The Hate U Give deserves a lot of love

I think I may have just read the Young Adult book of 2017. ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas is arguably essential reading for anyone, but especially if looking for a something that spells out why ‘Black Lives Matter’.

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Starr is 16 and lives in the Ghetto, but also goes to a mainly white ‘good’ school in the suburbs. Her 2 lives are kept mostly seperate until she and lifelong friend Khalil are pulled over by a white police officer who then shoots Khalil.  The book goes on to explore the tensions within Starr’s own identity, her family life, the reaction of the poor and black community where she lives and the affluent white school she attends.

 

On one hand, it’s a tragic but uncomplicated event. Even making excuses for the police officer, the event is simply that an innocent boy is mistakenly shot by a  police officer misreading the boy’s actions.  In reality the impact is incredibly complex, and Thomas’ book captures this wonderfully. The police force covers up for the officer. Media reports the event using coded language, and the local community & wider society react accordingly. Starr is traumatised and caught between her conflicting identities, causing her to confront the good and bad of how she presents herself.

 

Angie Thomas has created a beautiful and authentic voice in Starr Carter. I was on the verge of tears for large parts of the novel. Large parts are intense, hooking you into Starr’s world the way only a good book can. At other times I was laughing freely or swaying from anger to dismay.  This book grabs hold of your emotions early on and gives them a good seeing to.

 

Anyone that pays even a cursory attention to news in America over the last few months can’t help but be aware of the number of cases where black people, including minors or children, have been shot by police officers. None of which appear to have to answer for their actions, or where investigations have happened, have not been found to have acted either illegally or even disproportionaly. Many of these events have led to protests and the growth of the tagline Black Lives Matter.

 

On a personal level, when I read such reports, my reactions are normally shock, sadness, anger and disbelief. When you read the reports, or watch videos, it seems impossible to not at least have sympathy for the victim’s familes, and empathy with the anger of the communities they come from. I fail to understand anyone (or the news outlets) that tries to justify, what are on the face of things, unjustifiable actions.

 

Where THUG works for me, is to personalise why the Black Live Matter movement is important. Empathy will only get you so far. This book gives a great insight into the feelings that are happening. The loss felt, and the helplessness or frustration that follows. There is a scene where Starr’s dad is stopped and humilated by police that must provoke a reaction from every reader.

 

If the reaction you find yourself having after reading this book, is that Khalil deserved what he got, or still along the lines of ‘if black people just did what they police said?’, or ‘why do communities loot neighbourhoods?’ then chances are you’ll never change from that perspective unless personally experiencing it. No doubt there will be plenty of people that just don’t get this book, or the feelings it is trying to portray. They might try attach some meaning that’s not there. Maybe use the references to Tupac and ThugLife to paint an alternative narrative.  I feel sorry for those people.

 

YA often does big issues. When it does it well…eg 13 Reason Why, Asking For it, Nothing Tastes as Good, The Art of Being Normal, it is reason to celebrate and a great excuse to badger every young person (and adult) to get the book and think hard about the message.

 

The Life U Give has already recieved a lot of attention and will no doubt become a movie and hopefully become as big a sensation as other YA works like The Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars. For those that like to be ahead of the curve, I recommend getting on this one now before it gets huge – because it will.

 

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Been so long, so here’s a catch up

Oh dear, I haven’t written anything in ages. I had a brief hiatus (for a few weeks) when I didn’t read anything, but mostly I prioritised work and other such distractions. So this post is by way of a catch up.

Books read since last I posted;

Actually, I suppose as a snapshot it shows a little of how eclectic my reading can be.

untitledOnly Ever Yours, is a dark young adult book. Yet another dystopian world, this one with shades of Scott Westerfeld’s ‘Uglies’ world, where young women compete to find their place in a male dominated society. It’s a sad, frightening existence, made more so because it takes amplifies and builds on many of the issues faced by young women today. It really is a speculative indictment of what some young women expect of themselves, of youth culture, of celebrity culture. As a youth worker I see many facets of the characters lives mirrored (obviously in a much less extreme way) in teens I work with. For that reason I finished the book feeling depressed. It is a book to be admired rather than enjoyed.

silkworm

The Silkworm is an enjoyable crime novel written by JK Rowling under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym. It’s the second novel featuring likeable character Cormoran Strike. The writing and plot is clever, and fans of crime fiction this should be a treat. Crime fiction is probably a genre I don’t read a huge amount of, but this more than kept my attention and I fairly flew through it.

