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’.

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.






Are you John Irving in disguise? The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

I lost a weekend to John Boyne’s world of Cyril Avery – and I’m still not the better of it. I’m recovering from a book hangover of the best kind.


The story is simple but complex. It is the life of Cyril Avery, from not long before his birth, to pretty soon before his death. It is the story of being gay in Ireland and the story of social change in Ireland, told from the 1940’s through to 2015. It is an emotional roller coaster.

If you have ever read The World According to Garp, or Prayer to Owen Meany, you will understand my reference in the title of the post. Boyne is channeling Irving in the best possible way. He stands the comparison well. It is up there with the best of his work.

Boyne starts angry. The opening lines will hook you and you won’t want to be let go. Cyril’s mother is denounced from the alter, physically kicked thrown out of the church and  basically run out of town. If in the opening chapter you find yourself defending the clergy or Cyril’s grandparents, then you probably need to stop reading there. If you think gay people are sick and perverted you should probably read on as you might learn something, but you’ll probably stop reading early on.

heart opening

After leaving her home town behind, Cyril’s mother heads off to Dublin on the bus where she begins her new life, with a grand plan in place that involves a hunchbacked old nun who will deliver Cyril to his adoptive parents.

What follows is the best part of 600 pages of tears and laughter. I know I swung from anger, to joy, to despair, and back again.  The dialogue is sharp and quirky. Cyril’s upbringing is unconventional, but mostly believable, if occasionally absurd. The near misses between Cyril and his birth mother will probably frustrate you.

I read the book over the last weekend, as the Tuam Baby story was dominating headlines in Ireland. So anger at religious organisations was already in my system. The sad thing for Ireland is that many of the attitudes expressed and described in the book, you feel, are not in anyway over-hyped.There are too many scandals for the reader to not believe any of the more outrageous event or conversations that happen in the book. The strict conservative shadow of the Catholic Church reached into every part of society in Ireland. The sharpest barbs in this book are drafted in the funniest dialogue. Mary Margaret Muffet is a great character and you can easily imagine taking part in the cringe-worthy conversation towards the end with his daughter in law’s parents.


The object of Boyne’s contempt isn’t limited to the Catholic Church. Politicians and our general attitudes to women are the other principle targets. The occasional historical factual figure pops up, and some, like Charlie Haughey, get a bit of a shoeing.

Not all of the characters are drawn out or have depth to them. The modern segments aren’t maybe as good as the older ones. The book isn’t perfect, but it’s up there.

Overall I loved this book. First proper 5 star of the year. I was lucky in that I was able to just read for most of the weekend, so could get properly lost in Cyril. But in best book hangover traditions, I have no idea what to read next, although I do think I’ll be re-reading A Prayer to Owen Meany this year.

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.
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
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.

The Kills – Richard House

Four books in one, read in two different chunks. A murder, a fraud, serial killers, missing persons, across different countries, on different continents. Its a sprawling novel with something for everyone.

the kills

The Kills by Richard House is a 1000+ page tome made up of 4 different books with connecting stories. Book Three, ‘The Kill’ apparently being the original story to which he added or extended to make into this novel. I began it during the summer while on holiday, but then left it down when I finished book two. I picked it back up last week to finish it.

Apparently its a more satisfying read in its digital format with a lot of added material that you can log on and access as you go along. Audio from different characters for example. I don’t own an e-reader so I’m not sure if it would have added to my enjoyment, I’m a bit old school still.

The story itself was enjoyable if slightly convoluted. As you might expect over 4 books, it moves about a bit.Ostensibly its the story of Richard Sutler who is contracted by a huge organisation to oversee work in Iraq. a thousand pages later we’ve covered industrial espionage, murder, terrorism, embezelment, serial killers, urban legend, a novel, a movie, a fugitive on the run and visited Italy, Syria, Cyprus and probably a bit more than that.

It mostly holds your attention, although I found some slow bits. As I had a few months between the first and second two books I didn’t always connect the dots the way I probably should have, but overall I enjoyed it without loving it. Its an ambitious work, and maybe its intended to be best enjoyed with the extra material.