Book Review: Goodbye, Perfect (Sara Barnard)

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

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Pages: 384

Release Date: February 8th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

When I was wild, you were steady . . .
Now you are wild – what am I? 

Eden McKinley knows she can’t count on much in this world, but she can depend on Bonnie, her solid, steady, straight-A best friend. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Bonnie runs away with the boyfriend Eden knows nothing about five days before the start of their GCSEs. Especially when the police arrive on her doorstep and Eden finds out that the boyfriend is actually their music teacher, Mr Cohn.

Sworn to secrecy and bound by loyalty, only Eden knows Bonnie’s location, and that’s the way it has to stay. There’s no way she’s betraying her best friend. Not even when she’s faced with police questioning, suspicious parents and her own growing doubts.

As the days pass and things begin to unravel, Eden is forced to question everything she thought she knew about the world, her best friend and herself.

Review:

I do love Sara Barnard’s ability to create complex, compelling and realistic characters. She really is the queen of contemporary YA right now! I’ve loved her previous books and this one was no exception!

When Eden’s steady, dependable best friend Bonnie runs away with a teacher, Eden is left to pick up the pieces. Secretly in touch with Bonnie, Eden has to decide whether her friend really is as happy as she says she is, or if she should tell the police where the runaways are hiding.

This was such a fascinating read and I loved that it was from Eden’s point of view rather than Bonnie’s. If it had been Bonnie’s, it would have been similar to Me & Mr. J, which is a fantastic book but I don’t want to read a rehashing of that. Having it as Eden’s point of view gave a whole different message and feeling.

Bonnie drove me nuts in this. I definitely have a different perspective on this, being an adult rather than a teen, but I just thought what she did was really selfish. I’m not exactly blaming her, as she was obviously groomed by her teacher, but I felt it was really unfair to put pressure on Eden to keep her whereabouts a secret. While I understood Eden’s need to be loyal to Bonnie, I did want to scream at her that she wasn’t helping by keeping her secret.

I love that this is another book that focuses on family and friendship rather than teen romance. Sure, Eden has a boyfriend and they have some great moments together, but it isn’t about them. It’s refreshing to see a YA book where someone’s in a stable relationship and nothing goes wrong! I felt the book tried to steer clear of the usual tropes like this: it was also great to see sisters who are adopted and happy in their adoptive family.

My favourite parts were the ones with Valerie, Eden’s adoptive older sister who she’s struggled to bond with. While we see Valerie through Eden’s eyes – smart, perfect, dull – it’s easy to see why they haven’t got on, but as the book goes on it’s clear there’s more to Valerie than Eden’s first assessment. I loved their arguments as well as their bonding and I think Valerie was just an overall amazing character to read.

This is a powerful, emotional read which tackles some difficult topics really well. I thought it got the message right while being true to the teenage characters and not be being patronising. It’s another hit from Sara Barnard and I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

4

Book Review: A Quiet Kind of Thunder (Sara Barnard)

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

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Pages: 320

Release Date: January 12th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn’t a lightning strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

Review:

I loved Sara Barnard’s Beautiful Broken Things and couldn’t wait to get my hands on her new book. I’m writing this in November 2016 and can’t believe I have to wait til next year to share this with everyone!

I adored all the characters in this book. Steffi has selective mutism as well as extreme anxiety and the way she explained these and described the symptoms were really effective. I’ve not experienced either of these things myself so can only imagine what it must feel like, but others who have similar issues have said they’re spot on. Rhys, who is deaf but can talk and lip read, was the sweetest guy until he got in one of his moods. I found it really fascinating to think of him filtering everything he signed in a way that people don’t do when they speak. It’s not something I’ve thought of before and it added so much to the character. I also loved Tem, Steffi’s best friend who sticks by her through everything, even when she’s being ditched for the new boyfriend.

