Review: Nothing Tastes as Good by Claire Hennessy

Nothing Tastes As Good

Cover image from Goodreads

 

 

Claire Hennessy’s latest novel gets off to a strong start with the introduction of her snarky ghost narrator. Annabel is a recently deceased anorexic teen who has been assigned against her will as a helper (NOT guardian angel) to Julia, who also has a difficult relationship with food. Annabel’s voice is distinctive and fresh, and Hennessy gets in some great quips about her lack of corporality.  The other characters are, like Annabel, well drawn and believable. Annabel’s ability to push into the thoughts of different characters gives the reader greater knowledge than Julia, and adds depth. However, as Annabel becomes closer to Julia she finds that her task may be more complicated than she had expected…

I loved the subplot about the school newspaper, seeing its workings and Julia’s passion for journalism. (I LOVE books with school clubs in them, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda with the school musical, Love, Lies and Lemon Pies with the baking club to name but a couple). In some ways writing is an escape for Julia ‘It’s easier to focus on the words on the page than the stories in her own life.’ However, we also see it as something she strives to be good at and to make a difference in.  There are a real mix of characters on the newspaper staff, and a budding romance for Julia. The romance element is sweet, and I was glad it didn’t completely take over, that it wasn’t a case of a guy swooping in to save Julia. ‘She is not a damsel in distress waiting for some knight on horseback.’

This is a book that will move and engage readers.  There is a strong feminist element to this book, in terms of relationships, careers, self worth and, of course, body image. There’s a line Julia writes: ‘but we don’t talk about the silly things that teenage girls do to themselves.’ It perfectly sums up the misconceptions around eating disorders (and other mental illnesses) that are explored in the book. Julia also wonders at one point ‘Why do they all end up treating you like a silly girl in the end?’ and this book really does tackle how frustrating it can be to not be taken seriously because you are female or to know you will have to work harder to have success in your chosen field. There is also a strong sense of female friendship or sisterhood that develops as the book progresses. This is not present at the start, but as Annabel begins to care for Julia, as Julia’s friendship with Maria develops and as we see Annabel’s friend and sister dealing with the aftermath of her death. ‘There are certain things we owe our little sisters.’ Hennessy exposes some of the most difficult things about being a woman today, while also offering empowering narratives of female friendship.

While Stereotype will always have a special place in my heart, I think Nothing Tastes As Good may well be Hennessy’s best book yet.  She deals with difficult issues in a relatable and honest manner, and avoids being preachy or moralising.This is the kind of book teenage girls (and boys) need, a book that challenges the stigma around ‘the silly things that teenage girls do to themselves.’

Review: Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan

 

NeedleworkNeedlework

Deirdre Sullivan

Little Island, 2016

YA – Contemporary

Needlework has been deservedly praised by Louise O’Neill as ‘an experience you’ll never forget’ and by Sarah Crossan as ‘a powerful novel that deserves to be read.’ It tells the story of seventeen year old Ces who is dealing with the aftermath of terrible abuse and trying overcome her past.

While Needlework deals with painful subjects, it is beautifully written and Sullivan’s style allows the reader enter into Ces’ mind. Her voice is very distinctive, and the writing is so lyrical that it is almost like poetry. The narration can be quite rambling as it follows Ces’ thoughts. Myths and fairytales are woven into the story, showing how important stories and words are to her. The novel is interspersed with asides about the process and history of tattooing, showing the pivotal role body art plays in Ces’ life as she seeks to create beauty from pain and make beautiful scars, scars of her own choosing. She wants to regain control over her body both through tattooing (‘When I get a tattoo it will be something private and meaningful. I would like my life to have privacy and meaning’) and through her relationship with Tom (‘I’m using him while also being used’). Ces is an incredibly strong character, she is haunted by her experiences but is trying to find a way to overcome them, while also caring for her mother who has shut down completely. The descriptions of Ces’ tattoo designs are vivid and macabre. This was my favourite:

A diagram of the human heart […] one of crystal glass. All whites and blues. If it beats too hard, this heart will shatter is what the legend underneath it says.

