I’m delighted today to be taking part in the blog tour of Nic Stone’s brilliant debut novel Dear Martin.
A debut confronting modern racism in America finally hits the UK
Justyce McAllister, a black scholarship student at an elite private school in Atlanta, is top of his class, captain of the debate team and heading for Yale. But his presumptions are challenged when he is arrested by the police for helping his druck ex-girlfriend late at night. This won’t be his final run-in with the police. The next time someone gets hurt…
“Why try to do right if people will always look at me and assume wrong?”
Despite leaving his rough neighbourhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates. The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous (and white) debate partner and Justyce is starting to feel guilty about how he feels.
Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
How far has America come since 1968?
Reading is like a super power. It takes you to places you’ve never been, never seen and allows you to try an infinite amount of lives, explore different characters, worlds and experiences. Stories are the doorway to so many possibilities. Reading a great novel makes you feel, it creates emotion and touches your very soul. That I love.
We are all different and books, I believe, give us the chance to put ourselves in to another’s shoes. To feel their emotions, their hopes, their fears, their highs, their lows. Dear Martin is one such book. Superbly written, powerful, moving and an insight into racial hate and the effect it still has on the world today, this is an incredible book. Eye-opening and unflinching in it’s brutality, I was moved by Justyce and his story. Such an amazing character; he is brave, tough yet fragile and already so close to being broken. Justyce is at odds with the world around him. He is a good kid, smart and popular, yet for some these qualities are eradicated by the colour of his skin. In a world where people are still judged first by their colour, this novel shows that change does come, albeit slowly, but it comes.
The diversity is excellently portrayed. Nic Stone has the ability to look at situations from all angles and we are able to build a picture of how the situations arise and although heart-breaking in parts, it is only a reflection of what is still happening in our world today. Prejudice breeds prejudice. The refusal to accept difference is what keeps conflict alive. That constant lack of understanding and emphathy. We need stories like this to teach, show and inform.
“Jus, I think I hate everything,” she says. “Why can’t we all get along like butterflies?”
He tuckes her hair behind her ear. Tries to shift his focus to the TV, where layer upon layer of monarchs cover the trees in some Mexican forest. While he appreciates her sentiment, Jus wonders if she notices all those butterflies look exactly alike.
This book, like so many that are inspired by real life, has an important message. Having the courage to stay true to ourselves no matter what conflict or predjudice we might be facing is tough. We discover this alongside Justyce and at times he is pushed to his absolute limits, but ultimately it will be his own choices that will make the real difference.
I thoroughly recommend this courageous and thought provoking novel and think it would be an excellent choice for the classroom too. Dear Martin is Nic Stone’s debut novel and I look forward to reading more from her in the future. She is definitely an author to watch.
You can find out more about Nic by visiting her website here. Here is a snippet that I feel sums up our experience as readers perfectly…
It wasn’t until the summer I turned twenty-three and hopped on that plane to Israel that I began to get a real grasp on the role of Story in the human experience. I spent that summer stepping into other people’s shoes. There were the shoes of a Palestinian Christian girl living in the West Bank who wasn’t allowed into Israel Proper without a permit, but faced insane amounts of harassment in her neighborhood because of her family’s chosen faith. There were the shoes of the Israeli soldier who’d been trained to view all Arabs as potential threats, but was so sickened by it he couldn’t wait to get out of the army so he could leave the country. There were the small shoes of the children in the Palestinian refugee camps training to be Martyrs for Allah because they felt it was their call in life. There were the shoes of the orthodox Jewish man whose entire family had been murdered in his home by Palestinian militants while they slept.
As I listened to these stories and made an attempt at empathy—putting myself in their proverbial shoe—my perspectives shifted. Life became less about right and wrong, good and bad, black and white, and more about complexity and nuance, the power of the human being to bring either calm or chaos into the lives of others and the world around them. Storytelling revealed itself as a means of getting people to listen without interrupting. Done well, it engages listeners/readers to the point where they’re completely oblivious to the shifts in worldview taking place as a result of stepping into a different perspective.
