What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?
The Space Between
Little Island (March 2017)
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).
Oh how I love the Spinster Club! This is the series I wish could have been around when I was a teenager. I have had the new (and final, sob) book since DeptCon2 but I had been putting off reading it because I didn’t want this wonderful series to end. However, last weekend it was exactly the book I wanted to read. Now I have read it, I am happy to report that fans of Holly Bourne and the Spinsters will not be disappointed.
…And a Happy New Year
Usborne (2016) YA
Same bench. Same view. Same girls.
And yet totally different girls…
…And a Happy New Year? is set at Amber’s New Year’s Eve party, and sees the Spinsters reunited after their first term of university. The distance and their new experiences has altered their friendship, and they are all keeping secrets.
Amber has made a life-changing decision, she just hasn’t found the right moment to tell her best friends yet.
Lottie is not enjoying university life in London, but she is too ashamed to admit it.
Evie’s boyfriend has had a relapse. She is afraid for him and for herself, but she is also afraid of her friends’ reaction.
With all these terrible secrets, this will be a New Year’s Eve to remember…
This is shorter than the other Spinster Club books (a novella rather than a novel) and switches between the POVs of the main characters. All three voices were distinctive, and using this format gave us an insight into each character. I also loved the ‘countdown’ aspect of the book. There are some wonderful quotes about how New Year’s Eve is actually kind of terrible.
It’s about feeling let down by life. It’s about a sinking feeling in your stomach that the night should’ve worked out better. It’s about your high expectations being dashed. It’s about your feet getting really cold watching shit fireworks. It’s about worrying everyone is having a better time than you. It’s feeling, only ten seconds after midnight, that actually, yes, your problems are still here and you were a deluded idiot for thinking a new year could change that.
As ever, Bourne’s writing is both funny and moving, and she writes brilliantly about friendship, feminism and mental health. What I loved was how this book explored the complexities of growing up (and sometimes growing apart), showing how expectations and reality can differ. Each character’s story was strong and their struggles felt very real. I like that Bourne did not opt for a ‘happily ever after’ ending to her series.
And I was angry at the world and the future and growing up and becoming an adult and all the other things that just do not turn out how they’re supposed to.
This book (and this series) is very much focused on feminism. Romance comes into each character’s story, but the focus really is on their friendship. Bourne explores the difficulty of maintaining friendships when you are all off having different experiences and adventures. Her characters are faced with the question of whether growing up means growing apart.
My favourite of the three characters is still Evie, and her story was very moving in this book. Bourne evokes Evie’s anxieties in a real and honest way. She shows both Evie’s own struggles, and how Evie copes with her boyfriend’s relapse. Exploring this connection between mental health and relationships is a very important part of the book, and I liked that Bourne engaged with the complexities of this issue.
We’d both worked so hard to get better. Us, our love, was our reward. We were supposed to be basking in the harvest of our efforts, not tumbling back down into dark rabbit holes.
Amber and Lottie’s stories were also emotional, and this book has all of the best things about a Spinster Club book – feminism (Does any Christmas movie pass the Bechdel test? Is the New Year the most feminist of all the holidays?), great dialogue, friendship, cheesy snacks etc. etc.
This is a beautifully produced book. It was released in a lovely hardback edition. The dust jacket (pictured above) is gorgeous and festive, and the self cover with its foil design is also lovely.
I adored this book and it is definitely one I will re-read at New Year’s. While I am sad to leave the Spinsters (this book made me very emotional) I am looking forward to Holly Bourne’s next book, due out in 2017!
I interviewed the fabulous Ruth Frances Long when A Hollow in the Hills, the second book in her Dubh Linn trilogy, was released last year. Now that the final volume, A Darkness at the End, is out in the world I caught up with Ruth to chat fantasy, trilogies, mythology, YA and more…
1) A Darkness at the End, the finale of the Dubh Linn trilogy, was published this autumn. What was it like to finish the series?
A bit of a rollercoaster, to be honest. I had a difficult time with the second book, A Hollow in the Hills, so I thought book three, A Darkness at the End might kill me. But as it happened, the story came together quite easily and the characters behaved themselves for once. Even the ones who did not want to die. It is actually incredibly fulfilling to know the complete story is out there now and I’m really pleased with the way it worked out.
2) There were some fantastic locations in the third book – was there one that stood out for you? I loved the scene in the National Gallery.
