Australian, Contemporary, YA

Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson – Review

Green Valentine is one of my new favourite Australian YA books! This was such a fun read, I loved the characters, and the environmental themes were so great to see, especially in a YA book.

Summary

25808675When Astrid and Hiro meet they give each other superhero names. She’s Lobster Girl and he’s Shopping Trolley Boy. Not an auspicious beginning. But it gets better. Then it gets worse. Much worse. Classic romantic comedy: girl-meets-boy, love blossoms, and is derailed. Incredibly engaging, upbeat, funny and smart.

Astrid Katy Smythe is beautiful, smart and popular. She’s a straight-A student and a committed environmental activist. She’s basically perfect.

Hiro is the opposite of perfect. He’s slouchy, rude and resentful. Despite his brains, he doesn’t see the point of school.

But when Astrid meets Hiro at the shopping centre where he’s wrangling shopping trolleys, he doesn’t recognise her because she’s in disguise – as a lobster. And she doesn’t set him straight.

Astrid wants to change the world, Hiro wants to survive it. But ultimately both believe that the world needs to be saved from itself. Can they find enough in common to right all the wrongs between them?

A romantic comedy about life and love and trying to make the planet a better place, with a little heartbreak, and a whole lot of hilarity.

My thoughts

Astrid

First off, Astrid – the protagonist and narrator – was such a well-rounded character. She’s introduced as a smart and popular girl at school who’s always found the system easy, but I loved how the author both subverted and went beyond this.

Personality-wise, her judgemental nature, her flawed insistence on completely imposing her views and actions on others, her naivety, and her passion and determination were so clear from her voice. Adding to this, her family dynamics and the way she talked about the environment through footnotes in the book (which I really liked!) all had her brimming with personality.

Finally, her reactions and emotions when she faced complications – with Hiro, and her plans for the environment – were all well-written and relatable. It’s a real testament to the author that I connected this strongly to a character so different from me in so many ways (though not all) and it was heartening to see her change and learn by the end of the story.

Hiro

Hiro, the other main character and the love interest, was great. He was also incredibly well-developed — I loved the little rambles he went on about society to Astrid in the beginning, he made me smile and laugh so many times, and his dynamics with Astrid were so fun and unique to read (talking about superheroes! Saving the world!). I liked how the issue set up of Astrid hiding her real self, and Hiro’s reaction to that, were addressed naturally early on rather than dragged out, so the story could move on to more interesting things.

Hiro’s half-Japanese and half-Italian, which I generally feel was done well — I really loved the scene where we met his Nonna, which was integrated into the story, and in a positive way. There could’ve been more depth with this though, potentially through cultural details.

The supporting characters and overall diversity

I liked the supporting characters of Dev and Paige, though they could have been developed more, especially Paige. Dev is Indian and gay, and his relationship developments/history was woven into a subplot regarding Astrid’s relationship with her friends, so that was interwoven nicely in a natural way. To wrap up on the characters and diversity: I am well aware and do agree that it’s far from ideal for POC/queer characters to always be on the side, supporting the cishet white protagonist, as it is in Green Valentine. But for what it represented, I was mostly happy with how the book represented incidental diversity; and it avoided being tokenistic, which I appreciated.

The environmental themes and plot

This was what really attracted me to the book at first, because an environment-focused book is such an important issue and a refreshing thing to see in YA. This was really, really well done — all the environmental facts were delivered naturally and in Astrid’s authentic voice, so it was seamlessly woven into the story and didn’t feel didactic at all. The details of gardening, which I knew little about, were also woven into the story in a really enjoyable way and never felt bogged down.

As the plot progresses, this was a source of connection between Astrid and Hiro as they begin ‘bewildering’, or ‘guerrilla gardening’, in order to improve Valentine, and later face a group of more genuinely extremist hippies regarding the environment — all of which were fascinating, increased the stakes and conflict as the story went on, and made me think about environmental issues in different ways. And though they were slightly predictable, I was also really satisfied by the way things were wrapped up.

Other thoughts:

  • There was a really fun, light-hearted tone throughout the whole book which I really enjoyed
  • Valentine was a really fun and detailed setting
  • Astrid’s family issues were fleshed out and well-depicted, and I liked how empathetic the portrayal of her parents was

Overall: Green Valentine was a fantastic book and I definitely recommend it, especially if you’re looking for light-hearted fun and are interested in the environmental themes. Be ready to fall in love with the characters.