I love that Beautiful Broken Things centered around friendship rather than love, and was unsure how I’d feel about this book being quite a lot about the romance. But there was so much more to it than that, and I really saw Steffi and Rhys’s romance as an extended friendship rather than some terrible insta-love. I had some worries about Steffi’s mutism being fixed by finding a boyfriend, or ignoring her problems because she doesn’t have to talk aloud to a deaf boyfriend, but Barnard was way ahead of me and these things weren’t an issue.

It was really interesting to see the different worlds the two lived in. Together, they had a perfect little bubble where they could talk and sign to each other and be comfortable. But when Steffi was around school friends etc she didn’t sign as she spoke and it made Rhys feel out of the loop and wonder if she was ashamed of him. And when Steffi was with his friends, she found her sign language knowledge wasn’t really that good and struggled to keep up with him. I used to look after some of the younger deaf children in my primary school and know a little sign language but I can imagine I’d feel out of my depth like Steffi if I tried to have a conversation with people who sign everyday. It’s like using your GCSE French knowledge on an actual French person: limited and slow.

This book is rich with emotion, friendship and romance and just hit all the right spots. I think it’s definitely one to watch out for in 2017.

4

Book Review: Beautiful Broken Things (Sara Barnard)

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

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Pages: 400

Release Date: February 11th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

I was brave
She was reckless
We were trouble

Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable. Their differences have brought them closer, but as she turns sixteen Caddy begins to wish she could be a bit more like Rosie – confident, funny and interesting. Then Suzanne comes into their lives: beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious, and things get a whole lot more complicated. As Suzanne’s past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be. But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realises, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own.

Review:

I hesitated before requesting this on NetGalley as I was worried it wasn’t my type of thing, but I’m really glad I did!

I worry with these kinds of contemporary stories that they won’t hold my interest – I’ve always been more into fantasy, plus I worry I’m too old for these kinds of friendship/coming of age stories. Just goes to show I should ignore myself more often as I really enjoyed this.

I didn’t connect too well with Caddy at the start, I think probably because we’re such opposites, even when I was that age. I’d had plenty of her ‘Significant Life Events’ by that age and, like most people who’ve had them, I couldn’t understand her craving for them. So what if you feel your life is a little boring/you don’t have any stories to tell? Mine weren’t really stories you could tell in general conversation anyway. But I guess I can understand the worry of appearing boring to everyone else.

The friendships in the story were really wonderful and I loved that the focus was on the friendship of these three girls rather than focussing on boyfriends and love. Sure, there’s a bit of boy talk, but it’s not the centre of the story, and I feel we need more of that in YA. Not everything when you’re young is about falling in love and finding the ‘right’ guy – I know who I was dating when I was 16 and it definitely wasn’t anywhere near Mr. Right!

The subject matter is handled really sensitively, though I won’t mention it to much here, so I don’t ruin any of the ‘reveal’. I just want to say that its a topic that should be explored in YA more and I love the angle that Barnard went for: it looks at what happens after the ever after, when a tragic event is over but the effects are still lingering. It also does this from a different point of view, not from the victim but from a new friend, which just shows how these things spread and don’t just affect those directly involved.

Caddy’s evolving relationship with Suzanne felt unstoppable. It started tense and gradual but it began to feel like it was spiralling out of control. If you’ve ever experienced a friendship that was so good for you and so bad for you at the same time then you’ll understand this book completely. Caddy relies on it and knows she is right about it, no matter what her parents or best friend says, but as a reader you can see it’s slowly sucking her in and dragging her down too.

Around half way through I began wondering where the book was going to go: while I was enjoying the ride, I just couldn’t see what it was building to. But then it all started heating up and we’re carried away to a big, dramatic conclusion that was just perfect. I think the ending was just right. It wasn’t too moralising or patronising, but it did show Caddy that the relationship wasn’t healthy and something needed to give.

I’m writing this now in October 2015 and am annoyed that this book won’t be out until February next year – that’s so far away! Safe to say, this will be one to look forward to in 2016 and I hope it gets the praise and recognition it deserves.

4

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