Book Review: Indigo Donut (Patrice Lawrence)

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

Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books

Pages: 400

Release Date: July 13th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

A story of longing, belonging and trust. Two very different young people discover who loves them, and who they can love back.

Bailey is 17, mixed race, lives with his mum and dad in Hackney and spends all his time playing guitar or tending to his luscious ginger afro. Indigo is 17 and new to London, having grown up in the care system after being found by her mum’s dead body as a toddler. All Indigo wants is to know who she really is. When Bailey and Indigo meet at sixth form, sparks fly. But when Bailey becomes the target of a homeless man who seems to know more about Indigo than is normal, Bailey is forced to make a choice he should never have to make.

A story about falling in love and everyone’s need to belong.

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Book Review: City of Saints and Thieves (Natalie C. Anderson)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Pages: 432

Release Date: July 6th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Street-thief Tina breaks in to the luxurious house where her mother was killed to steal from Mr. Greyhill and nail him for her mother’s murder. She is caught red-handed.

Saved by Mr. Greyhill’s gorgeous son, Michael, the pair set in motion a cascade of dangerous events that lead them deeper into the mystery, and reveal dark and shocking secrets from Tina’s past.

Tina and her mother fled the Congo years ago as refugees, trading the uncertain danger of their besieged village for a new, safer life in the bustling Kenyan metropolis. The corruption and politics of the Congo, and the gangster world of Sangui City, are behind Tina’s mother’s downfall. Is Tina tough enough to find the truth and bring the killer to justice?

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Book Review: A Change is Gonna Come (by lots of awesome YA authors)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 384

Release Date: August 10th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Featuring top Young Adult authors alongside a host of exciting new talent, this anthology of stories and poetry from BAME writers on the theme of change is a long-overdue addition to the YA scene. Contributors include Tanya Byrne, Inua Ellams, Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Ayisha Malik, Irfan Master, Musa Okwonga and Nikesh Shukla.

Plus introducing four fresh new voices in YA fiction: Mary Bello, Aisha Bushby, Yasmin Rahman and Phoebe Roy.

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Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi (Sandhya Menon)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Pages: 384

Release Date: May 30th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

The arranged-marriage YA romcom you didn’t know you wanted or needed…

Meet Dimple.

Her main aim in life is to escape her traditional parents, get to university and begin her plan for tech world domination.

Meet Rishi.

He’s rich, good-looking and a hopeless romantic. His parents think Dimple is the perfect match for him, but she’s got other plans…

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

Perfect for fans of Rainbow Rowell, Jenny Han and Nicola Yoon, WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI is a frothy, funny contemporary romance set at a coding convention in San Francisco over one exciting summer. Told from the dual perspectives of two Indian American protagonists, Dimple is fighting her family traditions while Rishi couldn’t be happier to follow in the footsteps of his parents. Could sparks fly between this odd couple, or is this matchmaking attempt doomed to fail?

Review:

This is one of the cutest romance books I’ve ever met. I just want to get Dimple and Rishi and smush their faces together. This book gave me so many gooey moments and genuine smiles and I fell in love with both characters.

Dimple feels she’s disappointing her parents by not wearing makeup and searching for a husband, but she has career aspirations that come first, and a summer coding camp might be the perfect way to kickstart her career. Rishi is an old head on young shoulders: he wants to marry, have children and please his parents. He’s happy to marry Dimple, the girl his parents have picked out for him, but she might have other ideas.

First off, it’s great to see diverse characters in YA, and these are now two of my favourites. I have a mega soft spot for Rishi: he made me laugh out loud a few times and I thought his gestures towards Dimple were so thoughtful and sweet. I loved the conflict Dimple had: would she be betraying herself if she fell for a boy, and one her parents hand picked no less? It was really thought provoking and the way it was resolved was perfect (I’ll say no more, no spoilers!)

