There are some authors whom you cherish. Their words bring you to life. Their books are stroked and collected in different editions. A new book’s publishing date is scribbled on your calendar and you inhale it when it arrives. There are so many authors whose work sends me a bit giddy like that and Sarah Crossan is definitely one of them. I inhaled the e-book of We Come Apart as soon as it was released. And then I visited Hunting Raven bookshop and bought the hardback and I read it again, slower this time, revelling. Because Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan have created something really beautiful here.
‘Nicu is so not Jess’s type. He’s all big eyes and ill-fitting clothes, eager as a puppy, even when they’re picking up litter in the park for community service. Appearances matter to Jess. She’s got a lot to hide.
Nicu shouldn’t even be looking at Jess. His parents are planning his marriage to a girl he’s never met back home in Romania. But he wants to work hard, do better, stay here.
As Nicu and Jess grow closer, their secrets surface like bruises. And as the world around them grows more hostile, the only safe place Jess and Nicu have is with each other.’
Written in free verse poems, the two characters take turns to share their stories. Jess and Nicu’s lives are very different and are written by two authors, yet their voices work beautifully together as the characters circle each other, learning about themselves through each other. As they become closer and their worlds begin to enclose them, we are shown a post-Brexit Britain filled with poverty, bitterness and anger towards otherness. And yet We Come Apart is full of hope. It shows two teenagers who are squashed by so much, and yet have the strength of their developing friendship to lift them through. It is powerful, emotional and it will hold you tight by the heart. It still hasn’t let mine go.
You can get your copy here.
Source – bought from Hunting Raven bookshop
There’s a lot to love in this book about friendship and finding yourself amongst the chaos of life.
‘Science geek Meg is left to look after her little sister for ten days after her free-spirited mum leaves suddenly to follow up yet another of her Big Important Causes. But while Meg may understand how the universe was formed, baby Elsa is a complete mystery to her. And Mum’s disappearance has come at the worst time: Meg is desperate to win a competition to get the chance to visit NASA headquarters, but to do this she has to beat close rival Ed. Can Meg pull off this double life of caring for Elsa and following her own dreams? She’ll need a miracle of cosmic proportions.’
Jenny McLachlan aces teenage awkwardness and the overriding want to fit in. The characters are real; flawed, learning and developing. It’s a joy to read about a science loving girl who is handy with a wrench but has no possible clue when it comes to relationships – with her baby sister, with the other kids at school, with her mum. Meg is intelligent and practical but is still afraid of saying the wrong thing and making a fool of herself.
Her developing friendship with Annie is delicious. Annie has Cerebral Palsy and sometimes uses a wheelchair or crutches but, thanks to some awesomely inclusive writing, she isn’t defined by her CP and is a wonderfully funny and fierce character. Annie is where McLachlan’s teenage voice really comes to life and she captures the dry wit and banter perfectly.
Stargazing for Beginners is not about the science geek getting a makeover and getting the boy. It laughs in the face of that kind of message. Instead, it’s about a girl turning into a young woman, learning to love herself and finding a network of friends who love her for who she really is. It’s about finding yourself and above all being true to yourself. And that is a beautiful thing.
You can get your copy here.
Source – kindly sent for review by Bloomsbury.
Sometimes a title just calls at you. The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Faber and Faber) is an evocative title that immediately had me reminiscing and stitching together memories of childhood. And that is how this beautiful YA debut felt to read; like stitching together stories and dreams. It tells four intertwining coming-of-age stories, weaving together family history and strong sense of location.
‘Alaska, 1970: growing up here is like nowhere else. Ruth wants to be remembered by her grieving mother. Dora wishes she was invisible to her abusive father. Alyce is staying at home to please her parents. Hank is running away for the sake of his brothers. Four very different lives are about to become entangled. Because if we don’t save each other, how can we begin to save ourselves? Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s extraordinary, stunning debut is both moving, and deeply authentic. These intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare and wonderful talent.’
The sense of location soars through this book and centres everything. The descriptions of Alaska’s sounds, scents and sights are vivid and lyrical and the teen voices come to life from the page. The writing sings. Huge themes like teen pregnancy, poverty and domestic abuse are dealt with lightly but thoughtfully. The Smell of Other People’s Houses is heartbreaking yet hopeful. I loved it.
Evocative, immersive, impressive! A beautiful debut. You can get your copy here.
‘Father wants sixteen-year-old Castley and her five siblings to hide from the world. Living in a falling-down house deep in the woods, he wants to bury their secrets where noone will ever find them. Father says they are destined to be together forever. In heaven. Father says the sooner they get there, the better. But Castley wants to be normal. She wants to kiss boys and wear jean shorts. CASTLEY WANTS TO LIVE.’
When Louise O’Neill says a book is ‘one of the best books I’ve read this year’ then you read it. Fact. And oh, this book! If I was highlighting perfect sentences then every page would be yellow. Eliza Wass’s writing reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s in that it has such depth. Every sentence is layered with meaning and revelations.
Wass has beautifully depicted the confusion and angst of a teenager trying to find the strength to be herself and find her place in the world. This book sings to the insecure teenager in all of us.
A debut author to watch. I can’t wait for her next book.
I loved it. Can you tell?
You can get your copy here.
Source – kindly sent for review by Quercus Children’s Books
‘Seed loves you. Seed will never let you go. Fifteen-year-old Pearl has lived her whole life protected within the small community at Seed, where they worship Nature and idolise their leader, Papa S. When some outsiders arrive, everything changes. Pearl experiences feelings that she never knew existed and begins to realise that there is darkness at the heart of Seed. A darkness from which she must escape, before it’s too late. A chilling and heartbreaking coming-of-age story of life within a cult, Seed will take readers on a journey of gripping self-discovery reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale.’
There’s been quite a buzz surrounding fellow Brightonian Lisa Heathfield’s writing on twitter- and it is all totally true. I really can’t recommend this one enough! Brilliant writing, twists and teases, and emotional punches throughout. Think HBO’s Big Love meets We Were Liars.
Told from the point of view of Pearl as she gets her first period and becomes a woman in the eyes of her community, as well as an unknown secondary narrator who suggests that things are not as they seem, Seed places the reader in a challenging position. Simultaneously one step ahead of Pearl and reading through your fingers as she steps into an abusive, adult world, and one step away from seeing the bigger picture. This is skilful writing. Painfully and beautifully so.
A word of warning… clear some space in your diary and check your coffee supplies. Once you start you won’t be able to put it down. I was up til the early hours finishing it and it was worth every second of bleary eyed no-adulting the next day.
Seed is out now and you have time to order and devour it before her next book, Paper Butterflies, is released in June.
You can get your copies from Indy-loving, tax-paying Hive.co.uk here.
Source – purchased copy.