Not many books begin with a quote from the Nintendo “Quit Screen” message, and if they did you’d surely be apprehensive of the type of book you’d just picked up. However in the light of this book, the message “Everything not saved will be lost” becomes ominous and is the best quote Martin could have chosen.
In this book we witness an apocalypse. One could lump it in with the rest of the Young Adult dystopian novels, but I do feel like it is a separate entity. For one thing, it’s a stand-alone novel and not part of a trilogy, and for another the theme of everything being a game (not to be confused with the Hunger Games) proves an interesting concept.
Michael (character, not author) is on the run with his 5-year-old brother Patrick from the zombies who have been running rampant since Halloween. To protect Patrick from the awful reality, he has told him that this is all a game – like the video games they played together for years – that there are rules, a Game Master, and a Safe Zone. The parallels between how Michael describes their situation to Patrick and the reality of it becomes more complex as the novel goes on, and Martin really controls the unravelling of the two themes.
The relationship between Patrick and Michael is beautifully, painfully and immediately set up. I felt so protective of Patrick that it almost physically hurt to imagine something happening to him – in fact, at one point I had to stop reading because I couldn’t bear what had just happened (there’s a teaser for you). From the first sentence you know Michael will do anything to save Patrick, and the sacrifices he makes over the course of the novel are truly heroic.
The language has moments of stream-of-consciousness which really enhances the action, sucking you into it, and letting you hear Michael’s thoughts – which seemed to me so very characteristic of a 17-year-old boy facing a real-life video game. I will be surprised if this book doesn’t get turned into a film – it has everything: action, family, bad guys and good guys, zombies, mad religious cults and even a splash of romance with a (thankfully) geeky and awkward girl. This book is one that will really appeal to Young Adult audiences when it’s published in the UK (June), and hopefully is already doing well in the US.
This novel is by David Levithan, who has co-written a few books with John Green. You know my mixed feelings towards Green (TFiOS = Brilliant, the rest not so much), so I came to this with an open mind. It’s about Paul, a teenager who has known that he was gay literally his entire life, and about his friends, some of whom are gay, bisexual, or heterosexual. It’s a classic “boy meets girl” love story, without the girl.
I don’t do romance stories anymore – maybe it’s my cold, hard heart – but I picked this up because I think there needs to be more mainstream YA fiction about gay teenagers. If this book had been about a boy and a girl I would have hated it: too unsurprising, too soppy and too much of a happy ending. If this book had been about a boy and a girl, there would be nothing special about it, and that’s the truth.
Of course, it’s not about a boy and a girl. The theme of gay teenagers coming to terms with themselves, working out who they are, and having to stand up to their parents made it that much more memorable. It was an interesting concept: the town Paul lives in is particularly tolerant of every sexuality, and the football team has a number of transgender players (the most prominent of whom is the wonderfully-named Infinite Darlene). This certainly jarred with my knowledge of people’s feelings towards open sexuality in certain places, and it was never explained why this town was so much more accepting than any other.
Despite this, there is intolerance in the novel, and this is its most powerful plot line. Paul’s friend Tony’s parents are strict Christians, and they believe being gay is a terrible sin. Tony’s awful struggle against that, and his heartbreakingly brave defiance of their beliefs at the end of the novel was what saved it for me. It is a minor storyline, and yet I think it casts a shadow over the other characters, who spend most of the book bickering over who’s dating whom. Tony’s story seemed so much more important, and while I did like the book, I wish it had been all about him.
Costa Debut Novel and Costa Book of the Year Award-winning novel The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (who follows me on Twitter. No biggie…), is a wonderful novel. It provides a believable, realistic look into mental health, stripping back the assumptions that we may have around it without us even noticing.
Matthew Homes was 9 when his brother Simon died. He is 19 when he is narrating his story – in a style reminiscent of both The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – and what he tells us is devastating and uplifting in equal measures. Matthew’s voice is direct: he talks to the reader, aware that he is writing now, that someone looked over his shoulder and he had to pause, that life is happening all around him. It really puts you in the present with him.
Although we know immediately that Simon dies, we don’t find out exactly how until the end, catching instead faint whispers of clues before Matthew reigns them in again. In the meantime we follow Matthew as he grows up without his older brother, watch helplessly along with him as his mother makes less and less sense in her grief; how he slowly slips into a state that is labelled “mentally unwell”.
The best thing about it? We don’t really know what’s wrong with Matthew: Filer does not label it, and we therefore don’t have any bias or assumptions attached to him. Instead we see him as we would anyone else, and the fact that he sometimes hallucinates about seeing his brother never factored to me as a serious problem. It was just the way he dealt with his grief. This, I think, is Filer’s triumph. I did not feel any differently towards Matthew; I did not believe he was dangerous, or underdeveloped, or ignorant, or anything that makes him any different to me except that he was another human being. And for that, this novel deserves every prize it gets.
This is a recently-published children’s book (as in, it came out on Monday) by performance poet Steven Camden. It’s his first novel, but you wouldn’t have guessed that if you didn’t know. The story is of two 13-year-olds: one growing up in 1993, the other in 2013. Ryan (from 1993) copes with the death of his mother by recording his diary on a tape. Ameliah (from 2013), copes with the death of her parents by listening to the tape. As they try to move on with their lives, we begin to work out the real bond that holds them together.
