Review: Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

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Like Other Girls

Claire Hennessy

Hot Key Books (2017)

YA, Contemporary

Like Other Girls is the story of Lauren, a 16-year-old bisexual girl grappling with the sometimes harsh realities of being a young woman in contemporary Irish society. Lauren is struggling with her identity – with the expectations of perfect femininity espoused by her all girls school, with dismissive attitudes towards bisexuality she finds even within the LGBTQIA community, and with her relationships, particularly with her boyfriend and the best friend she is still somewhat in love with. Then, she finds out she is pregnant. Readers familiar with Irish law will know the implications of this for Lauren, as she journeys alone to England for an abortion.

Lauren is a complex protagonist, and one in an incredibly difficult situation. She makes some bad choices, and Hennessy doesn’t shy away from showing Lauren’s darker and more ‘problematic’ (to use a much discussed word) thoughts. At times this can make for uncomfortable reading, particularly when Lauren is dealing with a close friend (whom she still has feelings for) coming out as transgender, or considering the degree of privilege you have as a cisgender woman in a country that denies women bodily autonomy. I do wish some of Lauren’s attitudes had been challenged a bit more, the transphobia in the book did make me uncomfortable, however her friend Ellie does call her out and at the end of the book there is a sense of Lauren growing as a person. Besides, in other ways Lauren’s flaws are a strength of the book and part of the way it pushes back against the pressure on girls to always be perfect.

Hennessy’s book is incredibly timely and will make readers angry. She uses articles very similar to those Irish readers will have encountered over the last few years, and a chilling scene in which her protagonist is given misleading and false information at a ‘counselling’ service. It evokes a very true-to-life sense of what it is like to be female in a country in which you don’t have bodily autonomy, in which abortion is illegal, and in which girls and women like Lauren must travel to the UK every single day for a medical procedure that should be available safely and legally in their home country. The trauma Lauren goes through makes the book painful to read, and shows how damaging the lack of access to abortion in Ireland is. Acclaimed Irish writer Marian Keyes has said that this book ‘all but quivers with righteous anger’, and I think its readers will too.

Like Other Girls tackles a number of very sensitive topics without falling into that dangerous trap of becoming an issue novel, without moralising or preaching, and without demonising its protagonist or giving her an unrealistic ‘happily-ever-after’ type ending. It is also a funny book, filled with pop culture and musical references, and with a strong, snarky voice at its centre. It also has a fantastic cover – it’s a label! for a book about labels! – designed by Leo Nickolls.

To sum up – Like Other Girls is a fierce, feminist book that while not an easy read, is an important one. We need stories like Lauren’s, and we need to repeal the eighth amendment.

Like Other Girls will be launched tonight, May 25th, in Dept 51 at Eason O’Connell Street at 6pm.

Review: The Space Between by Meg Grehan

9781910411599

The Space Between

Meg Grehan

Little Island (March 2017)

YA

Beth has decided to take a year of solitude. Hidden away in her house, she lives according to a schedule, it makes her feel safe and secure. She has her own little world, and everything is under control there. Then, one day a dog called Mouse arrives at her window. Mouse brings Beth a rare and unexpected burst of joy, but it is his owner Alice who really changes Beth’s world. But Beth’s anxieties are still there, her year of seclusion rolls out, and letting someone else into her life is strange and scary.

This is a beautiful book in so many ways. The cover (designed by Paula McGloin) is gorgeous, and sets the tone for the book. The Space Between is a tender love story; quiet, emotional and moving. Grehan really conveys Beth’s anxiety and the ways in which her phobias trap and restrict her. At times the book can be difficult to read, and I felt panic setting  in myself reading some of the poems.

Just do the same thing

at the same time

just do it again and

again and again and

again and again and

again and again and

again until it sinks in

until your brain accepts it

until you can pretend

until you can pass as a person

Beth’s connection with Alice, the progression from friendship to something more, is handled tenderly. This relationship was built up slowly, in a manner that felt very realistic. Grehan explores the complexity for Beth of having a connection to the outside world once more. Beth has cut herself off from the rest of the world, and Alice’s ability to navigate it and to do things Beth isn’t able to do anymore is a source of tension. It is always good to see more LGBTQ love stories out there, particularly one portrayed in such a positive light. At times it did feel a bit too rosy, but of course I was glad Alice and Beth got their happy ending. I also would have liked the book to have been a bit longer,  I was enjoying it so much!