Australian, Contemporary, Historical Fiction, OwnVoices, Romance, YA

#LoveOzYA Recent Highlights

*Note for Read Diverse 2017 – Does My Head Look Big in This and Night Swimming are by authors of colour.

There are a couple of Australian YA books I’ve read since the beginning of the year which I really enjoyed, but haven’t yet gushed about and recommended properly. So, today’s post is a round-up of these!

Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 10.31.54 PM.png

Frankie by Shivaun Plozza

Publisher’s Website

Summary:

27193294

Frankie Vega is angry. Just ask the guy whose nose she broke. Or the cop investigating the burglary she witnessed, or her cheating ex-boyfriend or her aunt who’s tired of giving second chances…

When a kid shows up claiming to be Frankie’s half brother, it opens the door to a past she doesn’t want to remember. And when that kid goes missing, the only person willing to help is a boy with stupidly blue eyes … and secrets of his own. Frankie’s search for the truth might change her life, or cost her everything.

My highlights from Frankie:

  • Frankie had such an incredible, compelling voice. In the best way, she reminded me of the protag Gilly from The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson – fierce and apparently indifferent to those around her but with depths and vulnerabilities that really twist your heart when they come to the surface.
  • The setting was so detailed and really came alive throughout the story, which I loved! (Especially since it’s in Melbourne, Australia)
  • The mystery about Xavier, and the uncertainties about Frankie’s future, really kept me reading as the story progressed, and the supporting characters (especially Frankie’s aunt) were all fantastic
  • The emotions at the end of the story were so powerfully written, and overall I feel there was a good balance between tying up the storyline and leaving things open-ended

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Publisher’s Website

Summary:

79876

Sixteen-year-old Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full-time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else.

Can she handle the taunts of “towel head,” the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school? Brilliantly funny and poignant, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s debut novel will strike a chord in all teenage readers, no matter what their beliefs.

I’m still having trouble summarising what an incredible book this was – and this is something that’s really rare for me! Here are some of my highlights from the book:

  • Amal is seriously one of the most hilarious teen characters I have ever come across – her voice was incredibly real and had me laughing out loud (which, again, is REALLY RARE for me when reading!). It was also inspiring to see her strength in spite of all the prejudice she faced. Also, the audiobook narrator is fantastic – if you like audiobooks and can access it, I definitely recommend it.
  • It’s so refreshing to see how honestly it recognised and made counter-arguments against casual racism/prejudice. Naturally this focused on Islamophobia, but was not limited to it.
  • Leading on from the above two points, there are several more poignantly relevant societal issues that the book addresses, but it shows it through Amal’s family relationships, her strengths, and her hilarious voice – so it always felt naturally included. Internalised racism, assimilation, family expectations, close-mindedness in relation to tradition and the misuse of Islam, modesty, and empathy – all of these were raised and woven brilliantly into the narrative.
  • Amal’s friendships were lovely! Female friendships really come to the forefront in this book and each character is fleshed out. Leila’s storyline was heartbreaking but tackled so well and beautifully moving; I also loved the relationship between Amal and her next-door neighbour. The cultural diversity amongst the range of characters was almost bizarre to read, in the best way possible – I’ve never ever read a book which just feels like Australia the same way as this one does – it’s never tokenistic, but informed the identities of the characters in a beautiful way.
  • The not-really-romance and issues within her relationship with Adam were addressed well. I’d never found him that compelling as a character but was cheering at how well Amal stuck to who she was, and to her beliefs.
  • Seriously just. read. this.

Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

Publisher’s Website

Summary:

9781925498165Steph Bowe is back. Night Swimming is a love story with a twist, and a whole lot of heart.

Imagine being the only two seventeen-year-olds in a small town. That’s life for Kirby Arrow—named after the most dissenting judge in Australia’s history—and her best friend Clancy Lee, would-be musical star.

Clancy wants nothing more than to leave town and head for the big smoke, but Kirby is worried: her family has a history of leaving. She hasn’t heard from her father since he left when she was a baby. Shouldn’t she stay to help her mother with the goat’s-milk soap-making business, look after her grandfather who suffers from dementia, be an apprentice carpenter to old Mr Pool? And how could she leave her pet goat, Stanley, her dog Maude, and her cat Marianne?

