Chalk by Paul Cornell

It’s 1983 and Andrew Waggoner is used to being bullied but one day Drake and his gang take things far too far. The violence they perpetrate on him cuts his very soul in half. It can’t be forgiven but Andrew has never been the kind of boy who could take revenge before.

Andrew lives in the eyeline of an ancient chalk horse, standing vigil over a site of ancient power. There he finds in himself an anger that divides him and could easily destroy those responsible.

This might seem like a Young Adult book from the blurb, and indeed it would suit readers of around 13 and older, but it stands it’s ground as a read for adults too.

It is brutal. I won’t tell you what happens to Andrew or what happens as a consequence but I winced and looked away a fair few times. Underlying that though is tenderness of family life, and the normalcy of caring about chart music and Dr Who. There’s also the tension and confusion that comes with having a crush on someone as well as the temptation to bully and harrass those weaker than you. Andrew joins in with bullying the few friends he has and starts a campaign of sexual harrassment against a girl that tells him he’s not even on her list of people she’d send a Valentines Card too. All behaviour that many of us would have experienced at school.

I think one of the things that’s so un-nerving about it is that it seems so autobiographical, Paul Cornell has written for Dr Who in the past so his love of it is well known, and the way the chart hits are woven through it becoming and integral thread of the story reinforces that feeling of familiarity.

The story is great, it’s well paced and things unfold with a feeling of inevitability that echoes that feeling of everything being out of control that plauges teenagehood.Having said that there are twists and there was a few times I worried about the author’s mental health!

The characters aren’t the most richly developed or nuanced that I’ve ever read but their main motivations are apparent enough and in keeping with who they seem to be, and I did care enough about them to read the story through to the end, very quickly in fact, I read it in a day!

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe

imageThis is the story of Vera, the seventeen-year-old daughter of Katya – a Russian Jew and Lucas – the descendant of a Catholic escapee from a concentration camp.  Vera is insightful, intelligent and troubled, she’s recovering from a breakdown that saw her sectioned after she stripped and cut her arms at a party.

Lucas has only been a weekend dad at most so he decides to take her to Lithuania, his grandmother’s homeland, for the summer. He hopes to connect with Vera in a more meaningful way and help her through adjusting to  her diagnosis.

This story is told in first person from Lucas’ point of view supplemented by emails from Vera to her boyfriend Fang and documents written by her exploring new ideas and their connections.

Both the main characters are instantly intriguing and sympathetic, as the story is more Lucas’ than Vera’s she could have come across as quite a stereotypical rebellious teenager but the author is careful to round out her character with other people’s positive reactions to her.

The descriptions of Vilnius paint a fascinating city, I’ve a friend from this city who used to wax lyrical about it but this made me want to visit it far more. Maybe that was because of the focus on the history and the people of the place and I felt like I could connect to the stories held within.

The exploration of different religions, though quite a gentle exploration, added an unexpected dimension to this which worked really well, it solidified the various characters but was also thought provoking. Especially as it intersected with the much more thorough exploration of mental illness.

Although not really written as a Young Adult book, this could definitely be read and enjoyed by ages 16 and over.

4 Bites

 

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Wolf In The Attic by Paul Kearney

imageAnna Francis is almost 12, when she was younger she had a mother and a brother as well as her father. They all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world. Now it is 1929, her mother and brother are dead. She and her father live in a tall old house in Oxford and she just has her doll for company.

She sees a fight that ends in a murder, then she stumbles across a community of gypsies. One of their number guides her home but before long she finds herself searching for the gypsy community again. Looking for a new home and protection from an ancient evil that seems to be following her.

If you enjoy Philip Pullman’s writing there’s a damn good chance you’ll enjoy this. I was a little unsure at the very beginning – Anna’s voice seemed a little young to me and althouth this is a young adult book I worried it might be pitched a little younger than I had thought. That wouldn’t have made it a bad book by any means, but it would have made it a little less enjoyable for me!

But Anna’s voice, and the author’s writing settles into a richer, moe mature voice quite early and from then on I was hooked. The atmosphere of the setting is pervasive and the characters are magnetic. I would have read it in one sitting if I could, as it was I read it in two!

It’s not quite as masterfull as Philip Pullman, but well worth a read and I’ll be looking out for his next book! It would also translate well to screen – I can see it having a gorgeous steampunk styling!

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Returning Eden by Maria Mellins

imageThe fact that this book is described as a  “gothic ocean mystery” intrigued me straight away. Often we think of the sea as sparkling and sunshiny so this promised something that would embrace it’s depths rather than its shallows!

Eden and her family left the remote island of Cantillon, and her best friend Dylan, suddenly when she was just a child. But now she’s back and starting college much to the chagrin of her parents.

But just as she’s settling in and making new friends,  she escapes an attacker, then a corpse dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, is found floating in the ocean.

Her new friends and Dylan help her investigate the mystery, scared that the killer will strike again. But as they do so they discover that Eden is at the centre of a dark and dangerous mystery – keeping her safe puts them all in peril!

I have to be honest, when I first started reading this I got a sinking feeling in my stomach and not because I was worried about the characters. It seemed to be aimed at a younger age group than I’d thought and the authors voice was a little clumsy. I stopped reading it and didn’t pick it up again until 2 weeks later.

When I did I wasn’t sure why I’d thought the writing was clumsy, and, rejoining the book after the chapters on Eden and Dylan’s childhood friendship, it was clearly aimed at those in their mid-teens upwards. I breathed a sigh of relief and settled in for a good read.

The author does a really good job of creating a perfect gothic atmosphere – misty, menacing and myopic. It’s balanced well by the teenage mood swings – optimism, melodrama and determination, and the story cracks on at a good pace.