The stories I heard over that summer, like my own, were the ones I hadn’t encountered in my Language Arts classes. And they shook me. They changed the way I approach people with beliefs that differ from my own. They changed the way I voice my opinions. In a way, they cleaned the lens through which I view the world.
I discovered that once I put on all those different pairs of shoes, I wanted to share those shoes and their impact with others. I wanted to tell the stories that weren’t being told, the ones featuring diverse characters in non-stereotypical roles, the ones that blurred the line between “right” and “wrong”, the ones that reveal the humanity in those who are underrepresented or misunderstood. Since that summer I turned 23, I’ve reread most of the books that I was unable to connect with as a teen, and I’m happy to report that I quite enjoy them now that I’ve found the shoes for myself. The answer to my identity crisis was simple: I am a storyteller.
Now get those shoes off so I can give you a different pair to try on.
Dear Martin is published in the UK by Simon & Schuster on the 3rd of May 2018.
Thank you to Eve at Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy of Dear Martin and inviting me to take part in the blog tour. This is a book that will stay with me for a long time.
I have lost my voice
I have lost my love
I have lost everything
Spring has finally kicked in here in the South East of England. The trees are springing to life with beautiful blossom and the landscape is brightened with bright and colourful daffodils, crocus and primroses. The smell of spring and new beginnings is in the air and so it seems perfectly fitting that my author spotlight should fall on YA author Gayle Forman, and her latest novel, I HAVE LOST MY WAY. I’m also delighted to be the stop on day three in the #IHaveLostMyWay blog tour.
…a tender, sad and yet uplifting tale that shows the power of friendship in times when we feel desperate and unable to find a solution. Three strangers come together and show that strength can be found with each and every one of us no matter what our individual troubles may be. That we too can find our way to a life we truly deserve when we are true to ourselves.
Beautiful, tender and very important, Gayle Forman has yet again captured a coming of age novel that will fill you with hope, love, acceptance and courage.
Gayle Forman makes an incredibly important contribution to today’s YA literature and if you haven’t read her before then I HAVE LOST MY WAY is a great place to start (there is also an amazing back catalogue of her books for you to discover). She captures those difficult years we all go through when finding our identity, leaning about who we are and accepting that we are all different. Of course this never really ends. Life is a journey and we are constantly changing and growing according to the roads we take along the way, but our young adulthood is, I believe, when our experiences feel at their most raw and Gayle captures that perfectly.
I grew up in the 80’s and went through my teens and early adulthood with the films of John Hughes; there was something in them that captured my attention and seemed to tap into inner emotions and feelings of self doubt. So I was fascinated that Gayle’s early influence was Molly Ringwald – someone I myself found a source of comfort as I struggled to fit in to the world around me.
With her YA novels Gayle too is able to tap into emotions that are difficult to voice and I think by reading and getting to know her characters and their own pain you can learn to understand a little more about what you too are going through. You are not alone. Our experiences, difficulties, dreams and fears are all unique to us but there is something comforting in knowing we are not alone in the message that we all have those feelings. I HAVE LOST MY WAY is a perfect example; showing that even three strangers who come together in unexpected circumstances can change their perspective and find hope where hope is lost.
Here’s a little more from Gayle herself…
Which novel do you wish you could have read when you were a teenager?
I would’ve liked to read SAVING FRANCESCA by Melina Marchetta in middle school. I was miserable, a weirdo outcast. Years later, in high school, I would find my people. I love that novel, how Francesca and her friends, find their family of friends where they least expect it. Melina is one of my favourite young adult authors.
You’re characterisation is incredibly intimate which helps us really connect with them. How well do you get to know your characters before you start writing? Or do they develop along with the story?
Both. The book sparked when Freya started whispering in my ear “I have lost my way.” I knew she was a singer who had lost her voice but I didn’t know why. Harun followed and then Nathaniel. Though Freya came to me first, she was actually the last one to crack. It was right at the very end that I understood what motivated her and how that tied into her loss. Ironically, Harun, the character I have the least in common with on the surface, was the one who I understood most immediately.