This is the first Indian American romance I’ve read and I loved the way the culture was represented. Both characters had their religion and their origins but felt differently about it: Rishi loved talking to others about his culture while Dimple felt she didn’t really fit anywhere, in America or India. The mix of languages was cool to see too, and felt very natural: I grew up in a household that used a mix of English and Urdu and I saw similarities in some of the words used here, and learnt some new ones too!

To criticise, there were some pretty cheesy moments – mostly the way that Rishi talking about Dimple – and I felt the plot got a little predictable towards the end, though the ending was perfect. Still, who doesn’t like a huge dollop of cheese on their romance (that sounds gross now I’ve written it…) I thought the plot line with Celia was a little underdeveloped, but at the same time I wasn’t that bothered because I was too focussed on Dimple and Rishi.

People have been raving about this book for months so I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you it’s going to be the hit of the summer. It’s got the most adorable romance, and two strong, diverse and lovable characters that you won’t be able to help falling in love with. Do yourself a favour and buy this book.

Copy of an art exhibit

Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited (Becky Albertalli)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 300

Release Date: April 11th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love-she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness-except for the part where she is.
Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny, flirtatious, and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

Review:

This was a really cute, fun book about romance, crushes and family. There’s a great diverse range of characters and three of the most lovely little love stories.

Love story one, and the main one of the book, is Molly. She’s had 26 crushes in her life – 25 of which have not been Lin Manuel Miranda – but she’s never acted on any of them. Enter cute, hipster Will who’s fun and friendly and also the best friend of her sister’s girlfriend. If she can date him then she can keep her sister close and have her first kiss too. But then there’s Reid, her nerdy co-worker who she’s super relaxed around and might just be even better crush material, as long as he doesn’t fall for her best friend Olivia…

Reid was the obvious contender for a real crush in my eyes, despite Will being very cute. I thought he’d end up being a stereotypical good looking ass but he was actually very sweet. To me though, he just wasn’t the right one for Molly, while Reid was someone she could talk to and hang out with, which is more important to a relationship than butterflies in the stomach. I liked Molly’s theory about why she had never acted on her crushes and how she just needed to be rejected to get it over with. When you’re young you sometimes think that being rejected by a crush is the worst thing that could happen, and while it might not be great and could be awkward for a while, you’ll very soon get over it. Trust me.

Love story two is Molly’s twin Cassie and Mina, a girl they meet in a club and who becomes Cassie’s first serious girlfriend. These two are adorable together and I loved the way their story was written. The;r relationship puts a strain on Cassie and Molly’s relationship, which Cassie does her best to balance but things inevitably get complicated along the way.

The third is between their two moms, Nadine and Patty. Patty had the twins via a sperm donor, and many years later Nadine had their little brother Xavier by the same donor, which I thought was really sweet. During the book, gay marriage is legalised and Nadine and Patty can finally get married. I think what I loved most about this was just seeing an LGBTQ+ family living a normal and happy life. It just made me smile.

There’s ups and downs in the book as Molly and Cassie fall out, Mina meets their slightly racist Grandma and Reid looks like he might get his head turned by newly single Olivia. I got frustrated with Molly because I just wanted her to talk to Cassie and Reid rather than making assumptions about what was going on with them. Communicate, people, it’s important!

This was a book that just made me smile with all its lovely characters and relationships. It’s great to see a diverse range of characters in a book, and I love an LGBTQ+ book that isn’t a coming out story too. If you’re looking for a diverse contemporary romance read then this one’s for you.

4

Book Review: The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Walker Books

Pages: 438

Release Date: April 6th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.

Review:

This is probably one of the highest profile YA releases of the year and after reading it, it’s easy to see why. I don’t feel like there’s a lot I can say about this that hasn’t already been said but it’s so good it needs a review anyway.

Starr is the only witness to the shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Through her grieving, Starr has choices to make about whether she stays quiet or speaks out. She’s used to living a double life between her poor neighbourhood and her fancy suburb high school, but this event brings the two together and makes her choose between the two different versions of herself.