So difficult to choose just one so I’ll cheat a little. There’s a sequence where three characters go through the tunnels carrying the River Poddle until they reach St. Patrick’s Cathedral and then go to Marsh’s Library which is one of my favourite parts of A Darkness at the End. There’s a lot going on with the characters at this point, especially with Clodagh and there’s a certain symbolism tied in with this underground journey. Usually when researching a location I would go there, but with the Poddle, being a subterranean river, I couldn’t do that. Luckily I was able to find some documentary footage and photos online of the route and used that for reference.
3) Which of your characters are you most like?
If I say Brí will it frighten everyone?
In reality, there is probably a bit of me in all of them, and a bit of all of them in me.
4) Did you have a favourite character to write, or one whose head you found difficult to get into?
The Magpies became my favourites to write over the course of the three books. They were minor characters to begin with, hired thugs who didn’t have that much to do, but they grew into something much more and I was so sorry to say goodbye to them at the end. Not that I’d want to hang out with them or anything!
As for difficult to pin down, I was very worried about including the Morrigan in the final book because she’s such a huge and important character in so much literature and I wanted to do her justice.
5) Do you prefer the first draft stage, or the editing stage?
A mixture of both. There are moments in the first draft when the story is flowing and it all just feels like magic. However, the editing stage often feels more solid and rewarding to me.
6) Could you tell me a bit about the Morrigan in the third book – when did she come into your mind, and what did the research process for this character involve?
I always wondered if she would show up in the books. She’s a very difficult character to pin down and I didn’t want to make mistakes. I read a lot, of course and winnowed through various legends where she appears. I also spoke to a friend dedicated to the Morrigan, and we discussed her various aspects at length which was really eye opening and fulfilling. She’s often portrayed as a goddess of death, but she’s more like a goddess of life lived to the full on the edge of death. She’s a war goddess, and there’s a tremendous amount of energy in that. I see her and Brigid (who I portrayed as Brí) as being two sides of a coin, intricately linked together and immensely powerful for that.
7) You have really strong female characters in the trilogy, particularly with the matriarchs. Was creating a female power structure in the books something you did consciously?
When you look at Irish legends there are incredibly strong and determined women running all the way through them. Because of the Christianisation of these stories when they were written down they are often given a very bad ending. But we still remember the likes of Maeve and Gráinne as the key character in the tale. I really wanted hierarchy in Dubh Linn to reflect that, so the matriarchs came about quite naturally. They’re also very strong characters so it’s hard to imagine them being told to sit down and be quiet and putting up with that.
8) There are some dramatic (and devastating!) moments in A Darkness at the End. What have reader reactions been like?
Throughout the series I’ve tried to confront dark moments head on. The biggest reactions I had from readers were from the end of A Hollow in the Hills and a certain death in A Darkness at the End. My husband is still only tentatively speaking to me about it.
9) I love how you bring figures and creatures from Irish mythology into the Dubh Linn books. Are there other legends or mythologies you would like to explore in your writing?
I’ve always been fascinated with legends and folklore so there are many. I’m currently thinking quite a bit about Arthurian legends so I’d love to explore them some more.
10) What are your favourite YA books you have read this year?
Thanks to Ruth for her fascinating answers, I can’t wait to read more of her books! If you are a fan of fantasy, romance or mythology (or all three!) be sure to check out the Dubh Linn trilogy (A Crack in Everything, A Hollow in the Hills, A Darkness at the End)
As I Descended
Delilah Dufrey is top student at Acheron Academy. She’s the most popular girl in school and a shoo in for the prestigious Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She is also the only thing preventing Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten’s dream future. Best friends, and secretly a couple, if Maria wins that prize it means they can go to college together. They want this future more than anything, and they are willing to do anything to achieve it. When they call on the spirits that haunt the school, a former planation, the feud becomes darker and deadlier than they could ever have imagined. But there is no turning back…
As I Descended is a queer retelling of Macbeth set in a haunted boarding school. It’s such a clever reworking of the play – using the power structures of the school, the spirits as the witches – but readers with no knowledge of Macbeth could enjoy it as a brilliant book in its own right. I loved seeing how Talley reworked the plot, and how quotes were used as chapter titles. The cast is diverse in terms of race and sexuality, and many of the roles have been gender swapped. Talley engages with her characters’ identities and with their different life experiences – some are open about their sexuality, some more conflicted. She treats Lily’s disability in a sensitive manner, and really shows how much she struggles. Most of all, it was just so creepy. There are some scenes that will be staying with me for a long time. Not one to read late at night!
Originally reviewed for LoveReading4Kids.