I feel so close to all three of these characters. More so than any others before them. Which is saying a lot because IF I STAY’s Mia and Adam are like my children!
Where did your inspiration for I Have Lost My Way come from?
My last YA novel was published in 2015 but I actually wrote it in 2011. In the intervening years, I tried, and failed, to find a new YA story to write. I managed to publish a novel for adults (LEAVE ME) but YA is my home and I couldn’t seem to find my way back. I began to wonder if I’d ever write another book. Everything I wrote (and I crashed and burned on 7 different novels) felt insufficient, inauthentic, hollow. It was like the thing I’d known how to do, had always done—explain my world through story—I couldn’t do anymore. I kept thinking: I have lost my way. And then one day Freya came along and said it to me and it started from there.
You were obsessed with Molly Ringwald as a teen. Which is your favourite character that she played?
Samantha in Sixteen Candles. It’s a movie that doesn’t really hold up over time—it’s racist; it’s rapey—but it was the first time I ever saw the weird girl get the boy. Which, in 1980s parlance, was a huge validation that the weird girl had value. I was a weird girl. So you can imagine how this appealed to me.
What are you currently reading?
And here is my review for I HAVE LOST MY WAY
A heart-wrenching and powerful YA story exploring themes of loss, love and discovery, from award-winning, bestselling author, Gayle Forman
The story is told over the course of one day with flash backs to the past to help us engage with the characters and understand what has brought them to this place and this moment in time. Through Harun we learn to understand love through his own loss and fears. The love he feels is alien and not acceptable within the society he lives in. He is ashamed, obsessed and utterly lost. Freya is a star in the making but is following a difficult path and is torn between the need for adoration and the ‘friends’ and sense of belonging she fears she will lose if she can no longer sing. Her lack of self-love is evident as she fears losing her voice will mean losing her place in the world and the acceptance she craves. Nathaniel is a tortured soul and his sadness pours from the pages as we slowly discover the tragedy that has driven him to New York. Each character is suffering their own pain and yet when they are brought together they find the strength to try a different path. But is friendship enough to heal the pain of the past?
This is a tender, sad and yet uplifting tale that shows the power of friendship in times when we feel desperate and unable to find a solution. Three strangers come together and show that strength can be found with each and every one of us no matter what our individual troubles may be. That we too can find our way to a life we truly deserve when we are true to ourselves. Beautiful, tender and very important, Gayle Forman has yet again captured a coming of age novel that will fill you with hope, love, acceptance and courage.
I HAVE LOST MY WAY was published on the 5th of April 2018 in the UK by Simon&Schuster.
To discover more about Gayle Forman and her books visit her website here.
Each month my author spotlight shines a sparkly light upon authors I admire and whose books I heartedly recommend. Read on to discover more about these spellbinding story makers who weave their magic into our lives through the pages of a book.
November 2017 has gone in a flash and the nights are cold. I absolutely love this time of year. I’m just starting to feel festive, nature has been providing us with beautiful autumnal colours and the cold weather provides the perfect excuse for staying in the warm with a good book. With Christmas approaching it also give me an extra reason to buy books for others too. I adore giving books. They make the perfect gift (easy to wrap too!) and I always hope I manage to match the right book with its recipient.
This year has been an amazing year for books. I’ve read so many fantastic stories for both adults and children but one of the standout books for adults for me this year has to be Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech. I have therefore decided to shine my light on Louise this month.
Louise has been writing for many years and has won awards for her short fiction. In 2015 her debut novel, How To Be Brave was published by the small but wonderful publishing house, Orenda Books. Orenda have a knack of finding excellent writers who produce outstanding work and Louise is certainly a great example of that.
I read Maria in the Moon towards the end of the summer and have since found my mind returning to it many times. It is a wonderfully absorbing read, incredibly moving and absolutely beautifully written. Louise is a skilled writer whose characters draw you into their world and when you finally reemerge a part of them and their story will always remain with you. Maria in the Moon is an expertly crafted exploration of the mind and the power of the memories we hold there.
Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name.
When she called me it in her sing-song voice, I felt as lovely as the shimmering Virgin Mary statue on the bureau in her hallway. When I went for Sunday lunch, I’d sneak away from the table while everyone ate lemon meringue pie and I’d stroke Mary’s vibrant blue dress. Then, listening for adults approaching the door, I’d kiss her peeking-out feet – very carefully so that I didn’t knock her over.
I didn’t want to break her. Not because I knew my mother would send me to bed without supper. Not because I knew I’d be reminded of my clumsiness for weeks after. But because Nanny Eve was given Virgin Mary by her own mother, and she loved it dearly. She would whisper to me that ‘virgin’ meant ‘pure’. Pure Mary. Some of the letters in Mary were like those in my middle name.
But that was all we shared.
Set after the destructive floods of 2007, we join Catherine as she begins a stint as a volunteer for a local Flood Crisis call centre. She listens to others who are suffering, others who are in pain. Yet deep within her memory lies a secret that is working it’s way towards the surface, a secret that has stayed suppressed in her memory since she was a child. This is an emotive read. It made me laugh, it made me cry and I was swept away by the story and the many varied characters that I met along the way. Catherine was complex and damaged but also very compassionate. Her story is heartbreaking and I felt every bit of her pain and confusion due to the wonderful writing. The human mind will always inspire dark subject matter, but Louise has also captured the beauty there too and shows that sometimes out of the flood comes a chance for healing and for light to lay where darkness once was.
Absolutely stunning, I recommend this wholeheartedly and if you haven’t discovered Louise Beech yet, well, you’re in for a treat.
‘Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name. Then one day she stopped calling me it. I try now to remember why, but I just can’t.’
Thirty-two-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can’t remember everything. She can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria.
With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the devastating deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges … and changes everything.
Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defences we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide…
‘Like a cold spider, the memory stirred in my head and spun an icy web about my brain.
Someone else crawled in.
Maria in the Moon was published by Orenda Books on 30th September 2017
Also by Louise Beech…
A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself.
On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family …and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.
The Mountain in my Shoe was published by Orenda Books on 19th September 2016
All the stories died that morning – until we found the one we’d always known. When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her daughter alive. They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man who has something for them. Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued. Poignant, beautifully written and tenderly told, How To Be Brave weaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War. A simply unforgettable debut that celebrates the power of words, the redemptive energy of a mother’s love – and what it really means to be brave.
How To Be Brave was published by Orenda Books on 17th September 2015
Find out more about Louise by visiting her website and blog here.
Thank you for visiting. Please do share, like or comment below. Happy Reading!
Each month my author spotlight shines a sparkly light upon authors I admire and whose books I heartedly recommend. Read on to discover more about these spellbinding story makers who weave their magic into our lives through the pages of a book.
October, 2017 and it’s Halloween so what better place for the sparkle of my spotlight to land than on the fantasmical children’s author and poet, Kaye Umansky.
Kaye is of full of wonderful wit and humour and has written over 130 books!! Including: novels, picture books, music books, plays and poems and the ‘Pongwiffy’ series that she is most well-known for – which, by the way, is currently being rather fantastically reissued by publisher Simon & Schuster and is full of brilliant illustrations by the talented Katie Riddell.
If you’d like to find out more about Kaye then do visit her website, it’s rather wonderful (and sparkly). She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me to share with you, so do take a moment to read on if you can. Right, back to the books….
There are so many of Kaye’s books that I admire. Published by Barrington Stoke, The Knights of the Drop-Leaf Table is particularly good for reluctant or dyslexic readers and Algy’s Amazing Adventures in the Jungle holds a special place in my heart as it was one of the first books my own son read and reviewed as part of the Lovereading4kids reader review panel (he was 6 at the time). But unfortunately time and space is limited, so for now here is a little more information about two of my personal favourites.