But two things happen that change everything for Kirby. She finds an article in the newspaper about her father, and Iris arrives in town. Iris is beautiful, wears crazy clothes, plays the mandolin, and seems perfect, really, thinks Kirby. Clancy has his heart set on winning over Iris. Trouble is Kirby is also falling in love with Iris…

Night Swimming by Steph Bowe releases on April 3rd! Here are some of my highlights from the book:

  • The story centres on a same-sex romance, which was so great to read. The depiction of how Kirby felt towards and admired Iris from the start was so well-written and Iris was such a sweet and lovable character. The scenes they had together as they slowly got to know each other more were enjoyable and moving.
  • There are also multicultural supporting characters (Iris is biracial, Kirby’s best friend Clancy is Chinese-Australian, another character, Nick, is Greek) and excellent mental illness rep.
  • I loved Kirby and Clancy’s friendship, which was both positive and complex. The scene at the end when they finally confront each other and properly open up about their fears and worries was so satisfying to read.
  • The family relationships in this book were really touching. The issues with Kirby’s father were addressed so thoughtfully and holistically, in a way that felt incredibly real. The characterisation of her grandfather Cyril, and the effect of his dementia on her and her mother, was also really strong – and it’s not something we see often in YA contemporary.
  • Finally, the humour and characteristic quirky fun in Steph Bowe’s books were also fantastic here.

Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall

Publisher’s Website

Summary:

29340956Kate and Harriet are best friends, growing up together on an isolated Australian cape in the 1880s. As daughters of the lighthouse keepers, the two girls share everything, until a fisherman, McPhail, arrives in their small community. When Kate witnesses the desire that flares between him and Harriet, she is torn by her feelings of envy and longing. But one moment in McPhail’s hut will change the course of their lives forever.

Inspired by a true story, Skylarking is a stunning debut novel about friendship, love and loss, one that questions what it is to remember and how tempting it can be to forget.

Skylarking was the first historical fiction book I’d read in a while, despite it being my favourite genre; and it was a great one to get me back into it. It’s more of a crossover book in terms of age group – I haven’t seen it marketed as YA, but it centres on young characters and their experience of growing up.

My highlights from the book:

  • The writing was so incredible – I always admire writers who can describe what seems ordinary in an immersive, intriguing way
  • Kate was a fantastic character – I love how spirited she was, and this was especially clear in her longing for adventure. Additionally, I loved the coming-of-age themes that the story emphasised.
  • The SETTING. The isolated Australian cape of a lighthouse. So breathtaking to read about, and all throughout the book I could see, hear, and feel everything so clearly.
  • The historical period was also used very well – the narrative was accessible but prompted me to reflect on issues specific to the period, and those which remain relevant to us now.
  • At first I was hesitant about the climax (which is based off a real incident), and unsure about how well it worked with the build-up to it. But in the scenes that followed, I loved how strongly the emotions came across, and it prompted me to reflect on the story in a different way. Ultimately, it was very moving and thought-provoking

Have you read, or do you plan on reading, any of these books? What are your thoughts?

And a quick note to everyone: I’ve got a lot of assessments + general busy-ness coming up, so I won’t be on Twitter or blog-hopping much for the next 2-3 weeks. I’ll be sure to respond to any comments here though, and will definitely be back after that.

Contemporary, OwnVoices, Romance, YA

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han – Review

15749186

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was a really sweet and light read; I especially loved the focus on family relationships, and the depiction of Lara Jean’s confusion and naivety as she navigated her love interests.

Summary:

LARA JEAN keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her, these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved.

When she writes, she can pour out her heart and soul and say all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only.

Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

My thoughts:

The family relationships

  • I loved how this book emphasised family, especially the relationships between the three sisters — it’s something we don’t see enough of in YA. The book was honest about the challenges and conflicts in their relationships, as well as showing the strength of their bonds
  • Margot: I found it hard to be sympathetic towards her sometimes, but her situation and feelings were understandable and I loved the way she and Lara Jean confronted each other and resolved this at the end
  • Kitty, the youngest sister: she was an absolute delight in her interactions with every one of the characters and whenever she appeared on the page
  • The lingering impact of their mother’s death was interwoven naturally and sensitively into the story
  • I especially loved the specifics of their family traditions: the Christmas Cookie Bonanza and other  Christmas traditions, eating Korean food, etc. The in-depth details were a delight to read about.
  • In general, the family just seemed so real to me.

