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Cowgirl by G R Gemin - Review

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Where did I get it? I borrowed it from Lucinda, if you remember she lent me a load of books last year before she jetted off to Canada. I haven't read one in a couple of months but I picked this up recently :) 

What's it about? Gemma Matthews lives on the Bryn Mawr estate with her mum and brother. Her dad is in prison. She starts talking to Cowgirl, aka Kate, who lives on a farm and whose dad is trying to get rid of their twelve dairy cows so that he can repay a debt. Gemma and Kate work together to move the cows down on to the estate.

I didn't know what to expect from this book when I started it. Gemma is thirteen and entirely likeable. I also really really love the working class setting of the estate. We don't see enough working class protagonists in literature for children and young people. 

I also really liked Gemma's relationships with the people who matter to her - even though they're not always perfect, they are always real. 

What age range is it for? 11+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No
Are any main characters people of colour? They're not main characters but the Banerjees are quite important to the story, and I liked them.
Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No
Is there any sex stuff? No
Are drugs mentioned or used? No
Is there any talk of death? Not really
Are there swear words? No
Would I recommend the book? Yes, it's a very sweet middle grade book.
How many stars? Eight out of ten
Where is the book going now? Back to Lucinda when she's back in the country!

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill - Review

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Where did I get it? I bought it this time last year. I'm not sure why, but it must have appealed to me!

What's it about? It's a dystopian novel that is supposed to be a cross between Mean Girls and The Handmaid's Tale, both of which are things I love so I  was looking forward to reading this. It is really difficult to talk about and review, though, so bear with me. 

In this world, eves are created girls, created for the men of the future. Ten boys were born in one year, so thirty eves were created for them. Ten will become their companions - basically their wives, the people who will raise their sons. (It's never explained if the women could conceive daughters, but my thinking is that those daughters would be aborted and only sons be allowed to be born). Several more of the girls will become concubines - women that the men will visit for sex. Some of the rest will become chastities, who will teach the next generations of eves within their school. 

So, into this, comes freida, our heroine. All the girls' names are given in lower case, which goes a long way towards showing how lower they are as humans. She's about to start her last year of school, aged sixteen, at the end of which she'll get the designation for the rest of her life. Her best friend, isabel, has been ranked #1 of their class for ages. Every day they have to upload photos of themselves and are never allowed to let their beauty drop. freida has always ranked highly, but isabel is pulling away from her and megan, isabel's rival, manages to get to #1. 

Eventually, the eves meet the boys who will be selecting them and that's when everything truly goes bad. 

I don't want to say too much more about the plot, but I do think that all the elements of a great dystopia are here. The reader recognises so much about what the girls do on a daily basis - they upload videos, they rate each other in a hot-or-not kind of way, they scrutinise each other's appearances and food choices. The author takes this and turns it up to the nth degree. The world is scary and unknown. The novel is interesting and scary and I liked freida a lot.

However, I also found it really difficult to read. I want to TRIGGER WARN for, like, everything. I'm not someone who is particularly shy or uneasy about my body, but the stuff about weight was incredibly depressing and triggering. I don't want to read this book again, for sure. I loved the ending and I'm glad I persevered, but if you start reading it and it's too much for you, then please, take care of yourself and don't finish it. That's more important than a book, okay?

What age range is it for? 16+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No and in fact trigger warning here too 
Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, which is why the different covers of this book sort of jar. There's definitely a hierarchy within the eves where white/blonde ones are more highly rated. freida is not white - it doesn't say exactly what she looks like, but she has dark skin.
Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No
Is there any sex stuff? Yes, take care of yourself here
Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, freida can't sleep and is given something called SleepSound and its effects are talked about quite a lot
Is there any talk of death? Yes, some. Trigger warning.
Are there swear words? No
Would I recommend the book? Yes, but please do make sure you're in a safe place to read it. 
How many stars? Six out of ten. It isn't badly written and I did deeply care about freida, but I found the whole thing very shocking and hard to read. 
Where is the book going now? I'll keep it - I took it to YALC and Louise signed it for me, so I want to keep it :)

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard - Review

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Where did I get it? Pan Macmillan via NetGalley, so thank you very much to Pan!