I also loved the fact that Alice, while playing a major role in Beth’s recovery, was not a knight in shining armour and Beth has to rely on her own inner strength to get better. Alice says to Beth at one point ‘I can’t be your reason.’ The Space Between shows how love and friendship can enrich your life and bring healing, but in the end Beth is the one who must take the steps, who must save herself. The ending is hopeful, but it is clear that Beth still has a long way to go and there is a sense that her recovery will be an ongoing process, with ups and downs. In this way, Grehan portrays mental illness in a very realistic way. Beth’s anxieties are by no means romanticised or beautified, and we really see how difficult coping with her agoraphobia, anxiety and depression is.

Above all, this is a beautifully written work. Even in the third person, we get right inside Beth’s head. The poems bring us right into her consciousness, and they flow beautifully. The formatting and typesetting are clever, and Grehan plays with the forms of the poems. I loved the part in which Beth is focusing on her breathing. In verse novels, words carry so much weight, and Grehan deftly weaves a moving tale of anguish, love and redemption. It is a short book, yet it has impact. Verse novels are much more prevalent in the US than in Ireland or the UK. Sarah Crossan is the most popular and prolific verse novelist in these parts, and it is great to see a new talent like Meg Grehan working in this format. Here’s to more Irish verse novels in the future!

The Space Between is an honest, delicate love story in verse, a book that warmed my heart and made me cry.

The Space Between will be launched in The Gutter Bookshop on Thursday March 30th by Deirdre Sullivan (author of Needlework and the Primrose Leary trilogy).

Space Between Launch

Review: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

Cover image from Goodreads

Cover image from Goodreads

Asking For It

Louise O’Neill

Quercus, 2015

“They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.”

Emma O’Donovan is beautiful, popular and more than a bit arrogant. One night Emma is at a party. She is the centre of attention. She drinks too much, she takes some drugs. The next morning she wakes up half naked on her front porch, bruised and sunburnt. She has no recollection of how she got there. Slowly, through Facebook posts and whispers in school, she pieces together the awful truth.

O’Neill’s second novel has been topping bestseller lists and has received a lot of hype in the media. It is a powerful read, O’Neill does not pull any punches. Unrelentingly bleak, this is not an easy read but it is certainly a very important one. O’Neill explores the complexities of rape cases and how they are treated in the media, and looks at questions surrounding consent and culpability. One of the strengths of the novel is that Emma is no “perfect” victim. She isn’t likeable, she undercuts the self-esteem of even her closest friends and flirts with their boyfriends. When her friend Jamie is raped at a party, Emma’s reaction is far from ideal:

“You didn’t say no […] You told me you didn’t say no.”

” But […] I didn’t say yes either.”

The reluctance of both girls to use the word rape is explained by the reaction of their community to the attack on Emma. The boys who assaulted her are local sporting stars, and she is blamed for ruining their lives. There is much to commend in O’Neill’s novel. None of the characters come out well, except perhaps Emma’s brother. O’Neill shows how Emma is destroyed by the rape, and the impact it has on her community. She also reveals the damaging impact of how the discussions of these cases in the media can be. The fact O’Neill’s book has drawn on true cases makes this all the more chilling. She shows how hurtful social media can be, the images from that horrific night are spread around the whole school, and further, and the comments further Emma’s spiral into despair. The ending is as bleak as the ending of Only Ever Yours, but without the distance provided by the dystopian setting it is all the more horrific. For Irish readers, O’Neill’s fictionalised Irish village is very familiar. The repetition of certain phrases and images are very striking, this is a book that will haunt readers.