The Pongwiffy Stories by Kaye Umansky and Illustrated by Katy Riddell
Pongwiffy is hilarious and if you haven’t yet discovered her then I recommend buying the recently published bind-up edition of the first two books. The remaining two will be published in 2018.
Pongwiffy has just moved into a new cave, and it’s dirty, smelly and damp – in other words it’s perfect for a witch like Pongwiffy! At least it would be if her next door neighbours weren’t a group of extremely noisy Goblins… Before long Pongwiffy can bear it no more and enlists the help of her best friend, Witch Sharkadder, to find her somewhere else to live. And that’s when the problems really start!In the second story , the Goblins are back and up to their usual tricks! But this time Pongwiffy also has to deal with a badly behaved broom, a bonfire disaster and a strange genie…
Two laugh-out-loud stories of humour and warmth, enticingly mixed with sludge, slime and very bad habit.
The Pongwiffy Stories was published on the 24th of August 2017 by Simon & Schuster.
Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky and Illustrated by Ashley King
Now Kaye has a new series to add to her wonderful collection of stories. Meet Elsie Pickles, a young girl whose time is mostly spent helping out in her family’s shop, in the dull town of Smallbridge where life ‘trickled on with calm monotony’ until that is a ‘wind came howling out of nowhere’ and suddenly life for Elsie begins to become rather unexpected and exciting. “this is a lovely read; full of fun and adventure, comedy and excitement, it will keep children smiling from beginning to end.” Andrea Reece, expert reviewer for Lovereading4kids. For Witch for a Week, Kaye has been blessed with yet another talented Illustrator. Ashley King’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment and the beautifully, sparkly cover will appeal to any young wannabe witches (or wizards) out there.
When clever, unflappable Elsie offers to house-sit the mysterious home of local witch Magenta Sharp, she has no idea what she’s getting herself into. Left with a talking raven and a scruffy dog for company, and a book of instruction called Everything You Need to Know, what could possibly go wrong? With an assortment of weird and wonderful neighbours banging at the door and a box of volatile magical ingredients that must be used immediately, Elsie is forced to get experimental with magic!A brand new magical adventure from Kaye Umansky the bestselling author of Pongwiffy!
Witch for a Week was published on the 5th of October by Simon & Schuster.
Now some words from Kate herself…
Which is your favourite book to read aloud from?
My favourite book by somebody else is Just William, by Richmal Crompton – particularly the story where he meets Violet Elizabeth. As to books that I have written – I like reading out scenes featuring the Goblins in the Pongwiffy books. They are incredibly stupid and I love doing their voices.
You have two cats, Heathcliff and Jeremy. Who was Jeremy named after?
Well, I wanted to call him Mr Rochester, who is another dashing romantic type from Jane Eyre. I thought it would go with Heathcliff. But my family wouldn’t let me. My husband thought he looked like a butler, all black and white. For some reason, my husband thinks Jeremy is a butler-ish name. So there you go.
What one piece of writing advice would you give a) to children wanting to write stories and b) to adults wanting to write books for children?
A. Children wanting to write stories. Read, read, read! You will get hundreds of good ideas from books which will stimulate you to have a go at stories of your own.
B. Adults wanting to write books for children. Be clear on the age group you are writing for and use the appropriate vocabulary. Do a bit of research by visiting a library and seeing what is available and popular.
Of all the objects you have in the little office you write in at the top of your house, which is your favourite?
Hmm. Difficult. There are hundreds of bits and bobs. Possibly the tiny pair of brown leather boots I wore as a two year old, sixty eight years ago. I take them in to show the children when I visit schools. They look like they’ve been made by a fairy cobbler.
If you could live for one day as one character from any book, who would you be?
I would love to live for a day as Granny Weatherwax, the cleverest witch in the books by Terry Prachett. She has all sorts of wonderful skills, including being able to enter the minds of birds and animals. And I’d love to fly on a broomstick!
I do hope you’ve enjoyed my author spotlight. Kaye Umansky really is a treasure and she’s been an absolute delight to write about. Have a super Halloween and may all your stories be suitably spooky.