This book is so relevant at the moment with the amount of high profile unarmed shootings that we hear about on the news, and all the ones we hear less about too. I liked that it didn’t present Khalil as a saint: yes he sold drugs, he may have been in a gang – but does that mean he deserved to be shot for doing nothing wrong? The answer to me is obviously not, but the way it’s presented on the news makes people think otherwise.

I thought the way Starr had two different versions of herself was really quite sad. It’s horrid to think that you can’t be yourself around people who are supposed to be your friends because you’re worried about what they’ll think, that she had to make herself stay calm to avoid being seen as an ‘Angry Black Girl’ stereotype.

The characters in this book were all brilliantly written. I loved the different relationships between Starr and her family. The way her parents were written showed them as real, present parents rather than the absent or stereotype ones you often get in YA. They were strict sometimes, often funny and clearly loved all their kids very much. Similarly, the way Starr interacted with her brothers showed real sibling relationships: loving but with plenty of annoyance and teasing.

I know this book is in a setting that’s far from what I’m used to: I’m a white, British woman from a middle-class family so I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be Starr or anyone else in her situation. But it’s so good to read something that’s not about people like me. It’s been said a lot lately but it can always be said more: we need diverse books. We need representation in books for all kinds of people, because everyone deserves to read about people like them.

Starr was taught things in her life that I never had to learn. Her parents gave her a talk to tell her what to do if the police ever pull her over. Keep your hands visible, no sudden movements etc. When I was younger, I was told to find a police officer if I was in trouble but it’s different for Starr. They’re not necessarily going to help her, just because of the colour of her skin. I think we can all get a bit of a funny feeling around police officers – I know I feel guilty around then even when I’ve done nothing wrong – but Starr is terrified around them and that’s not how anyone should have to feel around someone with that power.

I don’t want to write spoilers about how things turn out but I felt it was true to life rather than putting a fairy tale end on things. It did all the things it was supposed to: it made me sad, angry, annoyed that this is a book but that this is actually what happens in real life. We all need to speak out like Starr if we can, add our support to the voices that need to be heard and never stop working to make things better for everyone.

This book deserves all the praise and the hype it’s getting and I really recommend you pick it up. Aside from the important message inside the book, it lets the publishing world know that we want Own Voices stories, we want to read books about a diverse group of people, and by a diverse group of people too.

Copy of an art exhibit

Book Review: Orangeboy (Patrice Lawrence)

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

Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books

Pages: 448

Release Date: June 2nd 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sixteen-year-old Marlon has promised his widowed mum that he’ll be good, and nothing like his gang-leader brother Andre. It’s easy when you keep yourself to yourself, listening to your dead dad’s Earth, Wind and Fire albums and watching sci-fi. But everything changes when Marlon’s first date with the beautiful Sonya ends in tragedy; he becomes a hunted man and he has no idea why. With his dad dead and his brother helpless, Marlon has little choice but to enter Andre’s old world of guns, knives and drug runs in order to uncover the truth and protect those close to him. It’s time to fight to be the last man standing.

Review:

I was lucky enough to have this granted as a wish on NetGalley, so big thanks to the publishers for the e-copy.

This was a great book to read as it’s contemporary but not something I have any experience in: gangs in London, drugs and guns, death and danger. It was fascinating and uncomfortable and I really enjoyed it.

Marlon is the good boy of the family, doing well at school and staying out of trouble, unlike his older brother Andre, until the accident… But when a first date with a beautiful girl ends in tragedy, Marlon is forced into Andre’s world of gangs and danger and things start spiraling out of control.

I loved how Marlon changed throughout the book. He gradually made more and more dubious decisions, each one making his situation worse and worse. Although I didn’t always agree with moves he made, I also could see what led him to those decisions. From the beginning it’s clear that the police aren’t on his side so I can see why he felt he had to do things outside of the law, even if I was yelling at him in my head not to be so stupid.