This is another hard-hitting triumph for Louise O’Neill, and it is certainly deserving of all the hype it has received. O’Neill has been involved with consent campaigns run by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and UCD and written a number of powerful articles. Asking For It and O’Neill’s outspokenness about the issues in the book will start a lot of important conversations and raise awareness about consent. O’Neill has signed a new deal for two adult books with Quercus, and I am really looking forward to seeing what she writes next.

Louise O’Neill will be speaking at DeptCon, a YA convention in Dublin later this month. Check out the full programme here.

Author Interview: Ruth Frances Long

Ruth Frances Long writes fantasy books. Her latest release is A Hollow in the Hills, second in the Dubh Linn series. I am a big fan of Ruth’s books and was delighted when she agreed to answer some questions about her writing.

Author Pic

Ruth Frances Long (image from rflong.com)

When and where do you write?

Whenever and wherever I can. I have always written but I really got serious about it when my children were small and I had to take every opportunity that presented itself. I often write longhand, so I can write in bed, and take my notebook with me everywhere so I’ve been known to write while waiting outside schools or waiting for people, or having a coffee. If I’m working on the laptop I’m usually on the sofa surrounded by cushions, cat and dog. Or, in the morning I like to sit in the sunroom at the back of our house and write over breakfast.

A Crack in Everything and A Hollow in the Hills both have a large cast of characters and an action-packed plot. How do you plan your novels?

I don’t really plan my novels at all. Not when I start. They grow from the characters first – I think about them a lot until they are very real in my head. When I start writing, I tend to have the beginning and the end in my mind, and perhaps some scenes in between but no real idea of what path the story is going to take. Having the characters first makes it something of an adventure, and they usually take off and leave me trying to keep up. As a writer, if I’m getting bored I know the reader is going to be too, so I try to avoid that. If something seems predictable and there isn’t a reason for that, I’ll try to do something different. And if I don’t the characters will. They always surprise me. It is always very difficult to talk about the way I write without sounding slightly strange. But that’s writers for you.

Dubh Linn

You have also written a stand-alone novel, The Treachery of Beautiful Things. How does this experience compare to writing a series? Which do you prefer?

I don’t really set out to write a stand-alone or a series. The story is the thing, and I try to make sure each book tells a complete story. In the case of A Crack in Everything, when I reached the end of the book, I had thought it would be a stand-alone, but the characters and the world just wasn’t finished. There was so much more to explore. So A Hollow in the Hills began. And now I’m working on the third book in the series. I don’t prefer stand-alones or a series. It’s a case of being true to whatever you’re writing. Similarly I wouldn’t want to drag out a series for too long just for the sake of making it another volume.

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

At the launch of A Hollow in the Hills you mentioned writing groups and book club, how important do you think it is for writers to have a community?

I think it’s vitally important. Writing is a solitary pursuit, and as writers we spend so much of our time inside our own heads, so having friends with similar interests is really important. I love the book world and the writing/reading community in Ireland. I find it incredibly supportive and I always know I have friends to turn to if I am finding things difficult, whether in writing or just generally.

You have incorporated a lot of Irish mythology into your books. How did your interest in myth and legend develop?

I remember having copies of Roger Lancelyn-Green’s books on mythology as a child and I loved them. They were mainly Greek, Egyptian and Roman legends, and tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood. Later, but not much later, I started to hear Irish legends like the Children of Lir or the Salmon of Knowledge. In time, I came across local folklore and stories that weren’t famous, or part of some grand mythological saga, but were small and local and just incredible. That’s when I was well and truly hooked. I love when stories are linked to the land around them, when they seem to grow out of the land itself, rather than being captured in a book. I love stories from an oral tradition, which change with each retelling. When I went to university I took a course in Celtic Civilisation and on the first day our lecturer arrived in to tell us that King Arthur wasn’t real. I almost quit the course there and then. I stayed of course, and to me King Arthur is always going to be real, regardless of whether a historical Arthur or proto-Arthur actually existed, because the stories made him real.

Place is very important in A Crack in Everything and A Hollow in the Hills with many of the scenes set in recognisable Irish settings. Could you tell us about how you researched the locations for the book? Was there any scene you found hard to place?

