All The Bright Places - Jennifer Niven


Summary:


Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
 
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
 
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
 
This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Gayle Forman, Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.


~~~

Becky's review:

I was surprised by how much this book moved me.

I started reading it and was expecting the novel to be a light teen-romance story: boy meets girl, girl meets boy, you know that kind of thing! And I was right in a way as all of those elements, which we know and love, from a Romance story are there in abundance. Niven describes the electrifying thrills of first love so well that the reader feels the exciting jolts of expectation and longing along with Violet every time she brushes against Finch’s hand. The relationship that forms between the two central characters is utterly believable; their love story is sweet, sincere and beautifully written. But the fact that both characters meet on top of a Bell Tower at the start of the book, contemplating thoughts of suicide, indicates that this is not going to be your average fairy-tale love affair.

The central Romance is born out of this meeting, and immediately flags to the reader that this story is going to be a complicated one.  The book does not shy away from complex issues about mental health, depression and suicide. As you read on and begin to root for both Finch and Violet to be together forever the narrative also subtly weaves in a sense of tragic foreboding. You want the star crossed lovers to live happily ever after, but much like another literary duo, Romeo and Juliet, the reader senses that this may not end well for one, or both, of the main characters. Niven isn’t writing a light literary Romance, but is bringing real and complicated social issues to the front of her narrative.

The characters are written really well, but for me it is the bold choice of themes that I really loved about this book. Niven challenges stereotypes and stigmatism surrounding mental health in our society by showing the undefinable nature of mental health problems. There is no easy fix and there is no typical person who suffers from mental health problems. The very nature of mental health difficulties are that they are hard to define, hard to explain to others who aren’t experiencing what you are feeling inside. But Niven shows that even though they are seemingly undefinable that we shouldn’t shy away from talking about them and sharing our thoughts and feelings with others as this is how we start to be able to understand them better.

Niven doesn’t rely on stereotypes of what people with mental health problems are like, Violet is just like you and me but she has suffered a tragic shock and loss in her life which deeply affects her, while Finch is extremely loveable, charming and strong in the face of an abusive father and struggles to cope with his own highly personal and unique problems. The lovers find each other due to their common grounding in suffering from mental health problems, but this does not define how they see each other afterwards. They see beyond that, they see each other, hear each other’s stories and love each other for who they are. Their suffering sparks a conversation and a connection, but it does not define or dominate their love story.

Well done Jennifer Niven! A brilliant and thought provoking read with real heart and great characters at its core.

My Best Books of 2014

Hello!

This is what happens when you draft a blog post and forget to publish it! A bit late for this but hey, I still adore all these books :)

I've been reading a lot more last year than I have the year before and I've been really pleased with how varied  my reading has been. 

I've done some stats over my reading year like the big geek I am and out of all the books I've read in 2014, more than 60% were by women writers. I've read more YA this year than I have last year (roughly 40%) as well as literary fiction (35%) and Fantasy/SF (25%). I've been reading more French books (and Italian) and have also been very interested in reading non-fiction titles so I'm really glad about that. What I am unhappy about is how diverse my reading was... only 25% of the books were diverse. Not great at all, considering diversity in books is something I'm extremely passionate about. There'll definitely be some improvement on that this year.

On to my favourite books of the year. I don't know if you're following me on twitter or not but I've been banging on about The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton since last January and this is definitely my favourite book this year. It is one of the best books I've ever read and I want to reread it soon. I loved the characters and the plot and the writing. You really really have to read it. None of this "too long" nonsense. Take a long weekend to read through the first few hundred pages and then you'll be hooked.


A special mention goes to the French book Charlotte by David Foenkinos. It's not (yet!) translated in English but I would urge you to read it if you can. So wonderfully written and Charlotte Salomon is a wonderful artist to read about. It was such an honour and a pleasure to discover her story and her work.


Other books which I've loved last year: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan and Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.


          

My absolute favourite discovery last year was the fantasy author Brandon Sanderson. He might be my new favourite fantasy author and I am planning to read all his books! The Mistborn trilogy is utterly wonderful and mind-blowingly good. Do read it!



In terms of YA, I think my favourite in 2014 is Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, I loved the writing and the perspective from the generation before. 


I also loved Far From You by Tess Sharpe and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.

  

I've also discovered some AMAZING French YA books that the amazing French bloggers I've met have been recommending and these two are quite possibly some of my favourite YA books of all time: Frangine by Marion Brunet and Le Faire ou Mourir by Claire-Lise Marguier. Both books have LGBT characters (lesbian moms in Frangine and queer/questioning main character in Le Faire ou Mourir) and are FANTASTIC contemporary YA.

 

Favourite non-fiction book is Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit. An author I kept seeing everywhere and hadn't read before. I love the writing and the topics of the essays and I'll be looking out for her backlist titles.


And then various backlist titles that I've discovered last year and that I can't believe it took me all that time to read.

   


The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson - Interview on Queer YA

Hi all,

I'm just posting here to send you over to Queer YA where I've posted my interview with Lisa Williamson, author of the wonderful book out this month The Art of Being Normal about a transgender teen. I've adored the book and I think it's a brilliant addition to LGBT YA books. Head over [here] to read all about her inspiration for the book, how she researched for some of the scenes and her bookish recommendation.

Caroline x

A Song For Issy Bradley - Carys Bray


Summary:

This is the story of what happens when Issy Bradley dies.
It is the story of Ian - husband, father, maths teacher and Mormon bishop - and his unshakeable belief that everything will turn out all right if he can only endure to the end, like the pioneers did. It is the story of his wife Claire’s lonely wait for a sign from God and her desperate need for life to pause while she comes to terms with what's happened.
It is the story of the agony and hope of Zippy Bradley’s first love. The story of Alma Bradley’s cynicism and reluctant bravery. And it is the story of seven-year-old Jacob. His faith is bigger than a mustard seed, probably bigger than a toffee bonbon and he’s planning to use it to mend his broken family with a miracle.
Incredibly moving, unexpectedly funny and so sharply observed it will make you feel as if you could pick the woodchip off the bedroom wall, A SONG FOR ISSY BRADLEY explores the outer reaches of doubt and faith. But mostly it’s a story about a family trying to work out how to carry on when their world has fallen apart.