What’s a Girl Gotta Do?
Usborne (2016), YA Contemporary
This feminist is READY to declare war on the patriarchy.
In the third book of Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club trilogy*, Lottie, the fiercest of the trio, goes on a feminist crusade to call out every instance of sexism she sees for a whole month. After being sexually harrassed on her way to college, Lottie decides that enough is enough and she is going to take a stand, against every sexist song, poster and comment. Lottie is strong, but she doesn’t realise just how difficult her task may be…
I didn’t think I could love Holly Bourne any more than I already did, and then she wrote What’s a Girl Gotta Do? Her writing is so strong, she perfectly captures the sense of frustration that comes with dealing with sexism. As Lottie says:
I’m not psychic, I’m just highly experienced in sexual harrassment, like pretty much every other girl on this earth who dares to walk places.
The things Lottie calls out (razors costing more because they’re pink, the lack of female writers on the school curriculum, depictions of women in advertising) may seem small, but as she observes they all contribute to a culture of objectification. Just as Lottie opens her fellow students’ eyes to the sexism around them, I think Bourne will awaken feminist sensibilities in her teen (and older) readers.
Lottie has her moments of triumph, but she also has to deal with trolls, or the realisation of just how much work there is to do in the struggle for gender equality. Bourne shows how difficult it can be to strive for what you believe in, and how fatigue and frustration can set in. Lottie ultimately decides that she has to fight for what is right, but the pressure her project puts on her is clear. Lottie is a confident and powerful character, but we also see her vulnerabilities in this book, and she sees the error in some of her behaviour. I liked that Bourne made a point about everyone having to deal with problems in their own way.
This book (and indeed, the whole series) deals with some tricky topics but never in a preachy way. Bourne’s writing is humorous and entertaining. What’s a Girl Gotta Do? is really funny. Lottie’s project is called ‘The Vagilante Project’ and has the fantastic tagline ‘Letting the cat lady out of the bag.’ The friendship between the girls is brilliantly written and I like that Bourne also shows the strains that can come into friendships. She creates relationships that are credible and complex. I liked the romance element of the book, and (slightly spoilery) Evie and Oli getting together made me extremely happy.
Lottie is ambitious and fiery, she wants to be prime minister and make a change in the world:
…someone has to be prime minister. Why can’t it be me? I am smart enough. I am strong enough. And I really, honestly want to take this shitty world we live in and use whatever strength, intellect and passion I have to leave it a little better off than when I found it. I don’t just want to complain about the world, I want to change it.
A truly brilliant conclusion to one of the best YA trilogies out there at the moment. I only wish Bourne’s fierce feminist books had been around when I was a teenager!
* While this book does refer to events from Am I Normal Yet? and How Hard Can Love Be? I think it also works as a stand alone.
Here I am being excited about What’s a Girl Gotta Do?, and about seeing Holly Bourne at DeptCon2 in October!
Thanks to Harper Teen for inviting me to take part in the Things We Know by Heart Blog Tour and for sending me a copy of the book to review! The full schedule for the blog tour can be seen beneath my review.
Things We Know by Heart
Harper Teen (2016)
Quinn Sullivan lost the love of her life when her boyfriend Trent was killed in an accident. It has been 400 days, and Trent’s loss is as painful as ever. She thinks that if she can find the recipient of Trent’s donated heart she might find some closure. Recipients of his other organs responded to her letters, but not the boy who received his heart. She only wants to see Colton Thomas; she never intended to meet him, and she certainly never intended to fall for him. But can she ever be with him, when he reminds her so much of her loss?
This is a poignant story about grief and learning to live again. Both Quinn and Colton have their struggles and secrets, and both characters are nuanced and well drawn. Quinn goes on a real journey in this book, learning about herself and learning to love life again. She embarks on a tentative relationship with Colton, taking it one good day at a time. Their relationship can be summed up by this Emerson quote referenced in the book: ‘Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.’Kirby writes places beautifully, the locations Quinn and Colton visit sparkle off the page.
Sunlight streams in through the opening at the mist that hangs in the air aglow, illuminating each tiny water droplet. All around us the water catches the sunlight and throws it against the walls of the cavern, waving and dancing.
The Things We Know by Heart is as much about family as it is about romance. I loved Quinn’s outspoken grandmother, and her feisty sister. These secondary characters had stories of their own, and were interesting and believable. The relationships within the family are well developed throughout the book. We how the tragedy has impacted upon the rest of the family, and how they all support each other. However, Kirby also explores how Quinn and Colton need independence from their families, how all the support can become smothering. The family dynamics were my favourite part of the book.
