#PULPstories tour Robin Talley Q&A

I am loving Robin Talley’s latest book Pulp, and was delighted to be asked to take part in the #PULPstories tour. I will be reviewing the book on the blog next week, for now, here’s a Q&A with wonderful author Robin Talley.

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What inspired you to write PULP?

I first learned about lesbian pulp fiction — a genre of books popular in the 1950s and 1960s that were published as cheap paperbacks and marketed to men, but that focused on romances between women — several years ago. When I first read one of these books, Marijane Meaker’s groundbreaking Spring Fire, published in 1952, I was mesmerized, both by the story itself and by the world it presented. It focused on the relationship between two deeply closeted lesbians living in a time when being who they were meant having to go to extreme lengths to keep their sexuality a secret, and facing horrific consequences if they slipped up (which of course they did). There was an entire wave of these novels, some of which sold millions of copies, all during a time and place when anyone who didn’t conform to expected norms faced terrible oppression. I wanted to explore that culture, and I thought it would be interesting to look at it through the lens of a teenage character in the present day — someone to whom all of this would seem like irrelevant ancient history, until she probes a little deeper and finds out it’s anything but.

 

Why do you think it’s important to feature LGBT characters in YA novels?

In the decades since young adult books became a publishing phenomenon, there have been only a small percentage of YA books published with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender characters in central roles. That number is starting to increase at last, but we’ve still got many years’ worth of catching up to do. LGBT teenagers deserve to see characters like themselves in the books they read, and they, as well as teens who don’t fall under the LGBT umbrella, both want and need to see characters who reflect the real world they live in — a world that’s diverse in terms of sexual orientation and gender as well as race and ethnicity, religion, and disability status.

 

What do you hope readers will take away from Pulp?

That the social justice struggles of the twentieth century might seem like the distant past, but the truth is, we’re still fighting the same battles now that we confronted then. The movement for equality has been going on for many, many generations, and there’s no question that we’ve got a long way to go. We have to be mindful of what came before us so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, and so we can fight back against the political leaders and others in power who are trying to take us there on purpose.

Check out the rest of the stops on the #PULPStories tour below:

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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: Release by Patrick Ness

I love Patrick Ness’ writing and think he is one of the best YA writers working at the moment. I was delighted to receive an ARC of his latest book, Release, from LoveReading4Kids to review.

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Release

Patrick Ness

Walker Books (May 2017)

YA

Taking place over a single Saturday in summer, Release is the story of a day that will change seventeen-year-old Adam Thorn’s life forever. He feels trapped in his devoutly religious family, his crappy job, his mixed up personal life…he learns to escape and be able to really live. Meanwhile, across town, someone else is having an extraordinary day of their own…

Ness has stated that Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever influenced this book. The opening line is a nod to Mrs Dalloway, as is the one-day structure and some of the style. I think Release is most akin to Forever in its frankness and openness about sexuality and teenage life, arguably it could be seen as an LGBTQ Forever, or a modern day Forever. However, the nods are subtle and the reader does not need to be familiar with these texts. Release is unmistakeably a Patrick Ness book and showcases the power of his writing and the depth of his characters. Personally, I much preferred the Adam Thorn storyline to the supernatural/ghost story, and was found myself keen to get back to this when the narrative switched.

The book is set over a single day, this structure lends it an intensity and gives the reader a sense of being at a pivotal moment in Adam Thorn’s life, of the tumult and change of adolescence, in a powerful, poignant punch of a book. This book is one that will stay with me, and Adam is an incredibly well-drawn character.

Raw, powerful and moving, this is a book that draws the reader in, one they won’t want to be released from. Fans of Patrick Ness will not be disappointed.

 

 

Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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The Upside of Unrequited

Becky Albertalli

HarperTeen (2017) – YA/Contemporary

Molly Peskin-Suso is seventeen years old, and has had a string of crushes (twenty six, to be exact) but has never had a boyfriend. Now that her twin sister Cassie besotted with Mina, Molly feels more alone than ever. But Mina’s friend Hipster Will is attractive and seems to be into Molly. Maybe this is a way for Molly to burst her cautious bubble, and to not be left behind by her sister. However, there’s also Reid from work, the guy who totally isn’t Molly’s type. yet who she can’t stop thinking about…

I loved Becky Albertalli’s debut Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and so have been eagerly anticipating this book. While I didn’t love it quite as much as her first book, I found The Upside of Unrequited to be a very enjoyable read with diverse and complex characters.