Steven Camden just gets teenagers – especially that brink between childhood and adulthood. The characters are filled with possibilities, and yet at the same time with the awful knowledge that their time here is not unlimited. I felt such a bond with them because they felt so painfully real, and I respect the author so much for that.
The transitions between the two storylines are natural and seamless, with both obvious and subtle parallels that stop you from putting the book down – I hated the end of my commute to work because it meant I had to stop reading! The language is not frilly and fancy but thoughtful and playful, and the dialogue was utterly perfect, as though you were listening to the conversations rather than reading them. I truly cannot fault this book.
Tape is technically a children’s book, but as a 21-year-old I was still completely engrossed. In particular, the references to the 90s had a different resonance to me than to a current 13-year-old, for whom the 90s is long gone. I implore you to read this book, because it is a rare pleasure.
So you may have noticed I’ve been powering through John Green books at the moment. I started badly with Looking For Alaska and then The Fault In Our Stars soared to one of my favourite Young Adult books of all time. I was desperate to read another and picked out Paper Towns because of its interesting title.
Now, I while I did enjoy reading this book, and it did remain in my mind after I’d stopped reading, it didn’t come close to the perfection of The Fault in our Stars. In fact, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a very similar premise to Looking for Alaska. It had a geeky, awkward and bored male protagonist whose life is turned around by a quirky, crazy and troubled girl whom he falls in love with. And spends most of the book searching for, when she mysteriously disappears.
Interestingly, I liked the characters much more in this book – Quentin was essentially the same as Miles from Alaska, but I found Margo far less irritating or 2-dimensional as Alaska. Perhaps it’s because Looking for Alaska was his first novel and he’s developed his writing a lot since then, forging more understandable and real characters.
There’s a lot of literary reference again in this book – mainly to Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, which I’ve read and therefore felt more capable of engaging with the thoughts Green puts into his characters, than if I hadn’t read the poem. However, not having read the poem wouldn’t have held you back from really appreciating the story. This, I think, is Green’s strength – he makes intellectual observations very accessible to his readers and, I hope, inspires an eagerness in them to read further.
This was the first book I read pre-publication, and it was very exciting to do that (still is). This is one of the many books written for the centenary of WWI, and if I’m brutally honest it won’t stand out from the crowd. That doesn’t mean it’s not good – purely that there are so many recent books relating to the war, that they would have to have something really special to be noticed.
However, this book was very touching and poignant. It’s about 18-year-old George, a village postman, who thinks he’s in love with Violet, the rich girl from the manor house. When she reveals she’s engaged to a man called Edmund, George is distraught and humiliated, gets drunk, and signs up to join the army with his friends. Of course, reading that with the hindsight we have, you want to scream at him for being so stupid, and it’s worse knowing that this kind of story was common at the time.
As George goes to war, the narrative splits so that it follows him, Violet and her fiancé Edmund – who also signs up. Although I was interested to learn more about the characters, I felt like the change between the war scenes and those of Violet at home were far too jarring – they made everything Violet worried about seem futile and trivial, and I don’t think that was the intention.
The most memorable aspect of the novel is what happens to George. Allnatt deals with a topic that I don’t feel is explored as much as it could be – how soldiers recovered from the war when they’d been seriously injured. I won’t say what happens to George, but his injury is really horrific, and the psychological turmoil he goes through is fascinating to read. This, for me, was what saved the book and, ultimately, gave it a lasting impact.
It’s taken me a long time to pull my thoughts together well enough to write a review for this book. To paraphrase John Green, I fell in love with this book as one falls asleep: slowly, and then all at once. It’s fascinating how different my attitude was to this perfect, perfect novel and to Green’s first novel, Looking for Alaska, which I was ambivalent about.
You have probably heard a lot about this book and the emotional connection its readers feel with it – the film is coming out in six months, and its fans are completely and utterly in love with it. It was partly because of this that I resisted reading it for a while: I expected to be disappointed and feel left out of the hype, but if I could recommend one book for you to read in 2014, it’s this one.
A novel more about life than anything else, this focuses on two teenagers who face death every day: a girl called Hazel and a boy called Augustus, who have cancer. It is evident from the outset that Hazel and Augustus need to be together, but it’s interesting that Green takes 200 pages for anything to happen between them. I loved that because it was more real, and it characterised them as separate entities before binding them together .
The characters are a joy to read, but not as much as THAT LANGUAGE. A writer who describes champagne as “drinking stars” will automatically win my heart, but the writing throughout this book was transcendent. It proved once again that Green isn’t afraid to challenge his readers, both in writing style and in the ideas behind the novel. As well as being a stunningly brilliant novel, it’s a composition of some complex thoughts on life and humanity, which strike the Young Adult reader far more profoundly than they might an adult.
I cannot emphasise enough the sheer perfection of this novel, and I have been entirely won over by Green. Rarely has an author made me laugh and cry in the same sentence, so if you have any hesitation about reading this, let me dispel them – you won’t regret it.