darkmouth

Darkmouth is the latest children’s fiction sensation from Ireland, following the success of the Artemis Fowl and Skulduggery Pleasant series’. Darkmouth is a small town in Ireland where the last Legend Hunter and his son Finn, live. There’s plenty of humour and drama here to keep the most discerning of young teen or tween engrossed. I’m sure many parents will enjoy reading this book and any subsequent episodes to follow along with their children. The scary monsters are sometimes a little scary and sometimes really not, so if looking for an excuse to read it, checking its suitability for your child is as good a reason as any.

look whos back

I was looking forward to reading Look Who’s Back for ages after seeing the larger paperback version in my local bookshop. Alas the anticipation didn’t quite match the reality. It was ok. I liked it. But it wasn’t great. 2 and half to three out of five I’d say. I was looking forward to something really funny, and a scathing attack on modern politics. There were some humourous parts, and it did have a dig at 2015 Germany, but like I’ve said, it never quite hit the heights I was hoping for. There’s probably some sort of lesson about not judging a book by its cover, but who among us hasn’t fallen for that one? It’s also probably a bit unfair to judge it on what I was hoping for rather than what it was.

ancillary sword
Ancillary Sword on the other hand met my expectations. I loved Ancillary Justice. It was one of my favourite books of last year, so I was really pleased to find the standard hadn’t dropped. If you don’t like science-fiction, you should probably leave it alone. But sci-fi fans will lap it up. Intelligent space Opera.
all the lights
The last book in this round-up is All The Lights We Cannot See, and I think I’ll give that a little post all of its own. Spoiler alert though. I loved it. Best book I’ve read in 2015, beautifully written and captivating story.

Tsundoku..or, The ‘to read’ list

Everybody (ok maybe not ‘everybody’) has a big pile of books that is slowly building and that is optimistically called their ‘To read list’.
The books below are what makes up mine. Some have been on the list for a while. I recently got rid of a big pile of books that have been on it too long and whcih I conceded I probably wouldn’t read. Some have been added just this week. Others may not get read, but I want them on my self, eg Stanger in a Strange Land, or The Earthsea Quartet.
tsundoku
Anyway…here they are…Don’t judge me…

Silkworm – Robert Galbraith

Darkmouth – Shane Hegarty
Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey
1Q84 – Books one and two – Haruki Murakami
1Q84 – Book three- Haruki Murakami
The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer
The Book of Night Women – Marlon James
A Girl is a half formed thing – Eimer McBride
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
HhhH – Laurent Binet
Nazi Literature in the Americas – Robert Bolano
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell
We are water – Walter Lamb
The Lonely Polygamist – Brady Udall
The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear – Walter Moers
The Alchemist’s Apprentice – Walter Moers
A Wild Ride Through Night – Walter Moers
Dark Places – Gillian Flynn
The Time of our singing – Richard Powers
The Kindly Ones – Jonathan Littel
The Art of Fielding  – Chad Harbach
How To Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran
The Fraction of the Whole – Steve Toltz
The Water Method Man – John Irving
Last Night in Twisted River – John Irving
In One Person – John Irving
The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
The love song of Queenie Hennessy – Rachel Joyce
The Night Watch – Sarah Waters
Anicillary Sword – Annie Leckie
Red Rising – Pierce Brown
Hang Wire – Adam Christopher
Shift – Hugh Howey
Sand – Hugh Howey
Bitterseed – Ian Tregiillis
Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
The Hydrogen Sonata – Iain M Banks
Robogenisis – Daniel H Wilson
Robopocalypse – Daniel H Wilson
Hotwire – Simon Ings
Glass House – Charles Stross
Singularity Sky – Charles Stross
The Croning – Laird Barron
Soft Apocalypse – Will McIntosh
Love Minus Eighty – Will McIntosh
Cryptonpmicon -Neal Stephenson
The Confusion – Neal Stephenson
Anathem – Neal Stephenson
Orphaned Worlds – Michael Cobley
Ascendent Stars – Micheal Cobley
Pasazade – Jon Courtney Grimwood
Stamping Butterflies – Jon Courtney Grimwood
The Rook – Daniel O’Malley
Blood of the Dragons – Robin Hobb
John Dies at the End – David Wong
This Book is Full of Spiders – David Wong
Ecko Rising  – Danie Ware
The Earthsea Quartet – Ursala Le Guin
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlen
Dodger – Terry Pratchett
Unlundun – China Meilville
The Magician King – Lev Grossman
Magicians – Lev Grossman
A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time book 14) – Robert Jordan
A Dance With Dragons (1+2) (A Song of Ice and Fire) – George RR Martin
Dread – Gail z Martin
Sworn -Gail Z Martin
The Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness
Shadow of the night – Deborah Harkness
Lonely Werewolf Girl – Martin Millar
The Furies of Calderon(Codex Alera Book 1) – Jim Butcher
Academ’s Fury (Book 2) – Jim Butcher
First Lord’s Fury (book 6 ) – Jim Butcher
The Scarab’s Path (book 5)- Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Sea Watch (book 6 ) – Adrian Tchaikovsky