Lara Jean

  • Fitting in with the light and fluffy tone of the book, Lara Jean was sweet and naïve, dealing with confusion as she navigated her love interests — something I could relate to a lot
  • I loved how self-reflective she was, and the way she put her sisters first
  • Her biracial and Asian (half-Korean) identity was touched on a few times, alluding to family and addressing micro-aggressions — a refreshing piece of representation to find

The romantic storyline

  • I personally found it difficult to connect to either of the love interests. As said above, it was Lara Jean’s own growth and how she navigated them, as something completely new to her, which was better in sustaining me than the ‘who will she end up with’ aspect
  • I appreciate that things were meant to be messy, as is clear from the blurb — but still feel things could have been wrapped up better at the end, and am a little worried the sequel is going to go in circles

The writing

  • The narrative voice was lovely — very immersive and readable
  • Pacing was generally fine throughout the story, though I can imagine if you’re more impatient with the romantic storyline that it could seem to drag
  • The dialogue felt realistic and well-crafted

Overall, this is definitely a book I recommend for the sweet and light tone and storyline, and the focus on family relationships. I’ve very keen to see what happens in the sequel and to be with the Song girls again!

Australian, Contemporary, OwnVoices, YA

Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah – Review

This was my first read by Randa Abdel-Fattah, but certainly won’t be the last. Highly recommended.

Summary:

Thirteen-year-old Hayaat is on a mission. She believes a handful of soil from her grandmother’s ancestral home in Jerusalem will save her beloved Sitti Zeynab’s life. The only problem is the impenetrable wall that divides the West Bank, as well as the check points, the curfews, the permit system and Hayaat’s best-friend Samy, who is mainly interested in football and the latest elimination on X-Factor, but always manages to attract trouble.

But luck is on their side. Hayaat and Samy have a curfew-free day to travel to Jerusalem. However, while their journey may only be a few kilometres long, it may take a lifetime to complete.

List time! Here’s what I loved about this book:

  • Hayaat’s voice was really powerfully wrought and pulled me into the narrative. She felt completely real, as a thirteen-year-old living in an environment of oppression and conflict. Her backstory is progressively hinted at from the beginning, and had a strong emotional impact on me when it was revealed.
  • Samy, Hayaat’s best friend, was endearing and hilarious. I loved the banter between him and Hayaat, which added a lightness, in an appropriate way, to the tension throughout their journey. It was also fun to see all the quirks and nuances of his interests (e.g. soccer) that added realism to his character.
  • The family dynamics throughout the story were moving and relatable. I especially loved the relationship between Hayaat and Sitti Zeynab.
  • The SETTING. The author was incredible at immersing me in the world, and it’s refreshing to read a story set in the Middle East. Not only that, but the emotions were intrinsic to the setting, making it feel all the more real.
  • Leading on from that, I loved the cultural and language details throughout the story.
  • The dangers and tensions of Hayaat and Samy’s journey made the story gripping, with high stakes maintained throughout, which escalated at each barrier and setback they faced.
  • There was a hero’s-journey feel to the book, as they met different people along the way. It was really enjoyable and heartwarming to see the friendships they formed, and people helping each other.
  • There were some beautiful and moving scenes near the end, which really showed the pain and oppression endured by the people of West Bank, and the role of hope and purpose to staying resilient
  • Apart from the inevitable – due to the situation of unresolved conflict between the states – almost everything was clearly wrapped up at the end of the story, which gave a satisfying sense of closure and the feeling I’d really followed the characters through to the end

In summary: read this incredible book, especially if you’re looking for moving relationships and a journey storyline, and are interested in the Middle-Eastern setting

Contemporary, OwnVoices, YA

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed – Review

Goodreads Link

Written in the Stars was an absolutely incredible book, and the under-represented story it told is so needed. The amount of tension it sustained throughout the story was really powerful; it was great at evoking an understanding of Naila’s feelings and situation; and powerfully details of setting and culture were conveyed within.

Summary:

Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden.

When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want
her to marry him, now!

Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif … if he can find her before it’s too late.

First off, the incredible thing about the reading experience of this book was how much the author made you care. The tension and stakes were high from the start of the story, with the restrictions on Naila’s life and the issues with the disappointment of her family, but especially after Naila discovers the marriage that her parents have arranged for her, and following the consequences of this. The story was well-paced and incredibly gripping as I
feared for what would happen to her, hoped for her escape attempts to succeed, felt the burden of everything she must keep hidden, and was pained by the progression of her situation and its hopelessness. I read this in less than one day and almost one sitting.

Leading on from this, I absolutely felt for Naila all the way through. Her fears and desperation were evoked in ways equally beautiful and heartbreaking throughout, and another one of the ways that it really kept me reading. There were multiple times when I could genuinely imagine myself in a similar situation, because the pain she was undergoing was so real.

Out of the side characters, there were plenty that kept me engaged. Saif isn’t given a huge amout of depth at first, in spite of his obvious importance to the story, but his impact on Naila is clear. I really loved Selma, Naila’s cousin, and the friendship between them, which was a ray of hope throughout the story. Naila’s parents and uncle, with the awful choices they made for her, mainly incited anger in me, but they were consistently characterised with strong (and horrifying) realism. Amin, Naila’s husband, was also realistic and understandable.

Much of the book is about Pakistani culture – through Naila’s life, values and challenges as a Pakistani-American teen, to her initial impressions of Pakistan as she visits there with her family, to the horrifying reality she faces there with her forced marriage and new life. Cultural values were depicted with depth at the beginning with both Naila’s value on family, her hopes and anxieties, and the pressures and restrictions she faces. When they arrive in Pakistan, the details of the setting really immersed me, and was well-sustained throughout the entire story through Naila’s perspective. The nuances of an ownvoices writer’s understanding is really clear throughout.

Overall, Written in the Stars is a book I’d highly recommend. Read it soon! 🙂

Contemporary, OwnVoices, YA

Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz – Review

Goodreads Page

Publisher’s Website

Rating: 4/5 – definitely recommended, though there are some writing issues I have reservations about which I’ll explain

Summary:

Jasmine de los Santos has always done what’s expected of her. Pretty and popular, she’s studied hard, made her Filipino immigrant parents proud, and is ready to reap the rewards in the form of a full college scholarship.

And then everything shatters. A national scholar award invitation compels her parents to reveal the truth: their visas expired years ago. Her entire family is illegal. That means no scholarships, maybe no college at all, and the very real threat of deportation. But Jasmine won’t give up. Because when the rules you lived by no longer apply, the only thing to do is make up your own.

Before you read the rest of this review, I’m going to point you VERY FIRMLY towards the reviews of this book by Glaiza @ Paper Wanderer and Sue from Hollywood News Source. Ownvoices stories and reviews are incredibly important. I especially encourage anyone who’s unfamiliar with the experiences/identities raised in this book to read their thoughtful reflections and broaden your understanding.

Done? Or saved them? Here are my thoughts.

Strengths

I loved and was incredibly grateful for the specific areas of diverse representation that this book had:

  • Asian character with a migrant background! I rarely turn down such YA books, which I (will always) feel a strong need for, and there were definitely parts of the experiences here which I identified with. It was also refreshing that Jasmine was a 1.5 generation immigrant (migrated to America as a child), because this is also rarely represented. I liked how this was reflected in her role balancing between her parents, and her younger brothers, as well as how strongly she identified with both her Filipino heritage and being American.
  • I loved reading about Filipino culture and seeing their interactions. I’ve been wanting to read about a Filipino character for a very long time – so it was great to finally find it in this ownvoices book. Hopefully an Australian YA one will also appear later down the line!
  • What stood out to me most was how insightful the book was regarding the experiences of undocumented immigrants (in America). This specific experience explored the classic immigrant concerns of identity and belonging from a different angle. It’s not about Jasmine questioning who she is (as I said above, she knows and feels firmly that she’s Filipino-American); instead, she’s dealing with the fact that she’s not legally American, that her internal identity isn’t reflected on paper:

It feels like there’s no ground beneath me, like everything I’ve ever done has been a lie. Like Los Angeles has never really been my home. I’m breaking apart, shattering. Who am I? Where do I belong?