Because the idea for the world of Dubh Linn came out of Irish Folklore, which is intimately connected with place, the settings were hugely important. Dublin is an amazing place to explore. I sometimes think it changes while we aren’t looking. There always seems to be something different, something I haven’t noticed before. When researching I always try to visit the places, I take a ton of photos, I read up on the history and folklore as much as possible. Sometimes I already have an idea of a place where I want to have a scene take place, but sometimes I need to find it. I talk to people, get their Dublin stories too. Sometimes I just have to make something up as I did with the Liberty – based on the idea of the area known as the Liberties in Dublin, but here a combination of the tiny house on Dame Street, the Botanical Gardens, the Long Stone and the Thingmote where St. Andrews Church now stands, all mashed together by Sídhe Magic. More often the settings are places where I grew up, or ones that made a particular impact on me at various times in my life.

Where did the idea of melding familiar and fantastical Dublin come from?

It was a mix of things. In 2009, on my birthday, I was in Dublin and as I walked down South Andrews Street I came across a piece of graffiti. It was an angel, just as described in A Crack in Everything. She stuck with me and I started to wonder about her, imagining how she came to be there other than the obvious. She seemed so real, like she was just waiting to take off. I remembered the Irish legend that the Sídhe were once angels who refused to take a side in the war in heaven, who tried to sit on the fence and were exiled. They were, so the legend said, not good enough for Heaven, or wicked enough for Hell. With nowhere else to go, they were sent to Earth and chose Ireland as their home because they found it beautiful. They became the Tuatha de Dannan. When the Milesians arrived the magician Amergin promised to divide the island evenly between them but he tricked the Sídhe, dividing into above and below, splitting it along dimensional lines and once more they were exiled. They have envied us and plotted revenge ever since. I always loved this idea and so it was only a short leap to imagine how they would have changed and evolved over the many centuries. The links were all there waiting for me.

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You have said that A Crack in Everything was inspired by a piece of street art in Dublin. Do you use a lot of visual references when you write?

Definitely. I am a fiend when it comes to taking photos, so much so that my family refer to me as “picture Lady”. I find art very inspirational as well and keep a Pinterest account with ideas for different projects.

You have made a playlist for A Hollow in the Hills, and music plays an important role in the book, as well as in The Treachery of Beautiful Things. Do you listen to music when you write?

I listen to music when I think about writing, rather than when I am actually writing. That said, I do need noise when I’m writing. I find it hard to concentrate when it’s too quiet – I have that mother’s instinct that something is definitely up. But I make playlists for my books, and I listen to particular songs which I associate with characters, settings and scenes while driving, or doing other jobs. It helps the ideas to percolate while I’m not writing so that when I sit down to do it the ideas are there. I make CDs of my playlists and listen to them especially in the car while driving, or doing another automatic sort of action. I have so many ideas when I’m halfway along the motorway, which can be a problem. But I always think that if the idea is good enough it’ll either stay with me or come back when I have the opportunity to write it down.

Playlist

Playlist for A Hollow in the Hills (image from rflong.com)

A Hollow in the Hills has a large cast of characters, all complex and nuanced. Do you prefer writing the heroes or villains? Do you have a favourite character in the book?

It would be a bit like picking a favourite friend. They’re all so different and distinct to me, and they all have their parts to play. I will admit, however, to having an enormous affection for the Matriarchs. They’re not so much evil as amoral – they look out for themselves. But sometimes they take sides.

You baked a very impressive book cake for the launch. What are your other hidden talents?

I really enjoy making things – all sorts of things. I’ve made jewellery and decorated cakes, I occasionally paint, or make costumes. But I don’t do them regularly enough to really call them a hobby. I use them as a way to procrastinate mainly.

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Ruth’s fantastic book cake!

What do you plan to write about in future? Can you tell us anything about the next Dubh Linn book?

I’m currently working on the third Dubh Linn book. It’s somewhat darker in tones, following events in A Hollow in the Hills but I’m heading to a pretty spectacular showdown at the end. I’m still picking settings but I have a number of places in mind. Any suggestions are always welcome. Because of the way I write, I’m pretty much making it up as I go along.