Mr Shivers – Robert Jackson Bennett

Half Bad – Sally Green
Pirate Cinema – Cory Doctorow
After The Snow – S D Crockett
One Crow Alone – S D Crockett
Infinite Sky – C J Flood
Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill
She’s Not Invisible – Marcus Sedgwick
Power of Six – Pittacus Lore
The Rise of Nine – Pittacus Lore
Ciity of Glass – Cassandra Clare
City of Lost Souls – Cassandra Clare
City of Ashes – Cassandra Clare
Specials – Scott Westerfeld
Extras – Scott Westerfeld
Pretties – Scott Westerfeld
Mad Fat Diary – Earl Rae
The Humans – Matt Haig
The Possession of Mr Cave – Matt Haig
Non-fiction
The Island That Dared – Dervla Murphy
Chavs – Owen Jones
The Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein
The Psychopath Test – Jon Ronson
A Little History of the World – Gombrich
I left my tent in San Francisco – Emma Kennedy
Homocide: A year on the killing streets – David Simon

The Art of Being Normal in All the Bright Places

One of the things I like about young adult literature is it’s willingness to explore serious and difficult issues in sensitive and interesting ways. When they have some crossover with issues I come across in my work life, then my interest is piqued that little bit further.

The Art of being normal

UK debut author Lisa Williamson places the experience of being a transgender teenager front and centre of The Art of Being Normal. The story is based around 2 main protagonists, David and Leo. Both have a secret. David, we find out early on, wants to be a girl and has been bullied all his school life. He’s known as ‘Freak Show’ by his bullying contemporaries. It’s during an all too frequent bullying incident that Leo steps in to defend David, breaking his own rule of remaining invisible. Leo is new to David’s school and is obviously harbouring some sort of secret which might explain why he left is previous school, theories about which his new school mates expound with increasing sensationalism.

This is an important book that deserved to be loved.There are not so many books that shine a light on the lives of trans young people or gender identity issues that we can ignore them when they come along. David Levithan (for example) explores the relevance or irrelevance of gender identity when falling in love very well in ‘Every Day’, but this is a very different story and much more real. While most scenes featuring David exploring his gender are dealt with sensitively or with a light enough touch, there are parts of this book that are heart wrenching. There is one scene in particular, given that the author once worked in a specialist NHS dept supporting young people struggling with gender identity, which, if it has any basis in a real situation is especially horrific. Having said that it deserved to be loved, I have to admit I liked and admired this book more than I loved it. It was great but not brilliant. There is a lot to like, and as I said, I found parts heart wrenching, but overall, as a novel, it wasn’t quite as good as I wanted it to be. But it deserves to be read as novel that explores new or rarely visited territory.

All The Bright Places

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven has at its heart a wonderful love story. The fact that when ‘boy meets girl’, it’s at the top of a bell tower where one or the other or both are considering jumping, drops a major hint that there might be more to this story than meets the eye. Bipolar Disorder, depression, loss, bereavement, identity, and the pressure to conform in high school are all themes delved into by the author.

Violet and Finch, the main characters come from different places. They operate in different high school ‘tribes’. Violet part of the popular crowd, Finch one of the outsiders and a bit weird.  They meet on top of a bell tower, having found themselves their for different reasons. Violet is suffering from the loss of her sister in a car accident, Finch is regularly assessing ways to kill himself. Violet emerges from the bell tower a hero in the eyes of the school cohort, as befits their status. A class project gives Finch the opportunity spend time with Violet and the relationship blossoms from there.