I really felt for his mum, who was caught up in the middle of everything that he and Andre did. She’d already had a hard time of things and each time something bad came to her door I just wanted to hug her. I really cared about what happened to her and Marlon, which I think showed what life like characters they are. I had a soft spot for his best friend Tish too, and loved how she and his mum did everything they could to help Marlon, even when he wouldn’t tell them the whole truth.

This book is fast paced and tense, with a really gripping climax, and one that I’ll definitely be recommending.

4

Book Review: The Hypnotist (Laurence Anholt)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Corgi Childrens

Pages: 352

Release Date: October 6th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Jack has left his native Ireland and is making a new life as Professor of Neurology at a university in the American South. He has certain skills, honed over his lifetime, that he mostly keeps hidden. Skills in hypnotism and mind control . . .

Thirteen-year-old Pip is plucked out of an orphanage by a farmer, hired as a farm-hand, and as carer for the farmer’s wife. But Pip is black. The farmer and his wife are white. And this is 1960s America, where race defines you and overshadows everything.

As racial tensions reach boiling point with a danger closer to home and more terrifying than either thought possible, Jack and Pip’s lives become inextricably linked. And Jack’s hypnotic skills are called on as never before . . .

Review:

I had no idea what this was really about going into it, and I struggled at first because I just didn’t know where it was going. About 100 or so pages in things started kicking off and I was suddenly really invested in the characters and their story.

The story is told in dual narrative, from Pip, a young black boy working for a white couple and their racist, radical son, and Jack, an Irish professor and hypnotist. There’s also songs sprinkled throughout by Hannah, a selective mute Native American girl who also works for the family.

I have to admit this isn’t a period I know much about, aside from some historical facts. We weren’t really taught it at school and I haven’t read many books set in this era so it was something new for me, and I found it really interesting. I think the thing that sucked me in was the scene where the KKK was introduced: it was genuinely scary and I felt Pip’s fear. There’s also a seemingly nice and rational character who professes his support for the group and tries to normalise their actions and describes them as a ‘family group’, making it sound more like a country club than a violent, racist organisation.

While reading there was part of me thinking, ‘phew, thank goodness we don’t live in a world like this any more.’ And part of me despaired at the parallels I could see between then and now. No, we don’t have segregation anymore and yes, race relations are better. But they’re not perfect and there’s still a myriad of issues. There’s still people who think like this. When reading some of the racists rants, it sounded too much like things you still hear today, especially in post-Brexit Britain. The story served as a warning to me, as it shows the awful consequences of when these dangerous views go unchallenged.

All that aside, this was a really interesting story, with a great set of characters that you can’t help but root for. I loved Pip and wanted him to get his ‘great expectations’. He was just too sweet and adorable, and I loved his simple love for Lilybelle and Hannah. I struggled to get into Jack’s narrative at times: I found his colloquial address to the audience a bit awkward but I loved his skills and his reactions to the racism. It was really interesting seeing it from an outsider’s point of view, as it wasn’t something he was used to in Ireland. I also really enjoyed Hannah’s songs – Anholt is quite a poet.

With the world in the state it is, I feel this is a really important read, as well as being endearing and even funny at times. A great YA debut, and one everyone should pick up this year.

4

Book Review: Radio Silence (Alice Oseman)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books

Pages: 400

Release Date: February 25th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.

But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken.

Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down. Suffocating with guilt, she knows that she has to confront her past…
She has to confess why Carys disappeared…

Meanwhile at uni, Aled is alone, fighting even darker secrets.

It’s only by facing up to your fears that you can overcome them. And it’s only by being your true self that you can find happiness.

Frances is going to need every bit of courage she has.

Review:

This was such a good read! I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy it so much, and I was most pleasantly surprised.

I think what stood out most was the voice of our narrator, Frances. It was so real, I could fully believe she was an actual person talking to me and not just a character on the page. A lot of this is helped by modern references – talking about The Office and Tumblr etc, and I wonder if that will have an effect on its lastability (these references could be well out of date in a couple of years). That’s not really important, just something I was musing on.

