst still maintaining the light and heartwarming romance at the heart of the story.

Tomboy by Liz Prince

Cover: Tomboy by Liz PrincePage from TomboyGrowing up, Liz Prince wasn’t a girly girl, dressing in pink tutus or
playing pretty princess like the other girls in her neighbourhood. But she wasn’t exactly one of the guys, either. She was somewhere in between. But with the forces of middle school, high school, parents, friendship, and romance pulling her this way and that, “the middle” wasn’t exactly an easy place to be.

I only heard about this book a few weeks ago and I bought a copy faster than I’ve bought anything recently. I haven’t read many memoirs, and never read a graphic memoir, so this was  first for me.

Tomboy by Liz Prince gives a humorous and at times moving account of what it’s like growing up when you don’t fit in, when you live in a society that tries to tell you there is only one way to be a girl. She takes us through her life and experiences trying to find a way to articulate who she is and the conclusion is a life (and gender) affirming moment.

You can buy this book now

Superior by Jessica Lack

My book of the week has to be Superior by Jessica Lack. Based on the blurb alone I wanted to devour it immediately: A superhero’s intern falls in love with a supervillain’s apprentice in this star-crossed LGBT YA story. I mean, how can you not want to read that?

Superior is a novella with heart and humour. It’s goofy and gay and brilliantly conveys a detailed world where superheroes run hotlines and people call them to help rescue their cats.

I’m recommending this because Jessica Lack is superb, not only at realistic world building, but at developing characters with life and depth in only a few pages.

Get your copy now 

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

On the one hand this book is easy to explain, it’s about two boys, kissing. But then again, it is so much more than you would imagine and hope for.  Craig and Harry are trying to set a new world record the longest ever kiss and the story tells us of their attempt. But we don’t just hear from Craig and Harry, there are four stories interwoven into the novel, all related to boys coming to terms with coming out and the reactions of the people around them. The overall narrator is the voice of an older generation of gay men who have lost their lives to AIDS. It is these narrators that really start to pull the emotional punches as they lament the glorious possibilities the lives of young men have now, possibilities that were so cruelly denied to them.

Two Boys Kissing is a deeply moving and passionate novel that is absolutely beautiful.