What's it about? Caddy and Rosie are best friends, about to go into their GCSE years at different schools in Brighton. Caddy is at a private girls' school and has just turned sixteen. She wants three things to happen in the next year: to get a boyfriend, to lose her virginity, and to have a Significant Life Event. All the bad things that she knows of have happened to people she knows and not to Caddy. For example, her sister was very unwell when Caddy was little, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

Now, this premise kind of annoyed me a lot, because I'm someone who's had maybe a lot of Significant Life Events and who had a lot of them happen before I was the age that Caddy is. I found her romanticising of those types of events very annoying and didn't warm to Caddy until maybe a third of the way through the book.

A new girl, Suzanne, starts at Rosie's school and Caddy soon feels threatened by their friendship. Suzanne is funny and exciting and new, and Caddy feels dull and boring in comparison. Then she discovers more about Suzanne's traumatic past and she becomes friendly with her too. 

I felt for Caddy when she described being a middle-of-the-road student at her school, I empathised very much with this. I really liked the playlists and music mentioned in the book, it was very much my kind of music and I'll have to see if anyone has made Spotify lists of songs mentioned! I loved the friendships between all the girls; they felt very real and flawed but with beautiful and loving parts too. I believe that was part of the author's intention - in the back of the book she describes is as a love story with no romance and it's true. I liked the book a lot, even though I felt it had flaws. 

What age range is it for? 15+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No, I would have liked that to be honest
Are any main characters people of colour? No
Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes
Is there any sex stuff? Not much - there's a little bit of discussion around consent which I thought was good. 
Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, nothing too strong but some. 
Is there any talk of death? Yes, and trigger warning for suicide too 
Are there swear words? Yes, just they're judiciously used 
Would I recommend the book? Yes. When I started I was pretty sure it would be a seven out of ten for me, because the beginning of the book really annoyed me as I said. But the latter half really lifted the whole thing for me, and even though I felt it had problems, I feel like the message - about girls supporting girls - is an important one. 
How many stars? Eight, with the caveats above.

Seed by Lisa Heathfield - Review

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Where did I get it? I bought it, I think it was on the Guardian YA shortlist earlier in the year? I'd seen it at YA Shot last year though, where my friend Sam bought it. 

What's it about? Pearl lives at Seed. Seed is a cult, run by Papa S, and where everyone is one big family and where everyone worships Mother Nature. Pearl doesn't know who her real mother is, because everyone just lives as one family, but she's close to Elizabeth, who is expecting another baby. She has siblings of her own age, Jack and Kate, and some younger ones, Bobby and Ruby. The elders, including Papa S, were, I think, the original founders of the cult.

At the beginning of the novel, Pearl gets her period for the first time, and is made to go into a dark hole in the ground as she becomes a woman. Later, she has to go to the Forgiveness Room for her impure thoughts, and she's also asked to become Papa S's Companion at one point too. 

Three newcomers arrive from the Outside - Linda, and her children Ellis and Sophie. Ellis and Pearl grow close and Ellis tells her the truth about some things at Seed, and begins to expose its dark heart.

Now, one thing you might not know about me is that my undergraduate degree is in Theology and Religious Studies, and that I am really fascinated with cults of all kinds. So a book like this is perfect for me. I actually wanted more background on Seed and its origins, but I understand that, from Pearl's point of view, there might not be much point in relaying that information, as she has lived her whole life in Seed and nothing about it is strange to her. I felt like putting Nature at the centre instead of God was a really good decision by Lisa as it seems a little bit less controversial. I believe Seed is going to have a sequel and I'd definitely be interested to read it. 

When I read Paper Butterflies it absolutely destroyed me. I finished it about 3am one morning and wanted to throw it out of the window! Last weekend, at YA Shot, I took Seed to get signed and said to Lisa that I hoped that Seed wouldn't break my heart the same way Paper Butterflies did. She promised me it wouldn't and, well, she lied! The ending absolutely did me in! I think there is a paucity to Lisa's writing which really adds to her work and which is in no way a criticism - it makes the reader work and makes the reader more invested in what happens to the characters. 

What age range is it for? 15+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No
Are any main characters people of colour? No
Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, I can't say more without giving away spoilers, but there's some violence and illness
Is there any sex stuff? No
Are drugs mentioned or used? No
Is there any talk of death? Yes, be aware
Are there swear words? No
Would I recommend the book? Yes, especially if the premise interests you
How many stars? Eight and a half out of ten, it's really good!
Where is the book going now? I'll keep it, because Lisa very nicely signed it for me!

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