There’s a great sense of diversity in this book, racially and sexually, and I love the fact that that’s not the point of the book: it’s not about being bisexual or mixed race, it just there in the characters, as this book reflects real life and the diversity you find there every day.

I really appreciated the lack of romance in this book. Frances states herself that it’s not that kind of book, she’s not going to fall in love with Aled, and I respected that. It would have been a different, more predictable book if she had, and I don’t think I would have liked it as much.

The themes of finding yourself and becoming comfortable in your own skin are typical ones to be found in YA, but it’s handled really skillfully here. I felt like I could relate to the situations facing the characters really well, despite no longer being in that kind of position myself: it just rang true with my teenage years, and I wish I’d had this book to read back then.

One of the most important messages in this book is to do with education and choices for your future. With two younger sisters in secondary school at the moment, I’ve seen the kind of stress they can be put under: I’ve seen my 15 year old sister in pieces over a test, because if she failed then she’d fail her A levels and not get into university and not get a good job. It’s horrible to see someone so young worrying about that kind of thing, but that’s what young people face these days. There’s an expectation now to go to university: we were taught in school that it was the path that would get you the best job. This book explores the idea that university isn’t for everyone, and not having a degree or good grades doesn’t mean you won’t get a good job.

That’s not to say that education isn’t important, or that university is bad. I went myself for an undergraduate and Masters degree, loved every moment of it and wouldn’t change a thing. But that path isn’t for everyone, and this book highlights this and the need to offer other options to people who maybe aren’t as academically focussed.

Slight rambly tangent there, but basically this book is awesome, and a perfect read for 13-18 year olds especially who are having to decide there futures right now.

4

Book Review: Not If I See You First (Eric Lindstrom)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books

Pages: 321

Release Date: December 31st 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Parker Grant doesn’t need perfect vision to see right through you. That’s why she created the Rules: Don’t treat her any differently just because she’s blind, and never take advantage. There will be no second chances.

When Scott Kilpatrick, the boy who broke her heart, suddenly reappears at school, Parker knows there’s only one way to react – shun him so hard it hurts. She has enough to deal with already, like trying out for the track team, handing out tough-love advice to her painfully naive classmates, and giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn’t cried since her dad’s death. But avoiding her past quickly proves impossible, and the more Parker learns about what really happened – both with Scott, and her dad – the more she starts to question if things are always as they seem.

Review:

What I loved about this book was that it had a protagonist with a disability – and that wasn’t what the story was about. Sure, it’s mentioned a lot, obviously, it’s part of who she is, but it’s not all she is, and that’s perfect. If it was about Parker’s accident or her learning to cope afterwards then it would be a different book, and possibly not as good in my opinion.

I get that Parker wasn’t always the easiest protagonist to like. She was cagey and blunt, even a little rude sometimes. But those are my favourite protagonists: the ones with flaws, who feel real. I think she would have been a lot less likeable if she’d always been cheery and sunny and full of trust and love, as that’s just not realistic. I don’t like anyone all the time, and I didn’t like Parker all the time, but she felt real to me.

I also loved the realism of the relationship. Too often in stories, especially in YA, a main focus is some idealised, unachievable romance between the teenage protagonists. I have a general problem with too much emphasis on romance in YA anyway, and the idea that you can find your one true love and perfect romance when you’re that age just doesn’t sit well with me (okay I know it can happen but it can’t be as common as books make out!) The romance in this book is understated and there isn’t a definite ‘we’re going to be together forever’ feeling, and nor is it the plain sailing that we’re used to. Trust is a big issue with the two involved and that has to be earned back: it doesn’t just happen in an instant, which I appreciated.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and it’s great to see a differently abled main character. I’d definitely recommend you giving this a read, especially if, like me, you want to see a different kind of romance in YA.

4