I also have a timeslip which I’m editing at the moment, and a Space Opera (because who doesn’t love Space Opera) which started off life because I read a book about medieval Queen Consorts. I am also working on some ideas for new books but I’m not quite at the writing stage yet. More on the mulling over stage, getting to know my characters and worlds.

You are very involved with the Irish Sci Fi community – would you write a sci fi book?

Definitely. I’ve always written fantasy, and have recently written a Space Opera (think Star Wars). I’m also very into Steampunk. I’m not particularly interested in hard Sci-Fi, but if the right story presented itself I would definitely give it a go. The Sci-Fi community is very broad and incorporates all sorts of things so it’s very welcoming.

The tagline on your website is ‘where fantasy meets romance.’ How do you balance these two genres in your writing?

The main thing is to maintain the balance. Both fantasy and romance go very well together – there are a lot of links between the two. I try not to let one outweigh the other in the course of the story but to maintain the importance of both. A good level of realism also helps and make both the fantasy and the romance more believable.

What books would you recommend to fans of A Hollow in the Hills?

Susan Cooper – The Dark is Rising Series

Alan Garner – The Owl Service

Pat O’Shea – The Hounds of the Morrigan

Gillian Philips – Firebrand (and the rest of the Rebel Angels series)

Liz de Jager – Vowed (and the rest of the Blackheart series)

My sister Amy, Ruth Long and myself at the launch of A Hollow in the Hills.

My sister Amy, Ruth Frances Long and myself at the launch of A Hollow in the Hills.

A big thank you to Ruth for answering my questions, I really enjoyed learning more about her writing and research. I can’t wait to read the third Dubh Linn book!

Review: Demon Road by Derek Landy

Cover image from Goodreads

Cover image from Goodreads

Demon Road

Derek Landy

HarperCollins, August 2015

YA – Thriller

Sixteen-year-old Amber has a fairly ordinary life – she gets through high school, works at a diner, watches TV and spends her free time online. Then she discovers she’s not so normal after all. She’s a demon. So are her parents, and they want to eat her. Amber goes on the run, driving along the Demon Road, a route leading through the dark heart of America. Her guide is Milo – a mysterious and silent stranger with a car that seems to have a mind of its own. They embark on an epic supernatural roadtrip, encountering demons, vampires, witches and serial killers along the way.

Fans of Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series will enjoy his new book. While at first I missed the wise-cracking skeleton detective, I was soon sucked into this action-packed adventure. Amber is a likeable protagonist, and Landy does an excellent job of showing how she has to adjust to her new identity. I really liked the character of Glen, the Irish boy cursed with a Deathmark who they pick up on their journey. He brought a lot of humour to the book. As always, Landy’s dialogue is cracking and there are twists and turns aplenty. Demon Road is the first in a trilogy, but I think it would have made a strong standalone. While I enjoyed the book, at over 500 pages it is a long book, and I was hoping for a more conclusive finale. However, with the strong characters he has created Landy has plenty to work with in the next two books.

Reviewed for LoveReading4Kids.

Top Ten Tuesday: Irish YA 101

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme run by the lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is ‘Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught X 101.’ I have decided to do Irish YA, as I am always keen to discover and promote Irish writers. It is great to read something that relates to your own place, and there is a lot of talent in Irish children’s and young adult fiction at the moment. This was a hard list to make, but I tried to get a mix of authors and genres. Happy reading!

