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Skylarks by Karen Gregory - Review

Friday, June 15, 2018

Where did I get it? The library! I joined a Needles and Pins craft group a few weeks ago which meets every Monday morning for a couple of hours. It's mostly retired women, but there's a nice mix of knitters, crocheters, and people sewing, so I've been enjoying it. To get to it I walk through the children's section of the library, and on my way out last week I noticed this on the "New books" stand. I was the first person to check it out but I really hope I'm not the last. 

What's it about? Joni Cooper is seventeen and at college. She works at the local library. Her family is pretty poor - they struggle for money, especially because her dad can't work, and juggle which bills they're going to pay each month. Her older brother Jamie works at a local pub, where he's friends with someone who says that the estate they live on is going to be sold and everyone will lose their homes. 

Meanwhile, a girl called Annabel starts to work at the library. Her dad is a big funder of the library, and she's extremely well off. She goes to a private school and lives in a big house. Joni is convinced that they have absolutely nothing in common and that Annabel will just mess up everything at work, but there is a spark between them. Joni is already out as gay, but she doesn't know how Annabel feels, and the two start getting closer.

I did see a few of the twists coming in this book, although like I always say, that's because I'm 34 and have read lots of books before. A teenager may not read things the same way I did. I liked the political stuff, I thought it was very well done and easy to understand. I liked the ending, because it wasn't completely happy, and that is how life is - good things happen and bad things happen and you have to cope with that. 

I LOVED Joni's family. I loved that she was both queer and working class - intersectionality exists! I liked Joni - she did daft things at times but they were often easy to understand. I liked how the family tried their best but weren't always right in what they did - but they loved each other enough to get through stuff. 

I liked Annabel, although I would have liked to know more about her. I thought the story skimmed over some stuff that I would have liked to see. It's a simple story and I would have liked a tiny bit more depth, but I appreciate that there's only so much space in one book. 

I liked all the stuff set on the South Downs and I liked the stuff about birds and about freedom. This is something that's quite often used in US YA literature but almost never in UK books, so I really liked that. 

What age range is it for? Anything from 14+ I would think

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yep, Joni is gay. And Annabel is some kind of something. I actually wish this had been done differently - Joni just seemed to assume Annabel was also gay, and, well, bisexuality exists?! I would have liked more discussion of this and more nuance, but it didn't detract from the book that much for me. 

Are any main characters people of colour? No 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, Joni's dad is suffering from a bad back and there's a lot of stuff about his pain, and also about people's misconceptions about disability and about benefit "scroungers". I liked this aspect a lot. 

Is there any sex stuff? There is a little, it's not explicit 

Are drugs mentioned or used? There's some mention of prescription painkillers but that's all. 

Is there any talk of death? No 

Are there swear words? No, I don't think so? Certainly not many if there are. 

What criticisms do I have? I did think it was too simple in parts, and I would have liked some kind of outspoken statement about Annabel's sexuality. 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely yes. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Because it needs to go back to the library so I don't incur fines! 

What other books is it like? It has a feel of Sara Barnard's books to it to me. I have Countless also by Karen Gregory and I'd be interested to see if it's similar to this. 

How many stars? Four out of five. 

Where is the book going now? Back to the library on Monday!


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