All of the Above
Juno Dawson (published as James Dawson)
Hot Key Books (2015)
When sixteen-year-old Toria moves to Brompton-on-Sea she isn’t expecting much from the sleepy town. She just wants to settle into school and escape the New Girl awkwardness. She soon becomes part of a group of eccentric ‘freaks’, led by the cool and uncontrollable Polly (who swears so often that most of the sentences she utters have at least one word starred out, a fun way of establishing Toria’s narrative voice). Soon Toria is falling head over heels for a gorgeous bass player, worrying about exams and the future, playing crazy golf and developing an intense friendship with Polly. Caught up with new relationships and family pressures, Toria is completely unprepared for a tragic event that will change the group and their lives forever…
Fans of Dawson’s horror novels will enjoy the references to horror movies, and there are plenty of other pop culture references including mentions of Harry Potter and Doctor Who. These references, and the use of social media in the book, makes for a very fresh and up-to-date story. I think this is a book that will appeal to fans of John Green’s Looking for Alaska. There are some similarities in the characters of Polly and Alaska, and in the narrators attitudes towards them. Miles says of Alaska: ‘if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane’ and Toria of Polly: ‘Polly was a firework, make no mistake – bright, loud, explosive. I was a candle.’ Both books also examine the dynamics of friend groups, particularly the relationships that develop within the group, and the effect a tragedy has on the group.
Dawson’s teen voice is spot on, making the whole story feel very authentic. She allows her characters to mess up and makes mistakes, and doesn’t shy away from tough topics including eating disorders, self-harm and sexuality. However, this is in no way an issue book. The strong characters prove Polly’s point that ‘Labels are for **** you buy in shops.’ It is a fun and moving contemporary read about friendship, love and discovering yourself. The characters are memorable, and Dawson captures their yearnings and anxieties in a very poignant way. Toria’s poems throughout the book were excellent, and added an extra layer to the story, They could be read independently too, the imagery is so strong. A book that made me think, laugh and even shed a few tears. Brazen, funny and memorable – highly recommended for older teens.
I am really looking forward to Mind Your Head, a mental health guider teens written by Juno Dawson with Dr Olivia Hewitt and illustrated by Gemma Correll, also published by Hot Key Books: https://www.hotkeybooks.com/books/detail/mind-your-head