Books that adults should read, YA, Young Adult, Young Adult Fiction

Fierce Fragile Hearts by Sara Barnard

Fierce Fragile Hearts is the stunning companion novel to Sara Barnard’s YA bestseller Beautiful Broken Things, which was selected for the inaugural Zoella Book Club. It is about leaving the past behind, the friends who form your future, and learning to find love, in all its forms.

Two years after a downward spiral took her as low as you can possibly go, Suzanne is starting again. Again. She’s back in Brighton, the only place she felt she belonged, back with her best friends Caddy and Rosie. But they’re about to leave for university. When your friends have been your light in the darkness, what happens when you’re the one left behind?

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I finished reading this book about two weeks ago.  Mental Health Awareness week was just round the corner. A week where we are encouraged to talk about mental health, raising awareness and remind each other that it’s okay to talk about these things.  So here I was with this book in my hands. This beautiful book  about three friends and the pain of growing up in a world that only seems to deal in sorrow and heartbreak, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. A wonderful example of how we can find truth, friendship and support through reading novels such as this.

As the synopsis  said Fierce Fragile Hearts is a companion novel to Beautiful Broken Things where events unfolded through the voice of Caddy.  A story that culminated with a suicide attempt (unsuccessful) by one of her closest friends.  Suzanne survived but she left Brighton and her friends Caddy and Rosie in an attempt to heal.  To continue to survive.

It is now two years later and Suzanne has left her foster carers and is returning to Brighton; a place filled with memories and also the two people she loves most in the world –  Caddy and Rosie.  This time we hear through Suzanne’s voice. A voice that has suffered in her childhood in a way that has left it’s mark far more than any physical scars may show.  My heart went out to this young woman who, so desperate to let the past go, was still suffering and yet was filled with a steely determination.  When Caddy and Rosie leave for University, Suzanne is left alone but she gradually begins to adjust to her new life living alone in Brighton.  I was drawn into this tale and it made me feel.  It reminded me how lonely life can be, even when you are surrounded by the people you love.  It also reminded me how precious it is and how important it is to allow people into our lives.  It’s easy to build a wall. To avoid the chance of being pushed away, beaten or unloved. Yet then we miss out on so much.  This we can see not only through Suzanne’s relationship with Caddy and Rosie but also the new relationships she builds with the most unlikely of people.  Sometimes it’s okay to need people and accept help… and oh how I would like to meet someone like Dilys!

The thing with mental health is that there is no quick fix.  It’s something that takes time, effort and support.  Sara has touched on this beautifully in Fierce Fragile Hearts.  We can see how fragile Suzanne is but how she longs to be better.  The steps after the counselling, after medication, after the world goes back to normal… that’s when we can feel lost again.   As someone who has suffered from depression and anxiety one of the things that amazed me, when I came out of my own personal fog, was that some days you still feel bad.  Yes you are ‘better’ but it can be a little scary when you suddenly feel the shadow again.  There will always be bad days.  Everyone has them.  It’s what we do to cope with them that matters.

Suzanne’s story reminded me that it’s okay to have bad days.  It’s okay to not always get it right. Suzanne has shown me that it’s our experiences and how we react to them that makes us who we are.   She tried to make herself unlovable, because the alternative frightened her and after all, why would anyone want to love her? Right? But those who truly know you will always be there for you on the other side.  Life is about give and take and Suzanne finds what she has to give the world along her way.   It’s about accepting you for who you are, good and bad, and making the very best life for yourself.  This is a story full of hope and light to help chase out the shadows and remind you that you’re never alone and that you are enough… just the way you are.

* This is a YA novel and although I feel it will be suitable for older teens please be aware that there are themes of mild drug use and sexual relations within the story line.  It is never crude or unjustified though.

About the author

Sara Barnard

61Nms7+3oZL._US230_Sara Barnard lives in Brighton and does all her best writing on trains. She loves books, book people and book things. She has been writing ever since she was too small to reach the ‘on’ switch on the family Amstrad computer. She gets her love of words from her dad, who made sure she always had books to read and introduced her to the wonders of second-hand book shops at a young age. She is the author of Beautiful Broken Things.