~~~

Becky's review:

Family, Religion, Faith, Grief, Loss and Life are all at the heart of this captivating read by Carys Bray. Each member of the Bradley family has to come to terms with the loss of their beloved Issy and the book shows how the process of grief is as unique as the person experiencing it. 

Each member of the Bradley family is vividly portrayed with individual characters taking up their own highly believable voice within the narrative. Ian, the head of the family and a Bishop in the Mormon Church, draws strength from his faith, while his wife Claire struggles to gain the same stability from her family’s religious foundations. Their children Zippy, Alma and Jacob also strive to find a way to carry on after their sister’s death in a world that suddenly feels like it has fallen apart.  

The narrative is subtle, sensitive and at times unexpectedly humorous when dealing with such complex themes. Huge questions about life and human existence are asked, and yet no answers are ever given, the reader experiences the character’s pain, agony and contemplates life’s big questions along with them, ultimately drawing their own conclusions along the way. An extremely moving and enthralling read.

Shadow of the Wolf - Tim Hall


Summary:
Robin Loxley is seven years old when his parents disappear without trace. Years later the great love of his life, Marian, is also taken from him. Driven by these mysteries, and this anguish, Robin follows a darkening path into the ancient heart of Sherwood Forest. What he encounters there will leave him transformed, and will alter forever the legend of Robin Hood


~~~


David Fickling Books has always been one of my favourite publishers in the UK and I was very much looking forward to reading their first titles released as an independent publisher. Shadow of the Wolf didn't disappoint. This retelling of Robin Hood is one of the boldest books I've read in quite a while.

The story starts with Robin Loxley being left alone in Sherwood forest and having to fend for himself. He soon meets Marian, a young girl his age and together they have incredible adventures and plan a fantastic future together. But their fate will be completely changed by the Sheriff of Nottingham. Tim Hall takes aspects of the Robin Hood myth (locations, characters (Robin, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Will Scarlett, Marian...), Robin's archery skills...) and creates a setting that takes a lot from local myths and folklore and links the story to nature and fantastical creatures. Tim Hall's take on Robin Hood is quite simply unique and reading it you forget all about foxes and Kevin Costner.

The story doesn't shy away from darkness and the reader can see the true cruelty of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin's full transformation into something not quite Robin-like in the forest of Sherwood. Reading this book really reminded me of when I read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Both stories share a similar darkness, loss of innocence and depth as well as well-rounded characters. There is no sugar-coating of events happening in the book and I felt compelled to continue reading. 

YA has been very much discussed lately. Is it too dark? Is it not "literary"/ ambitious enough or a bit too simplistic/easy? Shadow of the Wolf is a book about fate, freedom and also love. It is about how sometimes your fate and your future may be stolen from you and you will need to fight for your freedom but also for who you love. A lot of times you might fail, but isn't trying already a step forward? I can't think of a more timely book to read, than that of a classic story showing how history repeats itself. You might be a Palestinian child whose future has just been blown to pieces. You might be a European child, slipping into poverty. Either way, the future you were planning for yourself may just have been taken away from you and you might need to fight (not literally, of course) to get what you want. Darkness is a part of life and there is a place for it in fiction for young people.

Shadow of the Wolf is by far one of the most exciting books I've read this year. It transported me all the way to Sherwood forest and quite frankly, I'm not sure I want to leave.


~~~

To read a preview, head over to the David Fickling Books website.

Thanks to Phil Earle for the proof copy!