Albertalli makes very effective use of social media in the book; for example the texting and emoji made it feel current,  and definitely a modern romance. Albertalli is one of my favourite contemporary YA writers at the moment, for her pop culture references, her ear for dialogue and nuanced exploration of all kinds of relationships.

She excels at creating very sweet romances, and like with Simon, she shows a diverse range of relationships here. However, while the romance was very swoon-worthy and well developed, I was pleased by the focus on sisterhood and friendship, and the changing nature of such relationships over time. Sometimes growing up does mean growing apart, and this is something that really is explored in this book.

Albertalli’s books are part of the growing body of wonderful LGBTQIA YA books out there.  One of my favourite things about this book was how diverse it was, without any tokenism or characters being shoehorned in. Molly and Cassie have two mothers, who are very much involved in the story and whose relationship and family are also explored. There are characters of different ethnicities and sexualities, and while different experiences are explored it never feels like an issue book. The more I think about this book, the more I realise just how much there is in it. Molly’s anxiety (and the matter of fact way in which her medication is discussed), her issues with body image, the layered relationships between the characters…

The Upside of Unrequited is an excellent book exploring a variety of relationships – romance, family, friends, self – with memorable characters and sweet romance. Highly recommended for fans of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, or fans of brilliant contemporary YA!

Review: Every Day by David Levithan

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David Levithan has an event in Dublin tomorrow – and I am very excited! The first David Levithan book I read was Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, co-written with Rachel Cohn. It’s a lovely Christmas read, with strong characters (especially Dash) and fast pacing. My favourite David Levithan book is Every Day, which was recently released in the UK and Ireland. Here’s my (gushing) review:

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Once in a while, you come across a book that makes you think ‘wow’. For me, Every Day was most definitely one of those books. A inhabits a different body every day, moving from person to person, shifting between different genders, races, personalties and sexualities. A has a strict policy of trying not to intervene with the host’s life, to leave no trace. That is, until A meets Rhiannon.

You may have noticed the above paragraph seems slightly stilted, it does to me anyway. The problem here is that I realised I had automatically been considering A as a male. I was struggling against writing ‘he’, because if there’s one thing that Every Day shows, it’s the multiplicity and fluidity of gender.  A never remains in any body for more that one day, and is almost like a consciousness – can a gender label even be applied in this case?  Who’s to say A’s not a ‘she’? Or something else entirely?

Part of what is so stunning about Every Day is the array of characters Levithan has created. Each has a distinct personality, and it is fascinating to see A come to grips with their different situations. In having so many characters, Levithan covers many issues, but in a way that does not come across as preachy. Levithan is known for his LGBT YA fiction, but he also tackles such issues as the treatment of immigrant workers, family problems, addiction and self-harm, among others. This made Every Day a very thought provoking read, and it succeeds because it comes across as being so honest. A’s voice is strong throughout, as are the lives of the host characters of each chapter. Levithan writes beautifully – I could create a whole blog post just of quotes from Every Day!

Here is one of my favourites:

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: We all want everything to be okay. We don’t even wish so much for fantastic or marvellous or outstanding. We will happily settle for okay, because most of the time, okay is enough.”

And another:

“I can see that the sadness has returned. And it’s not a beautiful sadness- beautiful sadness is a myth. Sadness turns our features to clay, not porcelain.”

There are so many more wonderful quotes from this book. Seriously, just read it. It’s beautiful, and will make you think, and move you.

I love the UK/Irish cover. Yes, it is very bright, and gives off a somewhat luminous glow, but it is eye-catching and has a very clever design. The cover is not unlike that of Will Grayson, Will Grayson – a book Levithan wrote with John Green, and its design and typography also recall John Green’s other works. What I loved most about the cover, however, is the two figures. The male silhouette is made up of A’s narration as Justin, the female silhouette tells of experiencing a day in Leslie’s life.

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A sequel, Rhiannon, has been announced for 2015. As of yet, I do not know whether this book takes place during the events of Every Day, or after the end of this novel. One thing is for sure though – I cannot wait to read it!

It's definitely a good sign when Patrick Ness describes your book as a wonder!

It’s definitely a good sign when Patrick Ness describes your book as a wonder!