I’m going to review books a bit differently this year… I want to keep up with more reading so if I commit to a monthly round up, and put it in writing, I’ll do it. Right? That’s how resolutions work? Right? Right?!
Shatter Me (1) / Destroy Me (1.5) / Unravel Me (2) / Ignite Me (3) by Tahereh Mafi
I bought these in 2017 (ish) with a birthday cheque from my wonderful in-laws. I’m pretty sure I read half of the book straight away and then got distracted by MA assignments. So I returned to them as my first fiction fest in 2021.
They’re dystopian, sci-fi, YA books. If you like the “Gone” series by Michael Grant or “The Darkest Minds” series by Alexandra Bracken, then Tahereh Mafi’s work will be right up your street.
I enjoyed the complexity of the characters; Mafi creates plausible conflict and politics. I am less enamoured of the fact the plot is often driven by romance. Suzanne Collins did this more effectively in “The Hunger Games” and even Veronica Roth came good at the end of the “Divergent” series. I feel that if this series was adapted for the big screen, it wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test.
It wasn’t a difficult read and I enjoyed it. But my concluding comment is that I’ve just discovered that there are three more books and three related novellas and I haven’t rushed to buy them…
The Boy I Am by K.L. Kettle
I have three indicators of a really good book: I stay up far too late reading, I tell other people to read it so I can discuss it with someone and I have to take a break before I pick up a new book (AKA the book hangover). This hit all three.
I notice other reviewers commenting that “The Boy I Am” has much in common with Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Sure, I can see the obvious parallels often found in dystopian fiction but I feel it shares more with Alderman’s “The Power” or Blackman’s “Noughts and Crosses” series. Subverting the stereotypical roles of race or gender provides a new lens to view systemic problems.
In “The Boy I am,” flipping the power dichotomy of men and women shines a powerful light on the absurdity of the treatment and oppression of women. There are big teachable moments, like consent, body autonomy and democracy. But I really respect the way Kettle handled the more nuanced examples, that would filed under the everyday sexism category. The smiles. At home, teaching Connor about overt sexism was straightforward; we found it far more challenging to explain why give-us-a-smile-love behaviours and attitudes are toxic. Hearing Jude’s inner monologue as he navigates life with a catalogue of smiles is absolutely genius! It provides a recognisable lived experience for many readers and a new way in for those who have never experienced it.
They’re not really criticisms but I have two thoughts. The pace of the action rattles along full tilt even as you’re acclimatising to the world Kettle is building. I sometimes find that disorientating but I know other readers won’t. Also, the book predominately deals with a dichotomous presentation of gender; when you’re building an entire world in a single novel, I can see why. I would have enjoyed some more playing around at the margins but that’s just me. Not every book has to deliver everything to every reader.
Like Atwood, Alderman and Blackman, Kettle’s characters are not two dimensional. The protagonists are flawed, you can’t always trust the narrative voice and things aren’t neatly tied in a bow at the end. This is refreshing. And just as I’ve done with the powerhouse trio, I will be finding more of Kettle’s work to gobble and I’ll be returning to “The Boy I Am” for a second reading.
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
I have a great Aunty who I can utterly picture as a member of the Thursday Murder Club. Any family members reading this blog will figure out who, if they give the book a try…
This novel is a kitsch gift of British idiosyncrasy, wrapped up in Christie-esque gift paper with a sufficiently intricate bow of twists and turns to keep you surprised.
It’s witty, clever, refreshing and, at the same time, familiar. Helen and I listened to it together via Audible and I was frequently frustrated when I had to wait for her to be available so we could continue.
As a whodunnit, I can’t really comment on the plot for fear of spoilers. The premise seems quaint but it works: a small group of mature folks living in a swanky retirement village form a club that solve cold cases. For fun.
The second book is expected in September and we both can’t wait.
The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe
This was another ARC from Netgalley. I’ve been really fortunate with my book options this month, so far… lots of top quality stories.
Ah. It’s one of those reviews where I can’t actually comment on the details for fear of ruining it for someone else.
What can I tell you? It’s a very clever YA thriller with an unusual protagonist. Very clever. Very, very clever.
Cleverness example 1. There are two timelines: the present moves nearly minute by minute and it’s tense; the past doesn’t always progress chronologically – sometimes it’s in reverse. It sounds complicated but it works effectively and Sharpe signposts the timeline so you don’t get lost.
Cleverness example 2. It feels pacy and action based but, when you reach the end, you realise it’s not actually plot-driven. Really, it’s a deftly handled character exploration that tricks you into thinking a lot is happening. Sneaky.
Cleverness example 3. It doesn’t end when or where you’d expect it to.
Cleverness example 4. Sharpe uses a lot of devices without it seeming forced: audio transcripts, therapy sessions, memories, lists, patterns.
Retailers are advertising it at readers 12yrs+ Whilst it’s chalked up as YA, I think any adult who likes this genre would appreciate the novel. Despite the age of the protagonist, I frequently forgot it was targeted at a YA audience. Moreover, I’d argue that a level of maturity is needed as the novel deals with physical, emotional and sexual abuse. So I’d apply caution when recommending it to younger readers.
Overall, it’s a brilliantly clever story. I know I said that already but I finished it four hours ago and I’m still sitting here thinking about its cleverness. Or, I should say, Sharpe’s cleverness: she’s aptly named.