IRISH YA 101

Bog Child – Siobhán Dowd

Bog Child

Solace of the Road – Siobhán Dowd

Solace of the Road

The Primrose Leary Trilogy (Prim Improper, Improper Order, Primperfect) – Deirdre Sullivan

9246512 Improper Order (Prim, #2) Primperfect (Prim, #3)

Annan Water – Kate Thompson

2399706

Sisters…no way! – Siobhán Parkinson

Sisters...No Way!: Cindy's Diary, Ashling's Diary

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

Only Ever Yours

Taking Flight and Grounded – Sheena Wilkinson

Taking Flight (Declan Kelly, #1) 15698391

The Weight of Water – Sarah Crossan

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The Moorehawke Trilogy (The Poison Throne, The Crowded Shadows, The Rebel Prince) – Celine Kiernan

4618801 6753329 11047979

Chalkline – Jane Mitchell

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Extra reading: Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy, Rebecca series by Anna Carey, Anila’s Journey – Mary Finn, Finding A Voice by Kim Hood and October Moon by Michael Scott.

All cover images from Goodreads.

Review: Weightless by Sarah Bannan

Weightless

Cover image from Goodreads

Weightless

Sarah Bannan

Bloomsbury, 2015

Adamsville, Alabama is a small town. Everyone knows each other, they have for years. Then, one sweltering summer’s day, Carolyn Lessing arrives in town. New, beautiful and talented, Carolyn enthralls everyone in Adams High. They look on her Facebook page, trying to find out as much as they can about her past. She is watched constantly, everyone is intrigued by this mysterious newcomer who suddenly makes it onto the Adams High Hot List. Rumours about her fly about the school. But soon the gossip takes a darker turn and Carolyn’s perfect facade begins to crack…

Told in the first person plural (we) Sarah Bannan’s debut novel is utterly compelling. The novel is told from the point of view of a group of girls hovering on the edge of the popular crowd, who watch Carolyn’s fall from popularity and her downward spiral into despair. The effect of the narration is chorus-like, and implicates the reader as one of those silent watchers. The novel is interspersed with texts, Facebook posts, letters and school reports showing both the role of social media in bullying and the attitude the school takes to the various incidents.

This is not an easy book to read, Bannan doesn’t pull back from showing the harshness of the bullying and the destructive impact it has on Carolyn. Bannan shows the pressure on all the girls in the book to keep up with the in-crowd and the gossip. But the attacks on Carolyn – from others and herself – are described in detail by the narrators, who are enthralled by the unfolding drama. There is a real sense of surveillance as Carolyn’s outfits are discussed, her actions filmed, photographed or discussed via text or Facebook.

Weightless is a chilling read, reminiscent of recent tragedies, that will make the reader question their own culpability as a bystander to bullying and that shows vividly the how bullying operates in the digital age. I think the UK cover is excellent – the little cursor on the girl’s face reflecting the role of social media in the book, and the image itself the pervasive pressure on Carolyn and the other girls to appear perfect. This book has crossover appeal, for both adult and YA audiences. Gripping, horrifying and unforgettable.

Review: Vendetta by Catherine Doyle

I received an advance copy of Vendetta, Catherine Doyle’s debut novel, from Chicken House to review. It arrived tied in a black ribbon with a handful of rose petals.

Vendetta Vendetta ARC

Vendetta

Catherine Doyle

Chicken House, January 2015

YA – Contemporary/Thriller

Sophie Gracewell’s life revolves around working at her uncle’s diner, hanging out with her best friend Millie and her home life with her mother. When five mysterious brothers move into the abandoned old Priestly home, Sophie’s world is changed completely. She is increasingly attracted to Nic, despite being warned that his family is bad news. Soon Sophie is inextricably tangled with the dark underworld of the mafia, and secrets from her own family are revealed…

I found the comparison of Sophie and Nic’s love story to Romeo and Juliet to be a bit heavy handed, the two have their own ‘what’s in a name?’ scene and are strongly presented as star-crossed lovers. I definitely found the action parts more enjoyable, maybe because the good girl gets caught up with bad boy thing has been done so often before and doesn’t appeal to me personally. However,I did like Nic’s character, and his brother Luca too. The brothers were interesting characters, even if they did seem to exclaim in Italian a lot. Luca was particularly interesting as his motives were hard to work out. Millie’s character brought comedy to the book, and I enjoyed the descriptions of characters, particularly this one which made me laugh:

‘Robbie Stenson, a stockier, way less attractive version of a Ken Doll, who came complete with floppy brown hair and groomed eyebrows. H didn’t walk so much as lope around, kind of like a stylish troll.’

