‘I wonder how many times in one lifetime you get to start again as someone else’
Whilst on my work experience at the incredible Booka Bookshop I spotted Read Me Like A Book by Liz Kessler sat on the YA shelves. Something drew me to it. Perhaps it was the beautiful cover or the mention of books in the title, whatever it was made me decide to have a look at the blurb. I instantly knew that I had to have. So on my final day of work I bought it and less than 24 hours later I had finished. I only put this down once, and that was to sleep!
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Something I want to clear up a little before I begin; this is not a romance story between a teacher and a pupil. This is a story about 17 year old Ash discovering her own sexuality and dealing with all the problems thrown at you at that age: exams, friends, physical relationships, and everything that comes with that. It still contains romance but I would not say that that is the focus. This book is very character driven and that’s what makes this book so fantastic. We’re treated to a holiday inside Ash’s head for a year of her life, and a very stressful one at that. I’ve only ever head a handful of lgbt books and in all of them the protagonist has always known that they’re not straight. What’s intersting about Read Me Like A Book is that Ash does not know or at least not consciously, so we get to watch her finally come to terms with it. It’s good to have books that make people aware that understanding your sexuality and who you are can sometimes take a bit of time.
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I completely clicked with Ash’s character after reading the very first page. Liz has perfectly captured the heart of teenage girl in nowadays society; with mention of snapchat and that feeling of envy when watching a couple totally immersed in one and other it’s hard not to connect with her and the other characters. The relationships between Ash and her friends and family are all ones that are very realistic. I particularly enjoyed her friendship with Cat and Robyn. There’s just the right amount of teasing, arguments and resolutions between them all. Each character brings out a different side of Ash providing entertaining character development; Cat is always there to bring out the more reckless side of Ash whereas Robyn helps Ash grow her newly found passion for English put in place by Miss Murray. Speaking of whom, I wish she was my teacher! There was a bit of mystery surrounding Miss Murray which definitely added to the plot. I’m still not sure of a lot of things but due to some events (I’m staying spoiler free!) you realise you don’t need the answers because you’ve already come to your own conclusion. That probably won’t make sense unless you’ve read the book, I’m sorry!
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Now for the exciting bit! Liz was lovely enough to answer a few questions of mine about Read Me Like A Book and a couple other things such as her middle grade series:
So you wrote this book 15 years ago, where did the inspiration come from?
Well, it came partly from some of my own experiences. I’d had an amazing English teacher who really inspired me, and I was thinking about how these brilliant teachers can sometimes have such a profound impact on our lives, and most of the time they don’t even know that they have done. Also, from my own experiences of coming out. My experience (of both the inspiring teacher and of coming out) were completely different from Ashleigh’s, but they led me to thinking about her story.
Something I loved about the book was how relatable it was, especially with the use of quite modern jargon. How was it adapting the book from the original draft to fit in with today?
Actually, it was a major job! I worked very closely with my editor on this. It was amazing to realise how much had changed. In the original, the characters didn’t even have mobile phones. Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine teenagers existing without their phones! I’m glad you found it relatable. Makes all the hard work worth it!
This book is about Ash dealing with school and love whilst discovering her own sexuality. For people going through a similar thing what would you say to them?
Just that you are never as alone as you might think you are. And that telling people is almost always not as bad as you think it will be. Times have really changed and the issues that are raised in the book around sexuality are – thankfully – becoming more and more accepted all the time. Find someone you can talk to, and be kind to yourself.
Read Me Like a Book is one book in the recent boom of the lgbt genre, what are some of your favourites that you would recommend?
A few of my favourites would be Cat Clarke’s ‘A Kiss in the Dark’, Lisa Williamson’s ‘The Art of Being Normal’, Alyssa Brugman’s ‘Alex As Well’ and David Levithan’s ‘Two Boys Kissing’. Oh, and you really should have James Dawson’s ‘This Book is Gay’ on a shelf somewhere.
And I have to mention The Emily Windsnap books; they were so important to my childhood and will always be very dear to me. What were some of your childhood favourites?
Awww, thank you so much for saying this. Emily Windsnap will always be important to me too, as Emily is who I started my writing journey with, and I’m so glad that she’s still on it with me today! A couple of my own childhood favourites were The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and Enid Blyton’s The Adventures of the Wishing Chair.