You can follow Sara on Twitter at @saramegan

Fierce Fragile Hearts was published by Macmillan in February 2019.

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Thank you to Macmillan for providing a review copy via Netgalley.  This is one that I didn’t hesitate to buy in for the school Library. 🙂

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Young Adult Fiction

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

The award-winning author of The Hate U Give returns with a powerful story about hip hop, freedom of speech – and fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you.

Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill. But when her first song goes viral for all the wrong reasons, Bri finds herself at the centre of controversy and portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. And with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it – she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.

Angie Thomas has created quite a stir in the world of YA fiction, hard-hitting with characters and situations many young people can relate to. Her first novel The Hate You Give was a book picked off the library shelves time and time again.

Nominated for awards and adapted for the big screen it’s certainly a lot to live up to but I think On The Come Up can certainly hold it’s own. It’s smart and very readable making it suitable for even reluctant readers. Give them a story that will grip them, excite and move them and they won’t be able to put it down. I can’t wait to share it with my young adult readers.

On The Come Up is published today by Walker Books.

Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Crime, Fiction, Thriller, Young Adult Fiction

Inborn by Thomas Enger

Today I’m delighted to be hosting the blog tour for another gripping offering from Orenda Books. Inborn by Thomas Enger is a thrilling court room drama that had me hooked and reading into the night.

When a teenager is accused of a high-school murder, he finds himself subject to trial by social media … and in the dock.

A taut, moving and chilling thriller by one of Nordic Noir’s finest writers.

When the high school in the small Norwegian village of Fredheim becomes a murder scene, the finger is soon pointed at seventeen-year-old Even. As the investigation closes in, social media is ablaze with accusations, rumours and even threats, and Even finds himself the subject of an online trial as well as being in the dock … for murder?

Even pores over his memories of the months leading up to the crime, and it becomes clear that more than one villager was acting suspiciously … and secrets are simmering beneath the calm surface of this close-knit community. As events from the past play tag with the present, he’s forced to question everything he thought he knew. Was the death of his father in a car crash a decade earlier really accidental? Has his relationship stirred up something that someone is prepared to kill to protect?

It seems that there may be no one that Even can trust.

But can we trust him?

A taut, moving and chilling thriller, Inborn examines the very nature of evil, and asks the questions: How well do we really know our families? How well do we know ourselves?

Oh my, this is one good read. A chilling prologue leads us into the story where we follow young Johannes, a bright young soul, as he walks into something he really wishes he hadn’t. What follows is a series of events that we begin to witness through the trial when 17 year old Even takes to the dock.

Twists and turns aplenty my suspicions changed on many occasions. Wonderfully told mostly through the voice of a 17 year old the story keeps the fear, frustration and despair right on the surface. It brilliantly showed the dangers of social media. How it can be easy to condemn and spread hate and mistrust. Chinese whispers for the 21st century and a super way to throw in those clues (or red herrings).

You can’t help but feel sorry for Even; he has a difficult life with a reclusive younger brother and a mother who still continues to drown her sorrows some years after the death of their father in a car crash. The only sense of parental support comes from their uncle Imo. And now Even’s recently ex-girlfriend has been murdered and he is under suspicion.

I love the way Enger has built the story around the trial, hearing what Even has to say but also returning to past events with flashbacks through Yngve Monk, the Chief Inspector who has recently lost his wife and is floundering somewhat. He is also a great character though and I felt his loss keenly. Enger expertly portraying the sense of bewilderment and sadness that follows the death of a loved one. Monk really cares about the case too, determined to get to the bottom of what happened on that awful night he puts his grief to one side and gets the job done – with a little bit of help of course. The picture gradually becoming clearer and clearer until the shocking conclusion is revealed.

Absolutely gripping, this is one that I would definitely recommend for young adults and older readers alike. It is also crying out for a tv adaptation. There are plenty of skeletons in the closet of the people in Fredheim and they’re about to come out in a most spectacular but deadly way.

Thoroughly recommended.