This love story is not a conventional one, and there are some ethical questions around it. However I will not deny that it was very cute, and I was rooting for them. The end was a bit rushed for my liking, but this is certainly an enjoyable summer romance.
I love the cover design by Erin Fitzsimmons, with the pattern of hearts in the background, and the scribbly black loveheart in the title.
Audrey can’t leave her house anymore. Even inside she wears dark glasses, making eye contact is just too much. Her therapist, Dr Sarah, suggests making a documentary and looking at people through a camera as a step in her recovery. She also suggests Audrey tries taking a trip to Starbucks, something that seems utterly terrifying. However, when her brother’s friend Linus enters her life – with his orange slice smile, cute notes and optimism – she finds a new sense of hope.
For the most part, I enjoyed this book. I felt Sophie Kinsella explored social anxiety well, and gave a real sense of how debilitating Audrey’s anxiety could be. The scene in which she panics and runs out of Starbucks gives the reader a palpable sense of her anxiety, of how overwhelming it is for her to be out in the world. I also liked that the events that led her to this point were never fully explained, as it put the focus very much on the present and on her struggle to cope with and manage her anxiety. I know some readers found the lack of a big reveal about the bullying at school disappointing, but I liked that Audrey stuck with only sharing what she wanted to. She grows a lot throughout the book, and learns more about herself. Her journey was quite an emotional and inspiring one, and she is a likeable heroine.
Linus and Audrey made a cute couple, but they seemed to get together very quickly, especially when Audrey’s issues are taken into account. This ‘insta love’ was just not credible for me. The notes they exchange and their nicknames and challenges were very sweet though. I was worried going into this book that it would be one of those stories in which a boy magically cures/rescues the girl. I was glad to see that while Linus is very supportive of Audrey, her recovery comes from within, with help from her therapist and her family. Some aspects of this were a bit speedy in my opinion, but I was glad it ended on a hopeful note. There’s still a long way to go for Audrey, but she is getting there.
One of my main quibbles with this book was Audrey’s family. I felt the mother’s character was quite over the top. Perhaps this is because we are seeing things through Audrey’s eyes, but her behaviour seemed quite extreme. There were some funny situations, but at times the family bordered on ridiculous and I think this took away from the book for me. I liked how Audrey’s relationship with her brother Frank was developed though, and I enjoyed the inclusion of the film transcripts.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read. I love the cover design (by Will Steahle) I think it’s very cool. I hope Sophie Kinsella writes more YA and while I had some issues with the book I think it was a good exploration of social anxiety, and gave a positive view of therapy an medication. Most of all, Finding Audrey recognises that recovery is not a straight line, or a straight graph.
life is all about climbing up, slipping down, and picking yourself up again. And it doesn’t matter if you slip down. As long as you’re kind of heading more or less upwards. That’s all you can hope for. More or less upwards.
Nina is Not OK
Ebury Press (2016)
Nina does not have a drinking problem. She’s like any other seventeen year old: partying, drinking, having fun. Her mum and her friends worry about her, as her drunken exploits become worse and worse and she remembers less and less of what has happened the night before. However, when a night gone wrong is broadcast on social media Nina’s world comes crashing down around her.
Louise O’Neill has described this book as a YA Rachel’s Holiday. I would say it’s a cross between Rachel’s Holiday and Asking For It. Like Keyes and O’Neill, Khorsandi does not hold back when showing us her protagonist’s pain. At times it is hard to keep reading and to witness Nina spiralling out of control. Nina’s voice is fresh and honest, and her story feels very real. I liked that a lot of the book was given to her recovery, and what a struggle this can be. Nina is far from perfect but she is a likeable and sympathetic protagonist, someone the reader wants to help and protect.
This book is also notable in that is has a mixed-race protagonist. Nina’s sexuality is explored in the novel too, with her own prejudices and misconceptions about bisexuality being challenged. Crucially, just as Nina is more than her addiction, she is also more than her race or her sexual orientation. The other characters are also nuanced and interesting. The dynamics of Nina’s relationships with her friends and family are well drawn out and explored. This is a book about drinking, about consent and social media, but it also a coming of age novel that has a lot to say about family, friendship and self worth.
This is an engaging read with a strong voice at its core. Highly recommended to older teens, and to adults also as this book has definite crossover appeal. I look forward to reading more of Shappi Khorsandi’s writing.