All The Bright Places has been compared to The Fault In Our Stars, and Eleanor and Park.It probably meets somewhere in the middle. It pulls at the emotional heartstrings like Fault In Our Stars, but the characters aren’t quite as quirky or as self-aware (this is a good thing). This didn’t make me cry, and I blubbed at Fault In Our Stars. The film rights have been snapped up with Ellie Fanning lined up to play Violet. A quick Google will undoubtedly find young people creating Tumblr accounts with their favourite quotes from the book.

Unlike The Art of Being Normal, bipolar disorder is not front and centre. For much of the first half it alluded to through the narration of Theodore Finch. But then we realise that what Finch is describing are the highs and lows of his condition. It gives a real insight into how bipolar disorder, or manic depression affects those with the disorder. I have worked with a colleague with bipolar disorder and recognised much of what I was reading. An added bonus to this book is some links to online content which the author writes. You can follow on twitter, or just read the content of an online magazine aimed at high school students. The 16 year girl at home laughs at me for reading books like All The Bright Places, because the core audience is teenage girls, but I introduced John Green to her, so I guess she also trusts my judgement when I recommend a book to her. All The Bright Places is now high on her reading list.

I recommend both of these books for different reasons. I preferred All The Bright Places as a book, and admired both for the subject matter they have tried to address. They are both very enjoyable books, but whether it as an American book, or because a film will follow soon, its All The Bright Places that is more likely to find its way onto people’s bookshelves. It would be a shame if The Art of Being Normal didn’t find the same success. Anything that challenges young people (and adults) into thinking outside their immediate sphere of experience is a good thing. Many of the issues being faced by young people are not always obvious or visible. These books help introduce awareness of two difficult issues to their readers. For that they should be lauded. Because they do it in such interesting, well written and enjoyable way means they should be celebrated and shared among your friends.

Extra info- If you would like to read more about Transgender issues or about bipolar disorder, below are two links to Irish websites that work with young people.

http://www.belongto.org/group.aspx?contentid=2918

http://spunout.ie/health/article/bipolar-disorder

Young person reads

Not sure if it’s because I’m a youth worker, or because there is a 16 year old in the house, or maybe I’m just young at heart, but I have found myself reading a fair bit of ‘Young Adult’ literature these last few years. I’m kind of jealous of the huge selection of books available for teenagers today, compared to the very limited selection I had growing up.

We Wewe were liarsre Liars has featured on a lot of end of year ‘best of’ lists, it has also been on the 16yr old’s wish list since the Summer, so it was an easy choice for a Christmas present this year. The bonus being that I can borrow it soon after.

The plot revolves around ‘The Liars’, a group of cousins and a friend who spend their summer on a private family owned island off Massachusetts. They’re wealthy, everything is done ‘the Sinclair way’ and life is good . However, as the story unravels we find a love story, prejudice, an accident that nobody will talk about and a family less together than first presented.

On most levels I enjoyed this book. Its well written. It only slowly peels away it’s secrets making you want to keep reading (and given that it’s a short enough novel, you could well read it in a day), until the big dramatic reveal, followed by a bigger dramatic reveal. My only negative is that I didn’t like the characters..I don’t think I liked any of them. I found them all pretentious and overly privileged, but perhaps that’s just my own personal prejudices coming to the fore.

I wouldn’t put anybody off reading We Were Liars. Its an intelligent dramatic novel. It has layered themes that you find yourself confronted with, or that you slowly realise were there. It deserves it’s plaudits, I just wish I cared more about the characters.

The Death Cure operates at a much different pace. Set in a dsytopian world into the future, its the third in the popular Maze Runner Series, the first of which was a summer feature film release starring Dylan O’Brien (one of the reasons the 16 yr old devoured this series over the summer and was at the cinema on opening weekend).

I enjoyed the Maze Runner Books. Not as much as The Hunger GaThe Death Curemes though. It moves along quickly, and you’re never quite sure if all of the characters will make it to the end of the book. In the last of the trilogy we find one of the main characters has ‘The Flare’, we get a final confrontation between the Gladers and WICKED and we get an ending. Not the best ending in the world, but not the worst either. If you enjoyed the rest of the series, you’ll enjoy this, Not sure if I’ll bother with book 4, which is a prequel, though.

Young Adult fiction has come a long way since I was plodding my through Enid Blyton book, or The Hardy Boys, or even Just WIlliam for a change. There is a fantastic selection for all tastes, covering some very serious subject matter. These 2 aren’t the best I’ve read, but they are still really good. If you’ve poo-pooed the idea of trying books ostensibly written for teenagers, put your preconceptions to one side for a while and have a browse in that part of the bookshop. You won’t regret it.