Thank you to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour and to her and Orenda Books for my eBook. As much as I prefer print copies I do LOVE the way I can read in the dark with an eBook. 🙂

About the author

Thomas Enger is a former journalist. He made his debut with the crime novel Burned in 2010, which became an international sensation before publication, and marked the first in the bestselling Henning Juul series. Rights to the series have been sold to 28 countries to date. In 2013 Enger published his first book for young adults, a dark fantasy thriller called The Evil Legacy, for which he won the U-prize (best book Young Adult). Killer Instinct, upon which Inborn is based, and another Young Adult suspense novel, was published in Norway in 2017 and won the prestigious prize. Most recently, Thomas has co-written a thriller with Jorn Lier Horst. Enger also composes music, and he lives in Oslo.

Author Spotlight, Young Adult Fiction

Author Spotlight – Nic Stone

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?

Dear Martin cover final[1188]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…

Nic Stone[1189]
Nic Stone
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.

 

 

Christmas 2017, Young Adult Fiction

Christmas 2017 – Book Advent – Day Ten

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I first read this book three years ago now and it’s stayed with me ever since. Haunting and well crafted, this is a pretty special piece of YA fiction. It brought E.Lockhart to my attention and she is now one of my favourite YA authors. Edgy, gripping and at times shocking, this is one YA title that’s too good to miss.

We are the Liars. We are beautiful, privileged and live a life of carefree luxury. We are cracked and broken. It is a story of love and romance. It is a tale of tragedy. Which are lies? Which is truth?

This book actually made me gasp at the end, I just didn’t see it coming. Thoroughly recommended.

We Were Liars was published in 2014 by Hot Key Books

Young Adult Fiction

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Just because I’m quiet doesn’t mean I’m aloof. Maybe I just want to be alone. Maybe I’m not good at conversation. We all can’t be cool and gregarious and Hey, bro what up? like he apparently is. Some of us aren’t wired for that.

I’m a book lover for sure, no big shock there but I also love film too and so the fact that Alex, Approximately combines the both hit the spot straight away. The film quotes at the beginning of each chapter are great, setting the tone perfectly and made me want to go watch them all again and catch the one or two that I haven’t yet seen.

‘Alex’ and Bailey are ‘friends’, friends in the sense that they chat via the internet in a film fanatics online community. They haven’t actually met in real life, not yet anyway. But that could change when Alex invites Bailey to his local film festival, which just so happens to be in California, which just so happens to be where Bailey’s Dad lives, who just so happens to be the person Bailey is going to live with – except she hasn’t told Alex yet. Because Bailey is an habitual evader. She avoids situations that make her uncomfortable or might cause her stress and as she’s desperate for the Alex she meets in real life to be as wonderful as the Alex she knows online, she wants to check him out first. The only problem is she has no idea what he looks like or or even what his real name is. Armed with clues she’s picked up during their many online chats she heads out into the California sunshine to try and track Alex down and find – who she hopes will be – the boy of her dreams. Of course life starts to get in the way, such as a summer job at ‘the Cave’ and co worker Porter, who soon becomes her ‘archnemesis’ and is making her life hell. He’s a surfer boy, all sexy rebellion and sun-kissed curls but she hates him right? Except before long she’s spending way too much time thinking about him which complicates things somewhat, especially her reality evading lifestyle and her search for Alex.

I immediately fell in love with both Alex and Bailey and it didn’t take me long to warm to sexy, surfer boy Porter too. I absolutely loved Alex, Approximately and was completely charmed by Jenn’s writing. Her ability to make you connect with the characters is fantastic and I was sad to say goodbye to them when the story ended. Although there is a love story at the heart of this, it is also a story about overcoming out greatest fears to be the people we want to be. I loved Bailey, she’s smart and sassy yet full of self doubt and it’s only as the story progresses that you realise just how much she’s been through.

There are many nods to films that I adore throughout this book, not only in the quotes but in the inspiration to various scenes and I felt it worked perfectly. It left me feeling warm and fuzzy, just how so many of the films made me feel too. I loved it. It will remain on my bookcase and will no doubt be revisited on those occasions when I feel the need for that comforting, feel good read – the one that feels like a hug on a dark, cold day.

Published by Simon and Schuster
Published in paperback in July 2017
Review copy supplied by the lovely people at Simon and Schuster (thanks so much:)

Find out more about author Jenn Bennett and her novels at her website: here.