That said, I found the thriller part of the book very exciting. There is an excellent twist, and the pacing in the second half makes for a gripping read. Doyle creates a lot of mystery and intrigue with the Falcone family and sustains this throughout the novel. Sophie’s complicated feelings about her family were also handled well (don’t want to spoil anything here) and I felt these relationships were dealt with very well.

While I had mixed feelings about Vendetta, it is good to have a new voice in Irish YA, and I look forward to seeing what Catherine Doyle writes next.

YA Book Prize: #TeamIreland

Image from thebookseller.com

Image from thebookseller.com

The YA Book Prize is a new award recognising Young Adult fiction from the UK and Ireland. Ten books have been nominated, and the winner with be announced this Thursday, the 19th of March. As it is St Patrick’s Day, here are my reviews of the two Irish books that made the shortlist – Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill and Finding A Voice by Kim Hood.

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill (Quercus, 2014).

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

Louise O’Neill was named Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards in November 2014 for her debut novel, a feminist dystopia which has been compared to Margaret Atwood’s  The Handmaid’s Tale. Only Ever Yours is a deeply disturbing read in which girls (or eves) are bred in schools, with the top few becoming companions to men, and the rest consigned to be concubines or teachers of the next generation. The book is told from the point of view of frieda, one of the eves, as she enters her final year. This a very intense book, I had to take breaks every few chapters, the fact it has very clear links to our own appearance-obsessed culture is what makes it so chilling. Powerful, gripping and unforgettable.

Finding A Voice – Kim Hood (O’Brien Press, 2014).

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

Jo is struggling to cope with her mother’s mental illness, and can’t talk to anyone at school about it. To escape the pressures of lunch break, she volunteers at the Special Education wing. She is assigned to help Chris, a severely disabled boy who can’t speak. They become friends as Jo finds she can confide in Chris, and she has the patience to help him achieve his full potential. This is a very emotional and moving read, with the protagonists facing enormous difficulties in their lives. Hood creates two very believable characters, and deals with issues surrounding disability and mental illness in a very sensitive manner. This book was recommended to me by a fellow book club member, and I really enjoyed it. One of my favourite books I’ve read this year (so far!)

YA Book Prize 2014 Shortlist

Either book would be a worthy winner of the inaugural YA Book Prize in my opinion, but they have some tough competition from the UK titles. I am really looking forward to seeing which book wins, I would love it to be one of these two! See the full shortlist in the image above, and check out @yabookprize on Twitter to keep up to date with all the news on the award.

Review: Still Falling by Sheena Wilkinson

A big thank you to Little Island for sending me a copy of Still Falling to review. I’m a big fan of Sheena Wilkinson’s gritty YA novels Taking Flight and Grounded, and her new book did not disappoint.

Still Falling

Sheena Wilkinson

Little Island, 2015

YA, Contemporary

Luke has epilepsy, on his first day at a new school he has an attack. Esther is shy and lonely, but Luke makes her feel special. She quickly falls for him, and he can’t help but fall for her too. But things couldn’t be more complicated. Esther’s family don’t approve of Luke, and she feels he’s hiding something from her. When tragedy strikes, and Luke can’t escape his past, will they make it through together?

Sheena Wilkinson’s previous novels have proven that she’s not afraid to tackle hard-hitting and dark subjects. Still Falling is no exception, and as always the issues she addresses are handled in a realistic yet sensitive way. The novel alternates between Luke and Esther’s point of view, enabling the reader to connect with both characters. They are both credible characters – flawed but likeable – and their story is a very memorable one. They grow as the novel progresses, and I think this line from the blurb describes the book beautifully: ‘A story about the struggle it can be to love someone who doesn’t love themselves – and why it’s worth it.’

This is a compelling story and one which will stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended for older teens and adults who are fans of contemporary YA that doesn’t shy away from tough topics.

Still Falling will be launched in No Alibis bookshop in Belfast on March 10th and in Books Upstairs in Dublin on March 12th.