I’m not American. I’m not a legal resident. I don’t even have a green card.

I’m nothing. Nobody.

Illegal.

As a result, Jasmine and her family grappled with serious issues of deportation and staying resilient whilst undocumented, which captivated my interest. I’ve personally got a huge interest in and am aiming to go into refugee and family migration law (spoiler in rot13)Yvxr Wnfzvar qrpvqrf(/spoiler), so in spite of differences with the US, loved learning more about this aspect, a process which shaped my increased empathy with people in this position. It’s always good to see contemporary YA being honest about political issues.

Weaknesses

The main weakness in this book was Jasmine’s characterisation, which was poor. She lacked strong traits, vulnerabilities, or flaws, and was limited to being defined by the way outsiders see her, i.e. smart, over-achieving, caring a lot about school, and working hard to fulfil the dreams of her migrant parents. I’m not criticising her on the basis of these traits – they’re real, and I can actually relate to every one of them – but there needs to be deeper characterisation in order for her to feel real. What makes her, and her responses, different from any other person in her position? I couldn’t see anything.

  • I want to add, as a sidenote, that I do feel for the author here and understand how this may have occurred. For writers of ownvoices stories in unique intersections (like Filipino-American undocumented immigrants), the mere existence of a character like you in fiction is radical. This can exacerbate the already-existing pressure on minorities to represent the rest of their ethnicity, and can lead to an unbalanced focus on these superficial descriptors, based on how outsiders see you, rather than the internal workings of the character.
  • Which brings us full circle as to why we need more diverse books and authors

Other weaknesses:

  • I had no interest in the cheerleading storyline and skimmed most of it
  • Whilst I found Royce’s family dynamics compelling (and they were interwoven with the storyline), I didn’t like him much as a love interest, and also skimmed his interactions with Jasmine a fair bit
  • This book is too long for a contemporary YA – there were many scenes which could have been cut and tightened

Overall, however, these issues don’t change how important I feel this book is. Recommended for the insightful diverse rep in this book and the complex issues it grappled with.

Australian, Contemporary

The Stars at Oktober Bend – Review

Goodreads Link

Publisher’s Website

The Stars at Oktober Bend was a lovely book with beautiful writing and a moving storyline.

Summary:

Alice Nightingale writes about how it is to have perfect thoughts that come out in slow, slurred speech. She imagines herself stepping into clear midair with wings made of words and feathers.

Manny James runs at night, trying to escape memories of his past. He sees Alice on the roof of her river-house, looking like a figurehead on a ship sailing through the stars. He has a poem in his pocket and he knows the words by heart. He is sure that girl has written them.

Alice longs to be everything a fifteen-year-old girl can be. And when she sees the running boy she is anchored to the earth by her desire to see him again.

A beautiful, heartfelt novel about transcending past troubles and learning to live with trust and hope.

My thoughts:

Strengths:

  • I loved the writing in this book, which really drew me in and immersed me; I wanted to keep reading and savour every word. Alice’s point of view is also interspersed with free verse poetry, which becomes important in the story, and were beautiful to read. The lack of capitalisation and liberties with punctuation/grammar do take a bit of getting used to, but were used well. In both her and Manny’s point of view, it’s reflective of their circumstances; with Alice’s acquired brain injury making speech difficult, and Manny’s simple English due to lack of familiarity with the language.
  • The flow of the story was also well-done. There were smooth transitions between both Alice’s and Manny’s points of view, and there was nice use of suspense at different points in the storyline
  • The diversity in the story (Alice’s acquired brain injury as mentioned above; Manny suffered and watched horrors in Sierra Leone, where he was originally from) was respectfully depicted, from what I saw

Weaknesses

  • Some parts of the narrative were unclear and I had to re-read sections to understand what was going on. Obviously part of this was due to the unconventional writing in conveying such a lyrical voice for both characters, which I didn’t mind adapting to; but I still feel more could have been done to minimise confusion.
  • Some of the side characters weren’t well-depicted. I loved Joey, Alice’s brother, and their relationship, as well as their grandmother; however, Tilda and Hamish O’Leary could’ve had better characterisation.

The above would usually be bigger issues if it wasn’t for how powerful everything else about the story was. Overall, it’s a book I highly recommend.

Further recommendations: A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard, May B. by Caroline Starr Rose, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson