Book Review: Like Other Girls (Claire Hennessy)

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Pages: 288

Release Date: May 25th 2017

Summary:

Here’s what Lauren knows: she’s not like other girls. She also knows it’s problematic to say that – what’s wrong with girls? She’s even fancied some in the past. But if you were stuck in St Agnes’s, her posh all-girls school, you’d feel like that too. Here everyone’s expected to be Perfect Young Ladies, it’s even a song in the painfully awful musical they’re putting on this year. And obviously said musical is directed by Lauren’s arch nemesis.

Under it all though, Lauren’s heart is bruised. Her boyfriend thinks she’s crazy and her best friend’s going through something Lauren can’t understand… so when Lauren realises she’s facing every teenage girl’s worst nightmare, she has nowhere to turn. Maybe she should just give in to everything. Be like other girls. That’s all so much easier … right?

Review

Ah where to start with this one?!

I guess right at the beginning, which would be the title. Plenty of people have ranted about the ‘not like other girls’ cliche that pops up a lot in YA and real life. The blurb admits it’s a problematic thing to say, but I don’t think it’s enough to just admit it. Lauren really annoyed me in her attitudes towards other girls. In one of the opening scenes, she describes the girls around her as either make up obsessed bitches or nerds. It’s such a stereotype and got my back up straight away. Girl’s school isn’t that black and white (trust me, I’ve been there).

Secondly, Lauren’s transphobia really put me off her. I tried to be understanding of her point of view, and I know it can be hard to understand when someone close to you comes out as trans (especially someone you fancied) but her attitude just sucked. I get that this was addressed in the book towards the end but I’m not sure it was enough. I appreciate that a lot of characters did call her out on it but she never seemed to see how awful she was being.

On to the pregnancy storyline. This was brutal. I know things work differently in Ireland but I have to say, I had no idea how bad it is. It’s insane to me that a woman can’t choose what happens to her body, especially in terrible circumstances (Lauren’s incest-rape thing being a prime example). This is such an important story to tell, especially with how things are in Ireland at the moment. This fictional account is heartbreaking, but it’s even more heartbreaking to think women are going through this in Ireland right now.

So, slightly conflicted on this one. Despite my problems with it, I did speed through it and it does deal with some important issues. I’m all for flawed characters, I’m all for unlikeable characters, but I think Lauren just wasn’t for me.

3

Book Review: Nothing Tastes as Good (Claire Hennessy)

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Pages: 336

Release Date: July 14th 2016

Summary:

Don’t call her a guardian angel. Annabel is dead – but she hasn’t completely gone away. Annabel immediately understands why her first assignment as a ghostly helper is to her old classmate: Julia is fat. And being fat makes you unhappy. Simple, right?

As Annabel shadows Julia’s life in the pressured final year of school, Julia gradually lets Annabel’s voice in, guiding her thoughts towards her body, food and control.

But nothing is as simple as it first seems. Spending time in Julia’s head seems to be having its own effect on Annabel . . . And she knows that once the voices take hold, it’s hard to ignore them.

Review:

This was a bit of a brutal read but I really enjoyed it. I’m not sure it would be suitable for someone with an eating disorder or who’s had problems with that kind of thing in the past: I found it a bit too close to the bone and worry it could be triggering for some.

Annabel is dead and to get a last message to her family, she has to help a soul in need. She’s been assigned to Julia and Annabel can see her problem straight away: she’s fat. But Annabel knows how to fix that and she uses all her tricks to get Julia thinking about food and weight the way she did when she was alive. But as her thoughts influence Julia, Julia’s own thoughts begin to change the way she thinks too.

It’s clear from the very beginning that both girls have problems with food and neither can see that at first. Although her eating disorder caused her heart to fail, Annabel is convinced she was in control and didn’t have a problem. Julia turns to food for comfort and to block out the hurt of the past. But she begins abusing food another way after Annabel’s attempts to ‘help’ her.

Annabel isn’t always a pleasant narrator and I sometimes found her voice hard to listen to. The way she looks at and judges Julia made me think about myself in that way as well – and a post-baby body doesn’t help! Annabel’s is almost like the voice of society – the kind that shows you beautiful, slim women in magazines and tells you it can be achieved my restrictive diets rather than healthy eating, exercise (and probably some airbrushing). At her worst, Annabel’s voice made me want to not eat the things I normally would, which is why I worry it could be hard to read for a person with a history of eating disorders.

She might be harsh and rude at times but I also found Annabel’s voice very realistic and funny at times too. Her running commentary on Julia’s life made me laugh at times and every little observation brought the book to life and made it real for me. It’s an interesting way to tell a book, with a bodiless, almost god-like narrator (though Annabel has some thoughts on God, being dead and all) seeing everything a girl similar to her does and thinks. The writing style is also very easy to read and I really flew through this book.

The ending was very emotional and did bring a tear to my eye. It’s not too happy and perfect but Julia gets some closure and a wonderful girl power moment and Annabel gets to send a message to her family, although not the one she was expecting.

This is a brilliant book in its own right but I also think it’s great for raising awareness too. An eating disorder is a serious illness and ruins lives on a daily basis. Not all are as extreme as Annabel and Julia’s cases but can still be just as bad: as a nation we’re obsessed with body perfection and diets and it’s easy to see how people develop unhealthy relationships with food. But as this book demonstrates, it’s not all about looking skinny either: eating disorders can be about control and make a person feel powerful even as they’re destroying themselves.

As I write this it’s Eating Disorder Awareness week. This is a great book to pick up if you’d like to learn more on the subject.

4