If I was to be hypercritical I have to say the characters aren’t quite developed enough, but it seems this is the start of a series so that might be rectified in future novels.

I really liked the idea, it is different and I think a lot of those that read Young Adult books will appreciate that.

3.5 Bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Burmese Days by George Orwell

imageGeorge Orwell’s first novel is set in 1920s imperial Burma, a place he knew well. U Po Kyin, a corrupt Burmese official wants to raise his standing with the white rulers. To do so he plans to destroy the reputation of the Indian Dr. Veraswami., friend of John Flory, an embittered  35-year-old teak merchant who both loves and hates Burma and the Burmese.

Flory would like to help his friend but he knows his own standing among his fellow Europeans is shaky. He has a ragged crescent of a birthmark on his face and his politics aren’t quite the thing. When he meets Elizabeth Lackersteen, He is immediately taken with her and they spend some time getting close, Lost in romantic fantasy, Flory imagines Elizabeth to be the sensitive non-racist he so much desires, the European woman who will “understand him and give him the companionship he needed.”

I chose this book partly because I loved 1984 so much when I read it recently,  and partly because my partner was about to leave to work in Burma (Myanmar as it’s known now) for 2 months. Call me soppy but I wanted to feel close to him while he was gone and so immersing myself in a book set where he was seemed like the ideal solution.

They say the past is another country and this book is set almost a century ago, lots has changed in Burma since then but somehow Orwell’s description of the country and climate still made me feel like I had a sense of being there with him. Not surprising when this book was based on his time spent there.

But this book did make me uncomfortable in other ways. The casual, ingrained racism of the white society is thrown into sharp relief. To think that this was my grandparents generation is sickening. What is as bad if not worse is seeing how Dr Veraswami internalises this racism and believes wholeheartedly that the white people are superior. It shows how damaging racism is and how hard it is for those subjected to it to push through it. The same of course applies to people subjected to sexism, homophobia, transphobia etc.

A powerful book, and one that shouldn’t be left in 1984’s shadows as it still has much to teach us.

5 bites

 

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

imageYoung Lalla is lucky. Although Oxford Street burned for three weeks under the new regime and British Museum’s artefacts are vanishing and being replaced by desperate homeless survivors, she has been sheltered from the harsh reality by her parents.

But with the regime getting harsher and food becoming more scarce her father has decided it is time to leave. The ship is not just a whispered dream, it’s real. But it can only carry five hundred people so only the worthy will be saved. To her surprise her father is the ships owner and the architect of the entire escape plan. He’s done it all to save her so her place is assured.  But before long she starts to question her place onboard, and the mission itself.

Antonia Honeywell has written a really interesting dystopian novel. Officially this falls into the Young Adult market but I think this is works just as well for the adult market.

It’s set in the quite near future and in a London that is recognisable and I think that adds to the credibility of plot. The main character is interesting and mostly likeable, but not perfect or omniscient, so it’s easy to stay on her side, even though you might sometimes want to shake her!

The purchase or the ship along with setting up stores for it and assembling the passengers isn’t focused on in the story, but that too is made believable by the telling of just a few details, the knowledge the reader is given of the surroundings chaos and by the character of Lalla’s father, if anyone can pull something like that off he is the man to do it!

This book doesn’t just tell a story though, it asks questions about how we live our lives, both in the world and personally. Questions that don’t have easy answers and the author doesn’t patronise us by providing her own.

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book b through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The_Absolutely_True_Diary_of_a_Part-Time_Indian
Click to go through to Amazon or pick this up from your local independent bookshop
Junior (Arnold Spirit) was born on the Spokane Reservation with hydrocephalus (water on the brain). It seems unlikely that he will even survive let alone have a life worth living. But survive he does and slowly he begins to thrive.

A teacher at his school on the reservation sees his talent and urges him to get out and go to another school. So he does, his pesters his parents to let him go to Riordan, a local small town high school which has no other Indian students.

The rest of the story follows his high school adventures as he tries to fit in at his new school without leaving behind his Indian heritage.  As Junior starts to settle into his new school, he is hit by several family tragedies. He is surprised at the support he gets and where it comes from, but it takes him some time to fully recognise exactly how much support he is getting.This is a story I think we can all relate to regardless of our origins, as the teenage years are all about blending into a new community and starting our journeys away from our families. Inevitably it is a time of making mistakes, hurting our friends and families and trying to please everybody all the time but ourselves most of all.

This is a story I think we can all relate to regardless of our origins, as the teenage years are all about blending into a new community and starting our journeys away from our families. Inevitably it is a time of making mistakes, hurting our friends and families and trying to please everybody all the time but ourselves most of all.

I listened to the audio book of this, it was read by the author and before I was half an hour into it I was googling him to see how much of it was biographical. The author was indeed born with hydrocephalus. I wasn’t surprised, as the way he’d written about it was so comfortable, and I felt I learned a lot more about the condition without being talked down to or talked over!

When I googled the book I discovered that the paper copy of this is illustrated with cartoons all the way through. It’s not a graphic novel, but the character expresses himself by drawing comics and cartoons so the text is punctuated by some of these. They are wonderful (see below!) and drawn by Ellen Fornay, so my inner detective assumes that this bit is not biographical!

Junior

 

This is Sherman Alexie’s first book for Young Adults and it’s a good one. It’s the kind of book that I think teachers or parents could read with kids from around the age of ten to twelve, to help them adapt to the changes going up to a different level of schooling and the social challenges they will face.   It’s a particularly good one for boys as they often stop reading for pleasure about this age.

But don’t be put off if you are a little older than that, it’s a good read for all ages!

4 bites.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.