Book Review: Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

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“I could tell I was standing too still and breathing too silently. I prayed she didn’t notice, but she must have, she was so close to me.”

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I was sent this book by Walker Books a couple of months ago and I was immediately intrigued by the the idea of it as a ‘Graphic Memoir’. I know that this isn’t the first graphic memoir, in fact there are many that I’d love to get my hands on, but this is actually the first one I have ever read and boy did I enjoy it! If I had read this a while ago it most certainly would be on my list of Top 5 Graphic Novels. It has everything you would want from a graphic memoir; a compelling and moving story, beautiful artwork, and hilarious writing. Let’s briefly sum up the story:

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Book Review: The Last Beginning + Chat with Lauren James

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As Clove watched a petal slowly fall from the flower, she made herself a promise. When she was older, she was going to work here with the machine – even if it meant spending all her free time between now and then studying. Then one day, when she’d helped to get the machine working, she was going to be the first person to travel through time.

I was trying to think of a way to briefly describe The Last Beginning, the sequel and final book in The Next Together duology, but with the amount of plot twists, interesting new characters and jumps through time and space (all that wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff) I couldn’t figure out what to say! Thankfully Lauren James, author of the fabulous book, managed to sum it up in precisely five words:

Lesbian romance with MANY JOKES.

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LGBT Characters and their Role in Literature

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I was recently reading about the upcoming film adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s fabulous Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda -which I am very excited for- and started thinking about LGBT characters in books.  More specifically their roles in books. I was thinking about how LGBT characters often tend to be the protagonists and the story seems to revolve around their sexuality or gender-identity. Obviously this is a brilliant thing; literature and YA in particular is becoming so much more diverse and are telling stories that perhaps used to be “taboo”.  More people are being represented and that is always a good thing.

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However I was also thinking about how there are not as many books that have LGBT characters, either major or minor, whose stories do not revolve solely around their sexuality or gender-identity. I really enjoy it when I’m reading a book and I find out that a character is gay and then it’s almost disregarded, in the sense that it’s just accepted rather than being ignored or the focus of the plot. Again I will say that I don’t think that books that do have that as the focus are bad, absolutely not! But personally I do find that there are very few minor LGBT characters which I think is a shame. I’ve compiled a list of books that do include these types of character and if you know of any other books please do let me know:

The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The Next Together by Lauren James

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin

More Than This by Patrick Ness

Hollow Pike by Juno Dawson

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (although this one is slightly debatable)

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There has definitely been a positive shift in the attitude towards LGBT fiction in recent years and I do believe that it can only continue to get better. With more publishers of children’s and young adult books wanting more LGBTQ characters and even children’s TV shows including same-sex relationships. One of my bookish resolutions for 2016 is to read more LGBT fiction, many of the recommendations I will be taking from George Lester’s fantastic video. But if you have any then please let me know!

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

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“Not everyone has to be the guy who saves the world. Most people just have to live their lives the best they can, doing things that are great for them, having great friends, trying to make their lives better, loving people properly.”

I read More Than This by Patrick Ness last Autumn and instantly fell in love with his writing style; the way he uses words, his choice of words, his  wonderful use of punctuation and structure. I remember finishing it and just sitting there in awe. Since then I’ve been desperate to get my hands on his other work. Somehow it’s taken me up till two weeks ago to do so when I bought  The Rest Of Us Just Live Here. After finishing this book I was reminded of all the reasons I adored (and continue to adore)  Ness’ style.  I seriously need to get my hands on the Chaos Walking Trilogy!

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This book is based on the  concept of not being the chosen one but instead being the people trying to get on with their lives whilst hoping that nobody blows up the school – ‘again’.  This idea is so unique and was executed very well. With the book being based around the more mundane life it could have easily slipped into becoming very dull and slow. But fortunately it didn’t! In fact it was quite the opposite. The plot isn’t action driven, the focus is on the characters and their development. However the reader is still kept in the loop with the plot of the chosen one via the chapter titles. Each one stated the number of the chapter (e.g. Chapter The First) and then a quick summary of what’s happening to the ‘Indie Kids’. The actions of these Indie Kids does affect the characters that we follow and so without these short rundowns  a lot of things going on in the book would have made no sense whatsoever, and so was a very clever and entertaining thing to do.

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As said before this book is highly character driven. Our protagonist Mikey suffers from OCD and has been in love with one of his best friends, Henna, but has never told her how he felt. The story follows the relationships between Mikey and his friends during their final year of school and how they alter due to the mystery provided by the Invasion of the Immortals. Mikey was a brilliant character to read, he was so flawed. He was suspicious, jealous and doubted himself all the time but then he was also fiercely caring and could be hilarious. Similarly all the characters had their own issues making them developed and realistic. Jared – Mikey’s gay best friend –  was probably my favourite character. As quarter-god (of cats) Jared shows the most protective nature towards lives of mountain lions, cats, and mostly his friends. He understands what Mikey is going through and whenever he can will try to help him. But he also provided some mystery to the novel, he’s a bit of an enigma; with secretive Saturday nights out and a general inability to pin-point what exactly it is he wants. Jared was a brilliant addition to their mismatched friend group.

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There was an amusing tone that ran throughout the book caused by the normality of such abnormal things. Vampires? Soul Eating Ghosts? Quarter-god best friends? It’s all commonplace.  This reminded me slightly of Welcome To Night Vale and is something I find really enjoyable. Nevertheless the tone could switch from light-hearted to serious very quickly. But whichever mood Ness was writing in he did incredibly well; funny at some points and sombre in others.

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Overall a really interesting idea carried out brilliantly, with characters who felt more like friends than anything else.

Interview + Book Review: Read Me Like A Book by Liz Kessler

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‘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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THE INTERVIEW

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.

I have to say another huge thank you to Liz, I’m so grateful that you were happy to be my first author interviewee! Find her on Twitter,  Facebook,  Instagram,  or on her website.