Needlework is an angry book, as Ces deals with her past, trying to be seen as a survivor rather than a victim (‘No-one likes a victim. Everyone feels sorry for her though’). She rails against the idea that she must always be defined by her past. Sullivan conveys Ces’ self-loathing powerfully, through the ways her appearance reminds her of her father and through her self harm and other destructive coping mechanisms.

 It is also a feminist book as Ces thinks about how unfair our society’s treatment of women is. When Tom says she has a ‘big mouth’ she thinks:

A mouth can be a trap, that much is true. A woman’s mouth especially […] People need mouths. For eating and for talking. Things that women are ashamed to do, too little or too much.

She muses on women and sexuality, body image and emotion (‘We’re full of feelings, women. We boil over’). For me, the most powerful part of the book was the chapter entitled ‘Something That You’ll Probably Regret’. It was difficult to read, and Sullivan doesn’t hold back here, giving us an insight into the horror Ces has endured and continues to struggle with. While the book is certainly not an easy read, there is a sense of hope at the end. Ces is strong and resilient, and while the ending is open there is a sense of optimism (‘The memory of pain. And just a scar’).

The cover, designed by Steve McCarthy, is very striking and captures the pain explored by Sullivan in the book. Needlework is a powerful and a painful read, it gets under your skin and it will stay with you. The voice is distinctive and memorable, the subject matter handled with delicacy and sensitivity.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Dee Needlework

Deirdre Sullivan at the launch of Needlework.

 

#YAie Day Schedule – October 3rd

YAie

YA fans, get ready to tweet!

October 3rd will be the first #YAie Day. Inspired by UKYA, Michelle Moloney King (writer, blogger and all-round wonder woman) set up #YAie, it’s Irish counterpart. #YAie has provided a great space for the Irish YA community to talk books, and #YAie will have lots of great panels with such authors as Jennifer Niven, Catherynne M Valente, Deirdre Sullivan, Sheena Wilkinson, Ruth Long, Sarah Webb, Judi Curtin and Sally Nicholls. There will be panels about publishing, language, themes and issues in YA, writing practices (including my panel!) and more. Also, competitions to win lovely books! Use the hashtag #YAie to get involved. Read on for the full schedule:

#YAie Day: The Impact of YA

10:10  –  10:50am  Lack  of  parents in  YA – thoughts?

Sheena  Wilkinson

Helen Falconer

11:10  –  11:50am  Food  in  literature  –  how  do you  write  it and  is it important to have lashings of  ginger  beer?

Lucy  Coats

Oisin McGann

11:50  –  12:10  Readers please  tweet your  thoughts to #YAieDay on  your towering TBR pile.

12:10  –  1:00pm  –  Please  tell  us about your next book  –  inspiration, drafting,  editing, marketing.

Lauren James

Sarah Crossan

Sarah Webb

Brian Conaghan

1:10  –  1:50pm  Bad  language  in  books  with young protagonists  –  thoughts?

Sally  Nicholls

Kim Hood

R. F. Long

2:00  –  2:40pm  All  YA  need  is love  –  thoughts?

Jennifer Niven

Catherynne  M. Valente

Sarah Rees Brennan

Readers, tweet your shelfies.

2:50  –  3:30 pm  –  Debut  authors.

Simon P. Clark

Martin Stewart

Dave  Rudden

3:40  –  4:20pm  The  publishing  world – tweet your questions to these publishing pros.

Vanessa O  Loughlin

Gráinne Clear

4.30  –  4:55 Children’s Books  Ireland  –  Book  Doctor Clinic  –  ask  the book doctor for book recommendations.

5:00  –  5:40 Hosted  by book  blogger  –  Christopher  Moore,  Co-founder of  @YAfictionados  –  writing  in  the  age  of  the internet.

Brenna  Yovanoff

Samantha Shannon

5:45  –  6:15 Hosted  by book  blogger  –    Jenny Duffy  of  The  Books, the Art, and  Me.  Let’s talk writing practises  –  how  to ‘get it  down.’

Tatum  Flynn

Judi  Curtin

Nigel Quinlan

Elizabeth R. Murray

Deirdre Sullivan

I am very excited about #YAie Day, especially the panel I will be hosting. Mark October 3rd in your diary, and get tweeting 🙂